Science publishing: Open access must enable open use

Journal name:
Date published:
Published online

Those wishing to maximize the benefits of public research must require more than free access, says Cameron Neylon — they must facilitate reuse.


At the end of 2012, there is no longer a debate about whether the results of research should be freely accessible. All that remains is to work out when and how access will be enabled. Meanwhile, the political and economic question of 2012 has been: should governments invest to nurture economic recovery, or tighten their belts and risk further economic damage? Publicly funded research has often been at the heart of this debate as governments attempt to ensure that public investment is generating the greatest possible innovation, economic activity and societal gains.

It is in this light that researchers should view the dramatic advance of open access in 2012. This shift, and the reason why governments and funders are increasingly adopting or examining open-access mandates, is about more than just the benefits of access. It is about the potential of open access to improve the efficiency of research itself, and to deliver a greater return on public investment.

In this context, free access is not enough. To maximize the value of the public good and the return on investment, research outputs must be reusable. That does not just mean making data or papers available on the Internet, but ensuring that innovators can manipulate the material, including mining, translating or expressing it in imaginative ways or for new audiences.

The most significant policy moves in open access in 2012 came from Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Wellcome Trust, a major UK biomedical funder (see and From April 2013, papers arising from RCUK funding must be made free to access. Significantly, the core of the policy aims to maximize the reusability of research outputs, not just provide free access. Building on its long-standing leadership in this area, the Wellcome Trust strengthened its open-access policy, harmonizing it with that of the RCUK.

Making research outputs usable has many aspects. The technical side — standardizing the representations of data and knowledge in ways that make them easily transferable — remains challenging and needs further work. There are also legal challenges, but good tools exist that provide the rights to reuse research in any way that scientists can imagine: the Creative Commons licences. These easily and effectively define precise 'reuse rights'.

The Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence — a key component of the RCUK and Wellcome policies on open access — allows any kind of reuse, provided the copyright holder is properly attributed. PLOS, where I work as advocacy director, has always used the CC BY licence, like other major open-access publishers, and this licence is emerging as a standard for open-access publications. The RCUK and Wellcome policies explicitly encourage researchers to submit their papers to journals that will publish the work under a CC BY licence — making these the first funders to take such a step. The target is to create a critical mass of freely accessible and freely reusable literature. The RCUK and Wellcome have taken the lead, now others must follow if everyone is to reap the full benefits of effective research communication.

There are two established mechanisms for making research articles accessible. One is for the publisher to make the version of record freely available online. The second is for a version to be made available in an institutional, disciplinary or funder repository. These two routes are often referred to as 'gold' and 'green' (see However, because 'gold' has been misused in the past, I will refer to journal-mediated and repository-mediated open access, rather than gold and green, respectively.

Access for all

Repository-mediated open access has provided the greatest volume of accessible material in the past ten years. Some analyses have estimated that more than 20% of the world's peer-reviewed literature can be read for no charge through this mechanism1. One of the major contributors to this growth has been the Public Access Policy of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), which requires that either the published version or the final author copy, after peer review, of NIH-funded papers be deposited into the online archive PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. The policy, along with others, has provided access to an archive that so far contains around 2.5 million articles.

The success of PubMed Central and of other disciplinary and institutional repositories illustrates a weakness. Although millions of articles are accessible to read, the majority of them cannot be used for anything except reading. If, for instance, you wish to index all the gene names in a set of papers, put them on a website, translate them, use text or images in a summary or even just print out several copies of the collected papers, you are limited to a much smaller set of around 500,000 articles that carry a Creative Commons licence (see For any commercial purpose, which could include simply making copies for a class or company meeting, one is restricted to the smaller subset of papers that have a CC BY licence.

This matters because a growing body of evidence shows that enabling the reuse of research maximizes its potential for innovation. A natural experiment conducted in the academic community, in which an agreement with the NIH made one set of mouse strains for genetics research more freely accessible, showed that these strains generated more citations, as well as more diverse and more applied research2. The publicly funded Human Genome Project and its freely reusable data generated a massive 141-fold return on investment in economic returns alone3. In terms of its wider impact, the reusable data led to 30% more new clinical products than the privately funded, closed genome-sequencing project of the US biotech firm Celera Genomics4.

