More Issues in Open Access(#OA)

Red hardcover book with flipping pagesThere has been a recent flurry of activity around Open Access (OA) as Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) gear up to implement the recommendations of the Finch report. As readers of this blog know, I have been interested in the emergence of new forms of publishing in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) for a while now, and since becoming an editor of Politics, my interest has sharpened. Those of you have read earlier blogs will know I am very much in favour of OA, but quite worried by the current proposals for so-called Gold OA (where open access is secured via the author or author’s institution paying an upfront Article Processing Charge or APC). I also perceive there to be a lack of detailed understanding of the whole infrastructure that lies submerged behind academic publishing: from peer review to the outreach activities of Learned Societies (disclaimer: I am trustee of the British International Studies Association) to mundane things like copy editing services.

At the top of my list of worries is the restriction of opportunity that OA might entail. Last week there was an excellent post about this by Meera Sabaratnam and Paul Kirby. Meera and Paul provide a useful primer on what is happening as well as making some thoughtful points about the possible implications of ‘Gold’ OA. If you don’t know how the OA system being proposed will work (there is a big difference between being in favour of OA and being in favour of the RCUK/HEFCE interpretation of OA), I suggest you take a look.

There is another looming issue that has also vexed me – the mandating of a permissive Creative Commons License (CC-BY) for Gold OA journals. The Institute for Historical Research made an interesting foray into this area this week. I am a big fan of CC (indeed, this blog is under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license), but the CC-BY licence allows remixing in a way I am wary of. While it may be great for access to data it means that published work can be remixed for profit with only an attribution being required. This raises all kinds of questions. Copyright as it is currently signed over to publishers is restrictive and any easing would be greatly appreciated. But for HSS there seems to be an interesting problem brewing: given that the contribution made by HSS articles, is, in the main, interpretative there is significant value added by the author. Acess to, and reuse of, data may well be an important goal. I have to admit that I don’t really know enough about activities in the Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM) area to comment on whether CC-BY is appropriate for that goal. However, in HSS providing access to publications is not really about providing access to underlying data – it is about providing access to what are considered compelling and creative interpretations of individual and social dynamics. There is a question as to whether ‘interpretation’ and ‘creation’ should be subject to more authorial control (note I am not advocating control by publishers) than CC-BY allows. Three examples:

  • If I write on culture, then my interpretation of a cultural artefact may be unique to me. CC-BY allows writing published in Gold access journals to be republished with only an attribution by for-profit organisations. It would be possible to set up a for-profit magazine that did nothing but scrape content from gold journals – reviews of books or commentary on films, for example – repackage it and sell it on. No value from subsequent sale would accrue to the original author even though the sale was based on the claim that the author’s interpretation was worth reading.
  • Much of HSS writing has a normative dimension. I write on the underlying assumptions of military doctrine and the manner in which they normalise certain forms of killing. Under a CC-BY licence my writing can be appropriated by any think tank or military organisation and repackaged for any purpose they see fit. All they need do is mention somewhere that part (or all) of the text they have produced came from me. They don’t have to say which parts, they don’t have to make the acknowledgement prominent. Suddenly, we might find our work circulating in all kinds of ways that we would not have intended as authors
  • And finally, it raises serious questions about plagiarism. CC-BY requires attribution, but it is not clear in what form. I would venture to say that since CC-BY is designed to allow remixing, it does not require a re-mixer to include quotation marks around verbatim quotes. And thus the whole process of attribution – that has an important part to play in showing the development of, and debts owed by, a particular argument – disappear. And thus students can simply remix Gold OA papers for assessment purposes.

None of this means that I don’t support OA or think that it offers opportunities. At Politics we are actively thinking about how we might adapt to the changing landscape (though it would be an error to see us as having the autonomy to simply do what we want: most journals are bound to Learned Societies and publishers in ways that limit their capacities to act).But it is clear that there are some important issue to discuss that shouldn’t be obscured by the sense of urgency to adapt.

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33 Responses to “More Issues in Open Access(#OA)”

  1. The problem with the learned societies behaving this way is twofold. First, I consider it to be inevitable that the traditional journal industry will very soon be completely bypassed in favour of Green Open Access. The internet has changed the entire landscape of scientific publication. It’s now so cheap and so easy to disseminate knowledge that journals are already redundant, especially in my field of astrophysics. The comfortable income stream that has been used by the IoP to “promote Physics”, as well as to furnish its spacious buildings in Portland Place and pay the no doubt “competitive” salaries of its officers, will therefore surely dry up in the near future. The “Gold” OA favoured by such organizations is unjustifiable and unsustainable and it won’t last. The IoP, RAS et al need to find another way of funding their activities pronto, or downsize accordingly.

