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.

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  • icon
    Paul (profile), 19 Dec 2011 @ 11:33pm

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2011 @ 11:56pm


      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2011 @ 2:03am

    Obviously a mere oversight or misunderstanding on the publishers' part. Creative Commons' multifarious licenses can be so difficult for some people to keep straight. Just ignore the "CC-NC" bit, or read it as "CC-BY". Problem solved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 20 Dec 2011 @ 4:17am

    Creative Commons Dos & Don’ts

    CC non-Free: ND, NC

    CC Free: BY, SA

    Use only the Free options. Avoid the non-Free options. That’s all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Heather Morrison, 20 Dec 2011 @ 6:06pm

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mr. Gunn, 20 Dec 2011 @ 6:30pm

    If NC could be defined as Heather wishes, then NC clauses would make more sense, but as they are they really do harm to the idea of OA, allowing publishers to get away with a kind of pseudo OA. One of the best hopes for an OA mandate is by making the case for reuse as the principal measure of the impact of OA works, which requires SA or BY.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stevan Harnad (profile), 21 Dec 2011 @ 3:25am


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ricketson, 12 Jan 2012 @ 9:13pm

    educational use

    From the article:

    NC prohibits... "Creation of learning materials. Students pay for their education."

    I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that fair-use rules permits use for education, regardless of license. At least in the US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sheogorath, 2 Sep 2012 @ 8:53pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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