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)”.

Here’s what happened:

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.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: creative commons

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Open Access Is Spreading — But Is It Really Open Access?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Paul (profile) says:

Regarding cc-nc licences and republication of diagrams, etc. in journals:

Is it the case that the republication of a cc-nc licensed diagram in another cc-nc licensed journal article would be legitimate non-commercial use (since the journal article is free and therefore no exchange of goods is taking place)?

Whereas only republication is a traditional pay-for-access journal would be forbidden (unless the second article pays for commercial publication rights to the diagram in the usual manner).

I’m not disagreeing with the overall point of the article, but if what I’ve said is correct (I’m not an expert, so please correct me if I’m wrong) then surely this particular part of the license is encouraging further *free* publication (by essentially waiving re-publication fees for other free publications, whilst charging journals which are not free to access).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Oh sure, you say free, but then your website is supported by ads. Where is the free there? See you pirates always want your stuff for free so you can make a profit off of some one else’s hard work.

(The above could be used to stop any use of an NC license) but alas I must now be getting to bed as the world is starting to look round instead of flat.

Heather Morrison (user link) says:

OA is not the same as CC-BY

With all due respect to Peter Murray-Rust, there are diverse opinions within the open access movement with respect to CC licenses. My own considered perspective, as a long-time OA advocate, is that the strongest license for OA is CC-BY-NC-SA, as the best protection for OA downstream, although I do not think that OA necessarily requires CC licenses. More here

Stevan Harnad (profile) says:


Here are some of the many reasons why it is Gratis Green OA self-archiving (free online access) rather than Libre OA (free online access plus remix and republication rights) that should be mandated (by researchers? institutions and funders):

1. 100% OA is reachable only if we mandate it;
2. only Green OA self-archiving (not Gold OA publishing) can be mandated;
3. all researchers want to provide Gratis OA (free online access);
4. not all researchers want to provide Libre OA (free online access plus remix and republication rights);
5. all disciplines need Gratis OA;
6. not all disciplines need Libre OA (mash-up rights for verbatim text);
7. Gratis OA is much more urgent than Libre OA (for all would-be users whose institutions cannot afford subscription access);
8. 100% Gratis OA is already reachable, 100% Libre OA is not;
9. publisher restrictions are less of an obstacle for Gratis OA;
10. Mandating Green Gratis OA is not only the fastest, surest and cheapest way to reach 100% Gratis OA but it is also the fastest, surest and cheapest way to reach Gold OA and Libre OA thereafter.

Sheogorath (user link) says:

I'm a business

Peter Murray-Rust said: “Publication is a commercial act.”
That means I’m now a commercial entity, having published these words on the internet. Hmm, what shall I call myself? I know! How about Madgod Publishing[tm]? Hands off or I’ll sic my legal team on you! The Mazken are very persuasive arguers, and the Aureals can be quite coercive.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...