  2. […] December 13th – Martin Coward. “More Issues in Open Access(#OA)” […]

  3. An interesting blog here that highlights some of the differences between disciplines and their scholarly natures. While empirical science is built upon specific physical data and complex laboratory processes, and hence in need of well structured assays/experiments, humanities areas in particular are based upon wider evidence and thought processes, and hence need well structured sentences/arguments.

    Understanding the nature of the work is critical here. The imperative question for HSS seems not whether open access is right, but in what meaningful way can it be implemented? Should it be directed at readership, scholarship, entrepreneurship, all of the above? Is the primary literature of secondary concern to the wider audience/community, with outreach/engagement of prime importance (blogging and video seem increasingly to be the essential tools to broader scholarship)? It is arguably a much easier question to answer for fast moving, well funded, and equipment intensive areas like the life sciences.

    The confusion over CC licensing certainly needs addressing (by CC if not otherwise), as if the non commercial compnent of its licence is ill-defined, this opens up questions over other components too, particularly when the interpretation of them could be markedly different under individuals’ own set of norms.

    The employment and ownership question is clearly sensitive – are researchers just the intellectual slaves of the state, or are they instead selected on merit to help drive forward research and education for institutions, with distinctions on service and property underwritten by employment law (with constraints in terms of duties, times, performance, outputs)? I would personally see the relationship between researcher and institution as mutually beneficial, but not necessarily one that ties the individual into a wider public service contract without of course explicitly saying so. The data cannot be copyrighted but can have intellectual property status, while ingenuity on the other hand (to me) rests with the individual and should be used as they choose for their own or wider benefit. (Cf: David Willetts’ book isn’t OA…)

    So the crux of this point is that OA avenues present a series of options and implications, considerations and choices, with progress only viable in a stepwise manner towards a clear goal that those involved can both define appropriately to ensure it is supported and is something people can work towards. Discovering the right niche for a individual, a journal or a society is not as straightforward as it might outwardly seem – the emphasis here must therefore be on making an informed choice, one that can be empowered through the right evidence-based policies at institutions and societies, and which measurably leads to improvements in scholarship and community/wider benefits. And it all starts with the individual.

    • Mike Taylor says:

      Lots of interesting stuff here, but I” just address this one:

      The confusion over CC licensing certainly needs addressing (by CC if not otherwise), as if the non commercial compnent of its licence is ill-defined, this opens up questions over other components too, particularly when the interpretation of them could be markedly different under individuals’ own set of norms.

      Not really. The terms of the CC licences are as explicit as their group of highly skilled lawyers have been able to make them, and are pretty much unambiguous as regards aspects other than the NC clause. The ambiguity of that clause doesn’t reflect any failure on the part of the CC people, but simply that fact that the concept of “commercial” is so hard to pin down. I don’t think they could have done anything differently.

      No doubt this is part of the reason that the Open Source Definition for software ( explicitly prohibits “Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor”, saying: “The major intention of this clause is to prohibit license traps that prevent open source from being used commercially. We want commercial users to join our community, not feel excluded from it.”

      • If the definitions are indeed sound (for now – they can still evolve), then we come back to a question of interpretation for both ‘commercial’ and ‘non-commercial’. This could probably benefit from further exposition and discussion, as NC licences will for some be their first step away from ‘all right reserved’. Building clarity here could help researchers to take more confident steps, if this really is a barrier.

  4. […] Martin Coward reflects on some of the issues around Open Access – lots of useful links in there, and some interesting discussion in the comments. Here’s the first paragraph: […]

  5. Very perceptive points, Martin. I think you are spot on. Add to this that many people feel beleagured on an individual and disciplinary level. The wider bunker mentality in HSS (perhaps more H than SS?) makes it difficult to embrace OA.

    But I think there *is* a sense of community, but defined on a smaller scale e.g. medievalists, German historians, etc. Hence the importance of learned societies. In my field, most PhD students are self-funded, so learned societies provide essential funding for travel and training, all of which comes out of subscription income – much of it individual memberships/subs rather than library subs.

