July 15, 2014
Some Open Access advocates opt for permissive licensing of scientific works, in particular for the use of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. It allows republishing, translations and modifications, regardless of its purpose and without prior permission of the author. However, the work must be properly attributed. CC-BY is also mandated by some Open Access funders, such as the Wellcome Trust. Thus, some authors are obligated by funders to publish under the terms of this license.
However, several Open Access publishers, including De Gruyter Open, use as default more restrictive licenses like Creative Common Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives. This license allows republishing, but only for non-commercial goals (like teaching or critical descriptions) and does not allow the publication of modified works (such as translations) without prior permission of the copyrights holder.
As far as I understand the arguments of the opponents of restrictive licensing, the biggest problem is that these licenses make content mining more difficult or sometimes even impossible (although in the United States and United Kingdom data mining is always allowed for non-commercial purposes as a copyright exception, read more about content mining here).
However, we have to remember that Open Access publishers are service-providers for authors – and they should offer the services they require. Thus, it is very important to understand which licenses authors prefer, and why. We can take a look at one of the author surveys, although thanks to Wiley we have the opportunity to track the real choices of scientists.
Wiley owns 9 journals (7 in medicine, one in geosicence, and one in chemistry) that allow authors to choose between Creative Commons Attribution, Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial and Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives. Among authors that were not mandated to choose CC-BY (for example by the Wellcome Trust or other funding organizations) 42% have chosen to publish their work under the terms of the most restrictive license, 18% excluded only commercial use and 40% have chosen the most permissive license which requires only attribution (more here). Why? I think that data from the author survey by Taylor and Francis offers a credible explanation.
According to T&F the biggest problem for researchers is the commercial use of their work. Only 19% (18% in previous year) of researchers would allow the re-use of their paper for commercial purposes without their prior agreement. Borders of commercial use are quite fuzzy and in fact, reposting an article on a company blog, such as openscience dot com, is also commercial use. It is hard to guess what kind of commercial use academic authors are afraid of the most, although as we can see from above, they are trying to protect their work from it.
What is surprising for me is that T&F reports that only 39% (40% in 2013) of authors would agree to include their work in an anthology without their prior acceptance. What is more, only 44% (45% in previous year) accept translations without permissions, and finally 53% (48% year earlier) want their content to be mined by other scientists. Only slightly more than half of the authors!
This might suggest that researchers examined by T&F do not really support the idea of the creative re-use of their work. They are rather conservative about it, and prefer to retain control over the fruits of their research. That means that promoters of liberal licenses and content mining have a lot of work to do, not only among publishers and lawmakers, but also among their colleagues.
Only a small amount of research was conducted on authors’ attitudes towards licensing, however at this time, it is certain that strong opposition against liberal licensing exists. The exact share of conservative researchers may vary from one survey to another, but this group exists and I think it is necessary to take it into account when discussing academic publishing.
First chart is taken from the blog post To CC-BY or not to CC-BY? A vignette on author choice by Verity Waren, second and third from Taylor and Francis 2014 Open Access Survey: examining the changing views of Taylor & Francis authors.
Have a look also at an older post by Kamil Mizera, on this topic