Keep Open Access Licences and Contracts Simple
I missed this post ( The Scientist
; ) more than a week ago. It generated a fair amount of comment. The point I’m going to make is that Open Access can range from very simple to very complicated…
- Tuesday, 06 May 2008
In a move that is bound to put Felix
among the Columbidae
the Journal of Cell Biology
has come up with an interesting way of licensing
Emma Hill and Mike Rossner take us on a journey
that begins in 1787 and ends with the rather extraordinary statement (from a major scientific journal, at least) that they have now decided to return copyright to our authors
, in return for the authors (that is, those of us who manage to publish in JCB
) making the work available to the public.
In other words, article authors — scientists like you and me — grant JCB
a licence to publish their work for six months.
There is a lot to think about in here, and I encourage you to read the entire statement
. There is the thesis that six months is the monetary lifetime of a paper. There is the possibility that real data-mining will be made possible, a move that should make the likes of Peter Murray-Rust
very happy (although the matter of format now becomes more pressing).
There is the intriguing thought that what appears to be a reclamation of the original premise of copyright might jump across to patents
. Now that would be exciting, and good for science.
PMR: Here is part of the statement:
You wrote it; you own it!
Emma Hill1 and Mike Rossner2
1 Executive Editor, The Journal of Cell Biology
2 Executive Director, The Rockefeller University Press
With the growing demand for public access to published data, we recently started depositing all of our content in PubMed Central. In a further step to enhance the utility of scientific content, we have now decided to return copyright to our authors. In return, however, we require authors to make their work available for reuse by the public. Instead of relinquishing copyright, our authors will now provide us with a license to publish their work. This license, however, places no restrictions on how authors can reuse their own work; we only require them to attribute the work to its original publication. Six months after publication, third parties (that is, anyone who is not an author) can use the material we publish under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0).
What does this Creative Commons License mean? It means that our published content will be open for reuse, distribution, data mining, etc., by anyone, as long as attribution is made to the original work. Share-alike means that any subsequent distribution must follow the rules set out in this license. Non-commercial means that published work can be reused without permission, as long as it is for noncommercial purposes.
We still believe in protecting our authors from commercial exploitation of their work. Commercial reuse of material published in one of our journals will still require permission from the journal. Authors, on the other hand, can reuse their own material for any purpose, including commercial profit, as long as proper attribution is made.
Within the first six months after publication, the same terms of this license apply, with one exception: the creation of mirror sites containing all of, or a subset of, our content is prohibited during that period. The Rockefeller University Press still derives essential revenue from journal subscriptions to content within the first six months, and thus we cannot risk the creation of a free mirror site during this time.
The Creative Commons License will apply retroactively to all work published by The Rockefeller University Press before November 1, 2007; the license restricting the creation of mirror sites will apply to all work published within the last six months. Authors who previously assigned their copyright to the Press are now granted the right to use their own work in any way they like, as long as they acknowledge the original publication.
We are pleased to finally comply with the original spirit of copyright in our continuing effort to promote public access to the published biomedical literature.
PMR: There were a dozen or so comments, several of which pointed out that this is nothing particularly new. Not all commenters agreed on the interpretation. First, I think that RUP are trying to aim in a reasonable direction. However the actual approach is complicated and I’m not sure I can understand it. I think its says something like:
“You the authors own the content, and you the authors retain the copyright. However for the first six months you the authors agree not to post it on your own web sites nor to help anyone else to do this on their web sites. After six months the material will become available under CC-NC-SA. [PMR: This licence is viral; it requires anyone who uses it to make the whole a derivative work available under the same licence - I don't think it's a good choice, especially after our discussions of last week. But that's not the issue here.]
You the subscribing reader can read the material as soon as it is published, but you can’t do anything with it. [How this is communicated tp the reader is a separate problem. A CC licence will suggest that the reader *can* re-use it; so there has to be a separate statement. Perhaps something like: 'This article carries a licence which you should ignore until six months after publication'. or 'after 6 months a licence will start to appear on articles on this web site'.]
You the non-subscribing reader wn’t be able to do anything for six months. When that time has elapsed you can do anything so long as it is non-commercial (whatever that means) and as long as you apply share-alike (if you can understand the complexities).”
PMR: My point is that whatever this is and however well-intentioned it’s complicated. I suspect that no other journal operates this exact licence/contract/copyright. It would take someone expert 15 minute minimum to work out what is going on. And a non-expert (in licences) might well misunderstand it.
There are tens of thousands of journals. If each has a different set of conditions it makes it impossible for everyone – authors, readers, repositarians, etc. It already is impossible.
Open Source now gets by with a workable set of licences. For most people there are only half a dozen – GPL, LGPL, BSD, Apache, Mozilla, Artistic, etc. It takes me a second to understand the implications of each. OK, it would take me an hour or two if I came in fresh – but there are lots of web sites to help. But even after 2-3 years I still have little idea as a reader/re-user how to interpret licence/contract/copyright on publishers sites. Even those who try to be helpful.
Unless, of course, they add a CC-BY licence. Whatever you like or dislike about CC-BY, it’s SIMPLE. Everyone can understand it in a sentence:
“You can do whatever you like with this as long as you attribute the authors”.
Consider carefully whether simplicity isn’t worth something.