  6. But, Martin, as you point you, you are a scientist. You have not been employed for your poem or novel writing ability. And your poems and novels do not contribute to your Department’s REF submission (although I am sure they are wonderful).

    I think it’s a bit much to suggest that anybody with concerns about copyright does not have a spirit of gratitude and generosity. It is perfectly possible to feel grateful to those who have supported your work (although as Martin points out up thread ‘society’ is rather imprecise) without handing over everything you do for (more or less) unrestrained reuse.

    It would be really good if we could take each other’s professional concerns seriously. I am pretty sure that what works in HSS could not be unilaterally transferred to STEM. So why is it such a stretch to imagine that the reverse is also true.

    The point is that what to you are ‘cracks and corners of specific situations’ are very important professional issues in HSS. This goes beyond the specific case of creative writing departments (although this is not trivial) to the issues that Martin flagged up in his original post.

    I haven’t actually seen anybody engage with Martin’s original point about the interpretative/normative nature of much HSS research. Perhaps in the spirit of generosity, somebody might?

    • Mike Taylor says:

      (I’m Mike, not Martin; Martin is the blog owner and works in HSS, as far as I can tell.)

      I’m going bow out now — I’ve monopolised Martin’s blog quite enough and made all the points I have to make, some of them perhaps more times than strictly necessary 🙂

      You’re quite right that what’s right in the sciences isn’t necessarily also right for HSS. I thought and hoped I’d been clear about recognising that, but maybe I wasn’t. It’s not obvious to me why interpretive work should be dramatically different from deductive, but since I don’t do it myself, this only constitutes a statement of ignorance, not a claim that they are equivalent.

      • Sorry Mike – I knew that – just a slip of the typing fingers!

        • Mike: no need to bow out, I am more than happy to have you posting here as often as you like. I perceive a real need for a dialogue on OA that will get HSS thinking – your posts area massive help in that regard. And like you I think that even if what works in the sciences isn’t necessarily going to work in HSS it doesn’t mean there isn’t much to learn in the traffic between both.

          Josie: Some very interesting comments, sorry to take a bit of time to reply (Saturday and Christmas shopping are my excuses). One thing I want to pick up on is the idea of IP. I think this exposes a key dimension in HSS perceptions of research that may explain our relative reluctance to move quickly to OA. HSS researchers have, by and large, adopted the lone scholar model of research (despite Research Councils trying to get us to collaborate). This model has been underscored by our relative autonomy from the institution: since we do not use expensive labs we tend to work at home often in order to find the solitude we associate with our model of research (and the peace and quiet needed to concentrate). Moreover, universities have always taken a different line over IP with HSS scholars than with STEM. Many HSS scholars don’t realise that their university claims IP rights over any output that can be interpreted to be a result of their employment. But it waives these rights in the case of monographs and journal articles. It doesn’t waive them over exploitable patents which means that STEM scholars may well have a different starting perception of who owns what in IP terms. I think universities stance on IP consolidates a perception in the HSS that the lone scholar has individual IP rights (e.g., HSS scholars are often shocked to find out that the university owns their teaching materials and is quite happy to exploit that ownership independent of those scholars wishes). This has given rise to the perception that HSS scholar owns their ideas and lend the impact they perceive these ideas to have back to the university that gives them a home. This model is, of course, false: universities always claim IP over everything done at the university, they just waive it when it comes to books and journals (partly because they have to so you can sign your copyright over to publishers). But this lone scholar model seems to be a big impediment to what Mike calls a ‘spirit of generosity’. It hasn’t helped that the REF has encouraged competition between scholars that militates against the spirit of generosity. But it is more the idea that I am a lone scholar before a member of a community that I think is going to be the first big hurdle for OA in mainstream HSS.

          • Mike Taylor says:

            Thanks, Martin. I’m not pulling out permanently, just don’t think I have anything new to add to this particular discussion, and don’t want to end up going round and round. But I’ll see your future posts (at least if you announce them on Twitter) and will no doubt comment on them!

            Interesting analysis in this comment, BTW. I suspect you’re spot on.

          • Martin, thanks so much for this, its really useful. I think (if I may have your permission to do so (-; ) I will quote this comment and reflect on it at greater length on my blog.

            My short response is to propose a strawman – this sounds an awful lot like the politicians expenses story. A group of people funded out of the public purse feel like they’re not paid enough – and undertake certain activities to supplement their income. Traditionally – this has been accepted by the community as normal and “everyone does it”. The question of legality or not isn’t really relevant – the public response is the key. And I just can’t see an argument like this flying. I don’t fully buy the line myself – but it would be interesting to tease it apart and see where the analogy is weak.