There are fewer and smaller examples that relate to the published research literature, because a critical mass of accessible and reusable papers has not yet been achieved. This is what the RCUK and Wellcome policies seek to achieve.

Unfortunately, funders cannot solve issues of reusability simply by requiring papers to have a CC BY licence. When funders are not covering publishing fees, it is more difficult for them to require specific licensing terms. The RCUK and Wellcome both allow researchers to use the repository route to open access but, although they request certain terms of reuse, they do not demand it. Traditionally, authors hand control of reuse rights to publishers. For this to change, funders need to gain leverage with publishers.

One mechanism is to buy that leverage. When a funder is paying for publication services, they are in a position to dictate service levels — enabling the RCUK and Wellcome, for example, to require that papers for which they fund publication charges carry a CC BY licence. A consortium approach to creating a journal-mediated open-access environment for particle physics, SCOAP3 (, achieved the same ends earlier this year by running a competitive tender process for the publication services they required and making licensing terms part of the requirements.

An alternative approach builds on the NIH policy, which stipulates that funded authors retain rights to their research so that it can be placed in a repository. There is no legal reason why this could not be expanded to depositing a copy with a specific licence. This would make it possible to use repository-mediated open access to provide reusable content with the right legal tools.

The politics of progress

The decision in the United Kingdom has been that the benefits of access and reuse will be achieved more quickly and efficiently by supporting the growth of the journal-mediated route. Fundamentally, this is a political judgement. Funders do not feel that they have the political leverage to take a rights-retention approach. The RCUK and Wellcome have decided that the most effective way to support progress towards open access and reuse is to provide the resources to support journal-mediated access.

Not all agree that the focus on licensing is the correct priority. Proponents of repository-mediated open access point to the greater pool of research currently available through repositories, and argue that the cost of delivering that access is lower. In my view, funders who want to maximize the return on their investment in research communication should use the leverage provided by financing to require immediate access to the final published version, with the right licensing. The RCUK and Wellcome policies are the first to actively do this and represent a significant step forward.

Much of the criticism of the RCUK policy has focused on the transitional costs — while a mix of open access and traditional publishing persists, it will be necessary for institutions to pay both subscriptions and publication charges. However, simple 'back of the envelope' calculations based on current charges by open-access publishers5 and an estimate of a few million papers per year suggest that there are significant savings to be made following a move to full open access. Studies of the situation in the United Kingdom show that all institutions would see savings from this approach6 — if so, a few years of investment is just smart management.

“Institutions need to negotiate more imaginative and favourable arrangements with subscription publishers.”

More broadly, institutions need to take the opportunity to negotiate more imaginative and favourable arrangements with subscription publishers, to constrain transitional costs. Twenty-one years of near 100% open access through the arXiv for particle physics, for example, has not reduced subscriptions to particle-physics journals7. But when the community used its combined purchasing power through the SCOAP3 consortium, an entire field was converted to open access with no additional transitional costs (see

No change comes without risks. This year's UK policies are among the first to focus on ensuring that research communication is configured to maximize the benefits of the Internet. Other funders equally focused on encouraging innovation from public research must follow this lead. Licensing is only one part of that optimization, but it is an important element that we can tackle today.


  1. Swan, A. Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access (UNESCO, 2012).
  2. Murray, F., Aghion, P., Dewatripont, M., Kolev, J. & Stern, S. Of Mice and Academics: Examining the Effect of Openness on Innovation NBER Working Paper No. 14819 (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2009).
  3. Battelle Technology Partnership Practice Economic Impact of the Human Genome Project (Battelle Memorial Institute, 2011).
  4. Williams, H. L. Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation: Evidence from the Human Genome NBER Working Paper No. 16213 (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2010).
  5. Solomon, D. J. & Björk, B.-C. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. Tech. 63, 14851495 (2012).
  6. Swan, A. & Houghton, J. Going for Gold? Report to the UK Open Access Implementation Group (UK OAIG, 2012).
  7. Swan, A. Open Access Self-archiving: An Introduction (Key Perspectives, 2005).

