There’s a great discussion that’s been going on over the past couple weeks on the LIBLICENSE-L mailing list. I particularly liked what one of the participants, Jan Velterop (CEO, Acqknowledge) had to say, so I asked him if he would like to contribute a guest post and he graciously agreed:
Copyright is funny business. Even in science. Even in Open Access. You would be forgiven for thinking that copyright is all about protecting economic interests. But you would be wrong (though sometimes it is about protecting economic interests, honest).
Let’s examine the case of Open Access. Formal Open Access publishing that is, along the model of author-side payment for the service of publishing. It works like this: a number of authors have written an article (single authorship is quite rare these days) and submitted it to a journal that offers Open Access should the article be accepted after a process of peer review, for the quid pro quo of an amount of money. That amount of money compensates the publisher for the fact that he won’t be able to sell the article anymore (by way of subscription to a journal, for instance) when it is published with Open Access. After all, the article is openly and freely available (that’s what Open Access means) so who would buy it? Sound reasoning.1
So far, so good. But you would think that if an article is published with Open Access you could actually use it. Simply reading articles is an antediluvian notion, and it is the re-use that makes Open Access worth it. Many Open Access articles can be re-used, and that is usually indicated by a so-called CC-BY copyright licence (Creative Commons Attribution), that requires, where possible, attribution of the authors, which is fair enough in the scientific ego-system. Besides, the authors (or their funders) actually paid for Open Access, so attribute is the least one can do.
But, alas, not all Open Access articles carry a CC-BY licence. Too many have a so-called CC-NC licence, which stands for Creative Commons Non-Commercial. This means that even the slightest possibility that re-use might result in some commercial activity, even if just derived in the second degree, re-use is prohibited. Goodness knows why.
What happens here is really not in the realm of protecting commercial interests any longer. Copyright has morphed from a way to protect legitimate interests into a way of controlling (read ‘restricting’) usage. Of Open Access articles! I’m sure it happens without many publishers involved even realizing.
C’mon publishers, the CC-NC licence doesn’t give you a penny more in revenues and it frustrates the hell out of scientists. Please change it to CC-BY. Please.
It may be clear that I’m personally very much in favour of the ‘technical’ peer review as carried out by the PLoSOne-oid journals (even there I wouldn’t have overly optimistic expectations of infallibility), with judgement about relevancy and quality to be added later, by the readers, but there is one thing that I think should apply to all scientific publications, traditionally peer reviewed or not: they should be published with Open Access. Proper Open Access, I mean, with re-use rights, so that ‘published’ really means ‘made public’ again.
1. By the way, paying for the service of publishing one’s article is nothing new. In the past an author paid by transferring copyright (which the publisher could then convert into money by selling subscriptions – in effect selling access rights); in the Open Access model the author pays with actual money. Much more straightforward.