            Would be interesting to know – do those H&SS who make a lot of money on books or tv or whatever buy their time out so the institution can bring in teaching and research replacements? Or is it seen as an investment in wider exposure?

            • Gosh, Cameron, that’s a bit of a low blow.

              I think the money is a bit of a red herring, and apologies for introducing it. As I tried to point up thread, it’s not about the money for most people, it’s about intellectual property.** My point was not that CCBY is bad because people won’t be able to make money from their research. What I was trying to address was the more general point that anybody whose work is publicly funded should be happy with a CCBY licence.

              As this is patently not the case for filmmakers, artists, writers, sportspeople etc, I wondered why people on this thread felt so strongly that it should automatically apply to academics. I am genuinely interested in the answer to this question – perhaps academics are an exception, but I would really like to hear why.

              **To answer your question: the number of HSS scholars making a meaningful amount of money from books and TV is very small. In general, such people would not need to buy themselves out, as they do these sorts of activities alongside their other research and teaching duties. Indeed commercially successful books are often considered star items for the REF. And of course their activities will now also attract QR money through the REF Impact category. So such activities are not grubby dealings on the side, but in many cases essential contributions to the health of their departments.

            • Please do quote from the blog, would like to see your further thoughts. This is a great comment that nicely points to what I think is the most common misperception when it comes to discussing HSS research. I know you acknowledge the strawman nature of what you say, but I think that to an extent this is how HSS is seen from the outside. People are always surprised that I have never made any money from my publications and that I don’t get paid (or even get any recognition in my institutional workload model) for my editorial work. I don’t doubt that the odd TV historian or textbook author has made some money in royalties, but I doubt anyone else in HSS even expects to ever see any personal financial gain form their publishing. You are of course right – if they gained from publishing that was effectively funded by the taxpayer, this would be wrong. But they don’t. Journal articles return no royalties (you can register for ALCS, as pointed out by Josie above, but this is open to all scholars – STEM and HSS – and I have yet to meet one who has actually registered) and the standard book contract returns 6% – but most of us pay a fee to publishers against royalties to index volumes (which is, to my mind, a great service that I am happy to pay for). As a result I will never see any royalties from my book. You could of course say we should try and publish more popular books or that if we are so unprofitable we deserve to go under – I have heard both said.

              But I think this misses the point. I have no expectation of any source of income other than my salary. I didn’t get involved with HSS publishing to be paid for it. In that sense it is vocation. In fact I like to think – possibly naively – that social and political knowledge is not easily commodified. I don’t think that I am unusual in the SS in thinking this. I like to think there is something about interpretative analysis of society and culture that is beyond the capital relation. Indeed, this, it seems to me, is the conrnerstone of the argument that we keep HSS alive for the good of society. If it is a social good to reflect on social dynamics, then we do it without expectation of personal enrichment. In this sense I am an avid fan of OA – HSS knowledge should be free to circulate. It’s why I get so upset – despite being a collaborator- about the publishing model as it is.

              So yes, you’re right – if that were the situation, it would be wrong. But I don’t think that is the situation – HSS scholars invest enormous amounts of time into simply putting stuff out here for the sake of it. They don’t expect to earn anything from it. So that is not the issue.

              The issue is 3-fold (and each of these is – unsurprisingly given my vocation – political):

              1. Because they publish without expectation of financial return HSS scholars find it hard to see why anyone else should re-use that material with the expectation of financial gain. They also worry about inappropriate re-use. This is an unrealised fear or most – I doubt anyone will find a way to monetise my discussions of Heidegger on place; nor do I think that neo-nazis will plough through my book to find the one sentence where I say that we need a nuanced view of Heidegger’s thought and use it to justify his activities as Rector of Frieburg University. But the possibility of either is there and it feels wrong. Dealing with these perceptions will be an important hurdle in OA debate in HSS.

