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Keeping open access simple

8 Aug, 2014
Piece of cake

Piece of cake?

The Wellcome Trust believes that access to the published outputs of research should be open and unrestricted. But, argue Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services at Wellcome Library, and Chris Bird, Senior Legal Counsel for the Wellcome Trust, policies and licences designed to support open access publication must also be easy for researchers to understand and use.

In April 2013 we simplified our open access policy: now, where we pay an open access fee our research must be published under the Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC-BY). Why did we do this? Because we passionately believe in the power of sharing knowledge, and because CC-BY is the strongest available tool to deliver access to and re-use of our funded research. We also believe that CC-BY has become the globally recognised open access licence. Now, The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) has published a new set of open access licence and is encouraging its publisher members to adopt them: unfortunately, we feel this can only confuse the picture.

The great thing about CC-BY is freedom to re-use, and interoperability with other platforms and technologies. Anyone can re-use CC-BY content without getting permission: all they need to do is give credit to the author.

Under CC-BY, anyone can take an article and translate it to a different language, use text and graphics such as figures and tables in their own presentations or blogs, and use the power of computers to create links and generate new knowledge.

Anyone can post CC-BY content to any web site, including commercial ones, allowing much wider reach. For example, if new research was published which described new approaches to reduce cot death, this could be re-published without permission on Mumsnet and BabyCentre (both highly commercial sites) in order to reach more parents who may not generally search journal web sites or repositories like Europe PMC.

Since announcing our move to CC-BY, we have worked with publishers, and the overwhelming majority who offer a paid open access model have moved with us and provide our researchers the option to choose the right licence.

We are very conscious that authors still get asked to choose their licence when they publish open access, and that the choice can be confusing and complex (typically they are offered the Creative Commons attribution (CC-BY), attribution with no commercial re-use (CC-BY-NC), and attribution with no commercial re-use and no right to create derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND)). We understand that many researchers will have little interest in the nuances of the “NC” licence versus the “BY” licence – it would be easy to think that a charity like the Wellcome Trust would not want its funded research to be used commercially, for example – so we try to work behind the scenes to make the choice that bit easier.

So while we’re happy that the licensing landscape has been getting simpler in recent years, we are concerned that the publication of the STM model open access licences will make the author’s life unnecessarily complex. Put simply, we see no value in these new licences, and believe that if a publisher wishes to restrict how content can be used (excluding Wellcome funded, OA papers which must always be published under the CC-BY licence), the existing Creative Commons licences (e.g. CC-BY-NC and CC-BY-NC-ND) are more than adequate.

Of course, first and foremost we also believe that anything describing itself as “open access” should truly be open, which means CC-BY – tested by users, interoperable, and globally recognised.

Chris Bird, Senior Legal Counsel, Wellcome Trust

Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services, Wellcome Library

You can find the Trust’s Open access policy on our website.

Image: “Creative Commons 10th Birthday Celebration San Francisco” by tvol on Flickr

2 Comments leave one →
  1. greboun permalink
    10 Aug, 2014 1:20 pm

    Thank you for this very clear and firm view on the use of CC licenses as de facto standard for open access licensing. We do not need more open access licensing schemes like the ones introduced by the Ass of STM publishers. I do hope that many organizations will sign the letter against the use of the new licenses.
    I agree that the CC-BY license is the most suitable license for open access publications. There is is one small drawback here, as the license in principle would allow for anyone to take works licensed in this way and sell them at a price. I know of cases where publishers have offered CC-BY licensed articles as paid downloads. This would be prevented by simply adding the SA attribute and sometimes I wonder whether Cc-BY-SA wouldn’t be a better choice still. Perhaps you Chris as the legal expert could advise?

  2. Chris Bird permalink
    2 Sep, 2014 4:42 pm

    Hi Tom – thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay in response.

    You’re right that anyone can take a CC-BY licensed paper and try to sell it, but publishers who have been paid to make an article OA should not be doing this. We know this does happen but in general appears to be more failure of process than anything more sinister. Adding the SA switch might help to solve this issue in a small number of cases, but there are also problems with these types of ‘viral’ licences that impede OA, in my opinion. Put simply, content that is licensed under SA may only be combined and redistributed with other content that has been licensed under SA; CC-BY content, by contrast, may be combined and redistributed with any other content (as long as the licence for the other content allows it, of course, and it is appropriately attributed). CC-BY is therefore inherently more inter-operable than CC-BY-SA.

    As a result, we believe use of SA would discourage innovation: let’s say that one of our researchers published an article on effective treatments of malaria and a third party wished to translate this content so it could be understood by health professionals working in regions affected by the disease, and also wanted to add other relevant content – they could not do this if the article had been published SA.

    There are plenty of other possible examples and there is a lot of debate around this, but the bottom line is we believe that ensuring that anyone can re-use this work, subject only to proper attribution, is the way to achieve maximum impact; and for the reasons above we don’t believe SA does this.

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