Acceptance of CC-NC has sold readers and authors seriously short

I was at the AGM of UK PubMedCentral last Monday and asked about the Open Access subset of PMC – those papers where authors/funders have paid large amounts of money to ensure their papers are “Open Access”. I asked about the licence, fully expecting these to be all CC-BY and was appalled to hear that most of them were only available as CC-NC. This appears to be near universal – mots major publishers only allow “Open Access” to be CC-NC.

Very simply, this is a disaster.

Because CC-NC gives the reader or re-user almost no additional rights. The author is paying anything up to 3000 currency units for something which is little more than permission to put the article on their web page. And as far as I can see the funders have acquiesced to this. Whether it was the best they could negotiate or whether it’s an oversight I don’t know – hopefully a funder will let us know.

I and others have written at length on the restrictions imposed by NC. NC forbids any commercial use. Commercial is not related to motivation – profit/non-profit, etc. It is whether there is an exchange of some form of goods. Among the things NC forbids are:

  • Public text- and data-mining. A third party could make commercial use of the results
  • Republication of diagrams, etc. in journals. Publication is a commercial act.
  • Creation of learning materials. Students pay for their education.

And many more. You may think I am being picky and that no-one would object to this. But a licence is a legal document and these are commercial activities, regardless of the motivation.

So, simply, CC-NC forbids almost all downstream activity, rendering the “Open Access” valueless other than for human eyes.

Why do the publishers do this? After all BMC publishes all material as CC-BY and nothing terrible has happened to it. Why especially should a scholarly society which is meant to foster communication and science actually restrict its use. I won’t speculate, but leave it to them to reply. Note that making something CC-NC is not giving the reader permissions, it’s effectively removing permissions from Open Access CC-BY.

I find the whole cluster of “Open Foo” deeply worrying. These have names such as:

  • Open Choice
  • Author Choice
  • Open Science (this is an appalling name – completely at odds with normal usage and conveying no information)
  • Free content

When you see something described as “Open Choice” instead of Open Access it’s a very good indication that you will have to read the small print. Often there isn’t a licence. I can’t find licences on the RSC FAQs. “You may deposit the accepted version of the submitted article in other repository(ies) as required, with no embargo period, except that you are not permitted to deposit your work in any commercial service.” This isn’t a licence, it’s mumble. Springer ( ): The copyright will remain with you and the article will be published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License. The cost of Springer Open Choice (USD 3.000/ EUR 2.000) is – as stated on the NIH web site – a permissible cost in your grant. CC-NC. Since Springer allow self-archiving (Green) the 2000 EUR is buying almost nothing (perhaps a slightly different form of the manuscript?). Nature ( ) “Papers are published under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported or the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence, at the choice of the authors. ” and I could go on with other publishers.

One feature of these “Open Foo” products is that they are different for every publisher. Some bury the licence several pages down, others don’t mention it (RSC). It’s a huge amount of work to make sense of this. It shouldn’t have to be people like me.

The bottom line is that this is an unregulated market. Some of us are looking to the funders to act as regulators. They are not. They probably feel that 2000 for a CC-NC licence is what they want.

Unfortunately it’s not what I want and I have the feeling, yet again, that we have been sold short.

In summary:

  • I’d like the RSC to justify NC because I can’t
  • I’d like one of more funders to say why they have accepted such bad value in CC-NC licences.
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5 Responses to Acceptance of CC-NC has sold readers and authors seriously short

  1. The majority of content in the Open Subset is under CC BY, according to a set of Google searches (there is still no search by license): CC0 (2.6k)CC-BY (174k)CC-BY-SA (6)CC-BY-NC (41k)CC-BY-NC-SA (11k)CC-BY-ND (1)CC-BY-NC-ND (11k).
    So there were roughly 20k new CC BY articles since July, 4k CC BY-NC, 1k CC BY-NC-SA, 2k CC BY-NC-ND.

  2. Richard Kidd says:

    RSC Open Science Licence to Publish is clearly there in the menu
    Personal thoughts on NC:

  3. McDawg says:

    I find this troubling “The Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license permits derivative works, ensuring that authors can comply with funders such as the Wellcome Trust”.

    • pm286 says:

      I agree. It’s even more troubling in that almost all journals provide less than OA-libre and that Wellcome will accept this.

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