              2. Because they are on the whole oriented to questions of social norms/justice a lot of SS scholars are concerned about the way in which APCs might be a barrier (don’t forget a huge amount of HSS scholarship is about forms of exclusion) – permanent staff will be OK probably (especially as HEFCE will give institutions money to fund their APCs). but what about PhD students – who are expected to publish to get jobs. Or what about independent scholars? Or what about scholars from the global south who want to go gold to maximise impact. I know the PLOS model allows for copious waivers, but PLOS is/was underwritten by generous foundational funding. I see HSS journals being cast adrift with little or no budget and then they will need APCs to fund their backend infrastructure and communications. They will need to find an income and will be tempted towards APCs and then there will be a barrier.

              3. They don’t want gold as it is seen by RCUK/HEFCE to be just another way to keep the traditional publishers stranglehold going. There is a very real fear that the APC model will be just a way to keep the various big conglomerates floating – substituting subscription revenue with APCs. the taxpayer will still pay twice for this – once when the academic is paid their salary and again when the HEFCE grant is used to pay the APC. We need some discussion of this.

              We are now deep into nuance and wider social questions of course – and this doesn’t change the fact that overall I’d like to see my journal and others go OA (and I’ve made proposals to this effect in past). But I am trying to think through how I will negotiate this given the various cultural and perceptual dynamics. Suggestions welcome!

              • Great comment, Martin. You have really put your finger on the important issues (unlike my unhelpful red herrings). We all need to think hard about where we go from here, but I think identifying and articulating these dynamics is a very important first step.

  7. Hi Mike

    But when a creative writing tutor’s novel or poem is part of a Department’s REF submission then they are paid to write the novel/poem (both through their salary and indirectly through the ensuing QR) in the same way that academics are paid to write scholarly books and articles. So should they be made to publish with a CC BY licence?

    ALCS (Artists Licensing and Copyright Society) collects money that is owed to authors for secondary use of their work. In the case of HSS journal articles and books, typically photocoying for course packs etc. Journal articles only accrue copyright monies for 3 years, but books etc for much longer I think. We are not talking vast amounts of money, perhaps £1000 a year for an average academic. By no means everybody is signed up to it, I’d say most haven’t even heard of it.

    To be honest, I think for the vast majority this is an issue about intellectual property rather than financial gain. But the principle is the same. How far do we take this? Should Olympic athletes who are lottery funded be made to give up their IP rights?

    • Oops, it’s actually Artists’ Licensing and Collecting Society – Freudian slip!

    • Mike Taylor says:

      But when a creative writing tutor’s novel or poem is part of a Department’s REF submission then they are paid to write the novel/poem (both through their salary and indirectly through the ensuing QR) in the same way that academics are paid to write scholarly books and articles. So should they be made to publish with a CC BY licence?

      Well, I don’t know. All I can tell you is that when I, a scientist, write a novel or poem, that isn’t considered to be something I can use to demonstrate that I’m doing my paid job well.

      But I don’t really want to go chasing down into the cracks and corners of specific situations — not even if I knew the world they’re taking place in, which of course I don’t. What I hoped I’d get a across is something more like a spirit of generosity, and of gratitude to the society that’s made my work possible. That will resonate with some people and probably not with some others. My hope is that funding bodies take that view — not primarily for the sake of researchers (though I think they”ll benefit too) but for the world.

  8. Thanks for an interesting and illuminating discussion.

    I’m not sure I am convinced by the argument that researchers should be happy to see publicly-funded work remixed for profit.

    Where does this leave e.g the historian who writes a commercially successful book? It’s not actually that rare for people to make money from books – and even from articles via ALCS.

    Does a similar argument apply to artists who are funded by the Arts Council? Should novelists who hold positions as Creative Writing lecturers (and whose work is submitted for the REF) be made to publish their novels as OA? If not, why not?

    • Mike Taylor says:

      [Sorry if I am monopolising this conversation on your blog, Martin. Just say in and when you want me to butt out.]

      Josie, I don’t know enough about how HSS scholarship works to comment on the historian example. But for the creative-writing lecturer, it seems clear to me that if what he’s paid to do is lecture on creative writing, and if in his own time he writes a novel, than that novel is not in any sense publicly funded and it’s entirely up to him what he does with it.

      Being a scientist myself, I’m not familiar with ALCS — I don’t even know what it stands for. Are you saying that it enables researchers to make money from their journal articles? I’d be interested to know more — I’ve certainly never heard of that happening in the sciences.

