Open v. Open.

A colleague asked me today if I considered a journal that asked for copyright transfer to a publisher to be Open Access.  It’s a good question: by transferring copyright from the author to the publisher the publisher can do what they like with the content, and restrict what happens with it to the extent allowed under copyright law.  Does that mean it is somehow less ‘Open’?

There is a spectrum of open: starting from free-to-read, which is the basic and lowest common denominator of Open Access, to CC-0 (Creative Commons Zero),  the creative commons license that completely gives away all rights to the material in question. This blog, for example, is CC-0.

We don’t know how people are going to use our content.  Rather than clamming up  and restricting it, and then limiting its usefulness, open it up, and see your ideas take flight.

So, isn’t something being open and available to read the point?  Why would you have other options?  There are a lot of answers to that, but I’ll approach this from a series of examples to show how, in scholarly publication, the more open the license, the better the content can be used.

I’m a thesis student, can I reuse the graph in that article? Probably, but you can’t be sure unless the article has a creative commons license.  Even though it is free-to-read, if the article doesn’t stipulate explicitly, then the copyright – including all the graphs and photos – is still held by the author (or given away, for free, to the publisher).   You can’t reproduce a photo or a graphic like you can a quote of text, as it is a whole work, a thing in its own right, so law around reproducing an insignificant amount doesn’t apply.

I’m a lecturer, can I print out and give this article to my students? Again, not if the article doesn’t have an open licence.  You really shouldn’t even put a copy of the PDF up on a website.

The problems above show some of the things you can’t so with free-to-read, yet still copyrighted all-rights-reserved material.  Creative commons licences give you the ability to restrict various uses of your work – down to cc-by, where you can do what you like, as long as you acknowledge the author (who it is by).  So, why would you give something a cc-0 license,and give away all of your rights?

Other than simply liberating your content to be shared in any way others see fit, one looming practical example is using your paper as fodder for text and data mining.  Imagine I’m studying drugs and diseases.  Drug A is tested against disease B.  Drug C is tested against disease D.  I’ve thought of a possible link between disease B and D.  Now let me look at 10,000 articles that mention these in common and see if anyone has looked at the combinations of effects.  Now, how to I cite those articles, all of whom had intellectual input into my results?     Another example – in 25 years time someone runs a meta analysis on the discussion about creative commons during the early 21st century.  This blog might come up in results, and provide data that machine learning can adds to a final analysis.  How do you cite that?  My name might be in the result set somewhere, buried in the data,  but I really didn’t contribute much to the discussion pother than reinforce a specific view, amongst hundreds of others.

We don’t know how people are going to use our content.  Rather than clamming up  and restricting it, and then limiting its usefulness, open it up, and see your ideas take flight.



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