Journal Authors Choose Open Access Lite

February 25, 2013

I suppose this is good news for the traditionalists. The weekly scientific journal Nature has found that “Researchers Opt to Limit Uses of Open-Access Publications.” The wheels are slowly creaking toward a consensus in academia that publicly-funded research should be freely available. However, recent data indicates that even authors who publish in open-access journals desire at least some control over the ways content is used.

Open-access advocates accuse such researchers of failing to understand how publishing licenses affect research papers, and that if they only knew, they would all opt for the least restrictive Creative Commons license, the CC-BY license. They also suggest that free papers should carry their licenses attached, making the re-use parameters crystal clear. I have to say that last part seems like common sense.

One open-access journal, Scientific Reports (which, by the way, is put out by the same publisher as Nature), maintains a licensing system with three levels of restriction: the CC-BY, the more restrictive CC-BY-NC-SA, and the even more limiting CC-BY-NC-ND. Records show that about 95 percent of their authors chose one of the latter two, with 68 percent picking the most locked-down option. (See here for descriptions of all the Creative Commons licenses.) Are these choices really the result of ignorance?

Ross Mounce of the Open Knowledge Foundation in Cambridge thinks offering researchers a menu of licenses leads to the reflexive choice of the most restrictive option. However, the issue might not be so simple. Journalist Richard Van Noorden writes:

“Many publishers are also arguing against CC-BY, concerned in part about the loss of income if others can resell open-access works. Indeed, the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, a global trade organization based in Oxford, UK, is working on an alternative open-access licence that does not allow commercial or derivative use in reprints, abstracts or adaptations, but explicitly allows text-mining and translations.

“The problem is that adding restrictions to the re-use of work — even with good intentions — can create complex legal issues, explains Martin Hall, vice-chancellor of the University of Salford in Manchester, UK, and a co-author of the ‘Finch report’, an influential study on open access commissioned by the UK government.”

Here’s a link [PDF] to that Finch report, in case you’re curious. Yes, like anything involving legal distinctions, the issue is easily complicated. However, it will benefit us all if publishers, researchers, and open-access advocates can see their way through this thorny thicket. Together.

Cynthia Murrell, February 25, 2013

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