Open Access Is Spreading — But Is It Really Open Access?
from the let's-do-this-properly dept
The latest big boost to open access has come from in UK government’s “Innovation and research strategy for growth” (pdf), which says:
The Government, in line with our overarching commitment to transparency and open data, is committed to ensuring that publicly-funded research should be accessible free of charge. Free and open access to taxpayer-funded research offers significant social and economic benefits by spreading knowledge, raising the prestige of UK research and encouraging technology transfer. At the moment, such research is often difficult to find and expensive to access. This can defeat the original purpose of taxpayer-funded academic research and limits understanding and innovation. We have already committed, in our response to Ian Hargreaves?s review of intellectual property, to facilitate data mining of published research. This could have substantial benefits, for example in tackling diseases. But we need to go much further if, as a nation, we are to gain the full potential benefits of publicly-funded research.
That sounds like great news. But one of the leading proponents of openness in science, Peter Murray-Rust, thinks that the open access movement is being short-changed with existing open access publications. His concerns arose when he attended the annual general meeting of the UK version of PubMed Central, which is “a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the US National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM)”.
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 ? most 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.
The issues surrounding the use of non-commercial licenses have been discussed on Techdirt before. Some people feel that open content released under a non-commercial license such as cc-nc is not really open, because you are severely limited in terms of what you can do with it. The Open Source Definition, for example, does not allow limitations of this kind. Others, by contrast, think that something is better than nothing, and that non-commercial uses are important enough that cc-nc materials are still valuable.
Murray-Rust explains the problems of cc-nc in the field of science:
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.
The key thing here is that publishers have been paid for full open access, not a watered-down version, so there’s no justification for holding back rights that reduce the scientific value of papers considerably. It looks like the funding organizations that mandate open access need to be more specific in forbidding limited, non-commercial licensing. If they don’t, it may turn out that all those open access resources that are starting to appear will deliver rather less than the “full potential benefits of publicly-funded research” the UK government and others are hoping for.