  9. Hi Martin. Thanks for laying these concerns out so nicely.

    First on the plagiarism thing and how attribution is done. The CC deed (for all the licenses) makes it clear that the author gets to say how they want to be attributed. Also (in answer to some other concerns) they have a right to tell a downstream user that they *do not* wish to be attributed. On the concerns about misuse I’d argue that any CC license actually offers much more protection than existing arrangements (publishers are free to re-publishing out of context elements, charge for it, even remove your name under some agreements) and the different CC licenses don’t make much difference to these protections.

    Actually plagiarism is easier to detect in a completely CC BY world. It would be easy to build a service that checked new works against the whole massive database and look for copied fragments. Such a service would cost money to run so it would need some sort of resourcing, perhaps as paid-for service. Which your NC license would actually mitigate against – for such a service to have to negotiate specific terms of access for every publisher to include content in their corpus would actually increase the costs massively (I’d guess by orders of magnitude). So if you want to prevent plagiarism, the best way is to make the text freely available.

    I think there are two broader arguments for attribution over NC licensing. The first is, you make the point about money accruing to the author. I would argue that, at least where public funding has been used, its reasonable to expect its recipient to maximise overall benefits for the public, both economic and other, rather than personal benefits. If work is self funded then the situation is clearly different – but self funding for me would also mean paying your own salary. So I’ve always argued that the funder has a right to dictate terms of dissemination, so as to maximise their ability to perform their mission. As an aside it follows that if the mission of the funder is to make the author rich that’s very different from a public funder seeking to maximise, amongst other things, overall economic activity, public good, cultural enrichment, impact on policy etc etc etc.

    But even for the self funded researcher I’d argue there are benefits from allowing commercial downstream use. Bottom line, what’s worse, someone making some money from your work, or no-one seeing at all and you making none. It’s a very rare case anyone makes any money off a research work so for me its more important that it reaches people. People spreading the work, as long as its linked back to you is a benefit, not a downside. Some of that spread can benefit from commercial involvement. And by taking an NC position you exclude lots of potential uses, teaching – where a fee is paid, fundraising, use by a policy think tank that charges for reports etc etc. And these arguments are stronger for the publicly funded researcher.

    The reason publishers are arguing for NC rights is to as ensure that they have exclusive rights over commercial exploitation. With the big publishers I’d say from a community perspective this is just a bad thing – we don’t want to hand over exclusive commercial rights. For smaller publishers and societies I can understand that cost recovery and supporting community service is a concern and these are more community based organisations. But I think we need to look closely at the kinds of uses and impact that we lose and the amount of money that can be recovered as well as the question of our service to the wider community. We could do with some better numbers on that.

    • Thanks for these comments – I am somewhat persuaded by most, although my reply to Mike above indicates some reservations about the nature of funding in HSS as well as the value of NC in relation to knowledge. I see the point about NC preventing a full database for plagiarism purposes although the database could be done on a not-for-profit (NFP) basis. NFP would satisfy me re. NC and since CC makes me the person who will ultimately have to chase down licence violations it would thus be fine. It does strike me though that the wording of the CC re. attribution is weak – “You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor”. That means that we need prominent wording at the top of each article to tell readers/students that verbatim quotes will need to be put in quotation marks and acknowledged via referencing. I say that because left unchecked remixing will see the practices of citation go the same way written English did when txt speak emerged. I also have worries about enforcement of licenses – I agree, this is not a good argument for allowing publishers to retain copyright (and the things you point out about their ability to reprint are very important to note). But since authors will have to monitor re-use (though perhaps this is a role for learned societies?), I suspect many re-users will simply work on the assumption that authors will find it too hard and expensive to chase things they feel violates the CC license.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        I see the point about NC preventing a full database for plagiarism purposes although the database could be done on a not-for-profit (NFP) basis.

        Are you sure the NC clause discriminates on the basis of whether something is undertaken for profit or not? My understanding is that it doesn’t — it’s a non-commercial clause, not a non-profit clause. Unless you know different?

        The broader point is that it’s terribly hard to know exactly what activities and NC clause prohibits; and even harder to know what activities might conceivably attract a lawsuit from the litigious copyright holder of an NC paper (which is more of a danger if it’s a publisher than if it’s the author — especially if the activity is one that threatens the publisher’s revenues). As a result, NC clauses have an inevitable chilling effect, even though that’s usually not the author’s intent.

      • Martin, sorry for slow response. You’ve actually just made one of my own arguments. Actually trying to enforce good scholarly practice through licensing is a bad idea for precisely the reasons you raise. Also for me it means giving up control over academic practice to lawyers and judges. So in terms of our own practice – what we think is appropriate citation, re-use, and respect – these are things that our communities have to both declare and police ourselves.

