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.