        Licenses are good for enabling people to do imaginative things. They’re good for enforcement of specific things if you have a lot of money and lawyers available. We won’t so we can use licensing as a tool to enable, but in terms of practice that’s something for us. “verbatim quotes will need to pu in quotation marks…” – Martin Coward (2012) is something we need to train and require as part of our processes. And with an open corpus we police that ourselves better.

        Mike has tackled the Not-for-Profit issue but there are two arguments against this. One is that what is NC is never really clear. I work for a NFP, but we do have revenue, and it could be argued that perhaps what I am doing here is enhancing that revenue. So can I not read/quote from, collect your blog? I honestly don’t know. In legal terms “commercial” is generally defined as “being in whole or in part concerned with the generation of monetary gain” so its the activity, not the organisation that is at issue.

        So there’s a strong argument – although not AFAIK tested in court – that teaching in a UK context, where fees are paid by students, is a commercial activity. Certainly a think tank that wanted to make copies of your blog post for a meeting in which they prepared a report which they were being funded to do would be a violation of your license.

        • Cameron, thanks for the clarifications – they are very helpful. I see the point about community enforcement of norms and am mostly persuaded. I also see that CC-BY would make turnitin’s job easier – or indeed would make the job of constructing an a competitor to turnitin owned by UUK easier. I also see the points raised about NFP, although the important thing – if I read it right – is how the author licencing the work perceives it. I see a big difference between creating profit (and extracting it from the system for personal for shareholder gain) vs being committed to reinvesting profit for the good of users.

          I think actually that your comments reveal 2 wider issues for CC; 1) people – me, for example – are not fully up to speed with the ins and out of the process; 2) the licenses sacrifice a certain amount of detail in service of easy use. I know we want to keep things simple to permit re-use but there may be a need to think through whether one license for multiple scenarios is overly general – or whether it needs clarification notes that, as of yet, remain to be written.

          • Mike Taylor says:

            I see a big difference between creating profit (and extracting it from the system for personal for shareholder gain) vs being committed to reinvesting profit for the good of users.

            So do I, and so (I am sure) does Cameron. Unfortunately the practical question is whether you can persuade a judge of where this line is, and more importantly whether you can afford the time or money to go through the process of doing so. Since for nearly everyone the answer to that will be no, nearly everyone is likely to play it safe by not use NC-licenced materials.

            (To be clear, I fully understand that’s not the intent of most people using NC licences. But intent and outcome are two very different things.)

  10. […] written as a comment on Martin Coward's blog, but I thought the point was worth making as its own […]

  11. Mike Taylor says:

    Here’s my take on CC BY vs. more restrictive CC licences (leaving Gold vs. Green for another day).

    It may be true, as you suggest, that CC BY-NC is better for the author than CC BY. But authors are part of a community, and it’s unquestionably better for the broader community that CC BY be used, and that commercial applications of the authors research be allowed and encouraged. So long as researchers are funded by that broader community, it seems perfectly fair that the funders should be able to mandate that the more permissive licence, which is better for society be used. If we kick back against that — if we say it’s not enough to be paid to do research, we also want a slice of the commercial uses of our work — we only perpetuate society’s ivory-tower stereotype of academics who think the world owes them a living.

    So while there is certainly an argument to be made that CC BY is better for the researcher, I think that whether that’s true or not, simple justice requires that no additional restrictions be placed on such work.

    (Is there a way on this blog to be notified when a new comment is added to an article? I’d like to see responses.)

    • Thanks for your comments. I am wondering whether what we see here is a difference in understanding of the nature of the research process between STEM and HSS? I agree completely with what you say where a) the work is fully funded by an external body and b) the downstream exploitation requires some sort of value added on the part of the body doing the exploiting. I think though that for a lot of HSS writers (a term that may be more appropriate than ‘researcher’) there is a significant doubt about the nature of the funding. A lot of HSS writing gets done at evenings and weekends: given that I am not wasting the time in the day, but doing things vital to running the business of the institution, do my employers fund the out of hours writing I do? And now that the government provides almost no funding for HSS teaching and QR for HSS shrinks year on year is the taxpayer really the funder anymore? The university pays me from fees paid by students – if those fees are incidentally supported by loans that does not make the taxpayer my direct funder (that would be like saying the bank was the direct owner of a car I bought with a bank loan). But I think it’s the value added question that really has me stumbling when it comes to CC-BY – much of what is to be exploited in my work is not the underlying data or the discovery made in collating and processing that data, but is in the distinctive interpretation that I provide (no one else, perhaps thankfully, writes quite like I do). It is easy for someone to exploit that distinctive interpretation without adding value. That I find hard to be so relaxed about. I’d also add that while Cameron is right (below) publishers can do all kinds of things I don’t like with my work (and that’ one big reason that I support CC) – I might have a political preference for NC: perhaps I like the idea that knowledge is not for commercial gain. But maybe that’s an old leftie position ;_)

      Thanks for the nudge on email subscription to comments, finally forced me to add that option!

      • Mike Taylor says:

        Thanks, Martin, this is interesting.

        A lot of HSS writing gets done at evenings and weekends: given that I am not wasting the time in the day, but doing things vital to running the business of the institution, do my employers fund the out of hours writing I do?

        Well, I don’t know what your employment contract says. But does the body that pays you expect you to write this material as a condition of paying your salary? If they do, then it seems to me that they’re funding the work, whether it’s done 9am-5pm or at other times.

        I also take your point that sources of funding for university salaries are increasingly complex. Nevertheless, whatever the detail of grants, loans, fees, etc., it seems it all comes from broader society in some form or another. So I still feel we owe them all the benefit we can give from our research.


        It is easy for someone to exploit that distinctive interpretation without adding value. That I find hard to be so relaxed about.

        I wonder just how true that is. And the reason I wonder is, if it’s that easy, wouldn’t you be doing it yourself? If there’s money to be easily made from your work, why aren’t you making it?

        My guess is, it’s because actually whatever money there is to be made does require real added value. So there are three options: 1, find someone who will do that work in exchange for paying you (but that process is itself work which you may not have time or inclination for); 2, let people who can make money do so anyway (in which case what have you lost?); or 3, the work never gets used at all (everyone loses).

        My feeling about my own work is that unless I have a way to make #1 happen, #2 is a much better outcome than #3. (it may even be financially advantageous in the long run, maybe leading to consultancy gigs, greater visibility, “broader impact” to put on your grant applications and job forms, etc.)

        • You’re right of course, #3 is to no-one’s benefit. And maybe I am being too precious at the expense of wider dissemination.

          With regard to contracts I think this is ripe for discussion since the common refrain that what we do is ‘funded by the taxpayer’ is not the whole picture (and the debate suffers when it is simplified like this – for example, parents ask why, when ‘their taxes are paying for my employment’, can’t I teach x y or z). A funded project is delimited in various ways, with a contact saying ‘you will research’ there isn’t that kind of delimitation and so it is hard to know where the job starts and anything else begins. Universities are probably happy with that position. But I think there is a serious question here: to what extent could I ever claim that something was out of the bounds of the employment that is, indirectly, funded by broader society? I do sometimes struggle with the general idea that I am owned by my employer (and thus broader society). In my line of work, where seeing a film might be an important part of thinking through cultural politics, that leads to a terrible sense that no part of your life is your own. I wouldn’t want OA – by underscoring the idea that everything I do is funded by broader society – to consolidate that sense.

          Of course, I know the response – which is that even where I publish work unrelated to employment, I should share for the good of the community. I get that (hence the CC on this site), but the blanket argument for sharing – while it has intrinsic merit – starts to obscure other complexities (like the fact that the government has withdrawn a lot of taxpayer support for HSS but not communicated that effectively to the public).

          • Mike Taylor says:

            I do sometimes struggle with the general idea that I am owned by my employer (and thus broader society).

            I agree, that would be intolerable. In my day-job I am a computer programmer, and it’s not unusual in this industry for employers to impose contracts that say all code you write while in their employment, whether on their time or your own, belongs to them. Lawsuits have been levied where employers have tried to take a slice of projects that employees started on their own time. (I would never work for such an employed, and I am pleased to say that the people I work for are excellent in every way.)

            Still, I think if you want to gauge what parts of your work should count as “funded” by the university, and so indirectly by society at large, then the heuristic I proposed earlier works pretty well: “does the body that pays you expect you to write this material as a condition of paying your salary?” If you didn’t do a certain piece of work X and your employer was cool with that, then I guess you can conclude that you did X for yourself.

            Finally: thanks for fixing my errant [blockquote] tag!