Download references

Author information


  1. Cameron Neylon is advocacy director at PLOS. He writes regularly on the technical and social issues of using the Internet effectively in scholarly communication, and is based in the United Kingdom.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to:

Author details


  1. Report this comment #53150

    William Gunn said:

    This is a really great overview, Cameron. One dimension missing from these discussions is the differential effects of the policy on the big publishers like Elsevier and Wiley and the university presses. I recently had a conversation with some folks from a prominent UP who expressed interest in making their work more open, but were concerned that the CC-BY license would embolden journal aggregators to re-sell their work, leading to a loss of subs cription income.

    I pointed out that PLOS hasn't had its audience stolen by sites mirroring PLOS content, but these folks felt they were more of a target because they were subs cription and PLOS wasn't. While that may be true, but it should be noted that the huge market inefficiency and information asymmetry in the publishing market means that just because they charge for their content, it doesn't mean their content is more valuable.

  2. Report this comment #53158

    Mike Taylor said:

    This is absolutely spot on. As academics, we have a distressing tendancy to forget that the reason the wider world pays us to do what we do is not just to enable us to keep playing our favourite games, but to benefit that wider world.

    Historical accidents locked us into a situation where much of our research was hidden away from non-academics. Now that we're belatedly breaking out of that prison it's absolutely essential that the work we release as open access be fully available for every kind of use society can come up with — not only increasing our abstract knowledge, but improving all our lives and generating economic value.

    Heather Piwowar said it well: we research not only so we can know more, but so we can DO more.

    Every citizen whose taxes pay for research to be done should be outraged whenever the full economic value of that research is prevented from being realised by restrictive licencing terms. That means that the CC BY licence is the right one: it gives researchers the credit they need and deserve (reputation) while not denying society the right to make the best use of their work.

  3. Report this comment #53187

    David Crotty said:

    As in your PLoS editorial on this same subject ( you seem to continue to have a fundamental confusion about the differences between copyright and patent. Copyright describes the licensing terms for the article ? for the set of written words and images describing the research in question, not the research itself, the papers, not the ideas or data behind the papers.

    While I agree that it is in funders' best interests to maximize the use and reuse of the research they fund, this is more a question about researchers and research institutions patenting results, rather than the copyright status of the report written about those results. The examples you cite, human genome sequence data and a mouse strain, can both be reused, regardless of whether the papers published generating that data or generating/using that mouse strain fall under any particular copyright license.

    Furthermore, your examples where a CC-BY license would be helpful are also somewhat incorrect. Copyright would not stop you from indexing all of the gene names found in a set of papers, translating those papers, reusing a limited amount of text/images or printing out copies for personal use. Where copyright comes into play is if you want to redistribute or sell these things, and in many cases, fair use comes into play and allows it.

    CC-BY is a blunt instrument for achieving these sorts of goals, and a more specific license outlining terms might be a better route. If we are indeed moving away from the subs cription business model, then publishers must be free to explore new business models, particularly business models that take the financial burden off of the research community and research funding dollars. CC-BY eliminates all revenue received from pharma reprints and other types of secondary rights licensing. While the funder may be paying the APC, the current APC price is subsidized by the revenue that comes in through those channels. Take it away, and the APC goes up, increasing the burden on the funder. The publisher looking to explore new ways to balance the books is cut off at the knees as CC-BY drastically reduces potential new ways of doing business.

    The patenting of research results, the true issue here, is more problematic. Researchers and research institutions have profited nicely from technology transfer activities (more than $1.8 Billion in 2011 alone). Much of that money is channeled back into further research. In the US, researchers and institutions are, under the Bayh-Dole Act, allowed to have exclusive rights to the results of their government-funded research. Government funder policy cannot contradict this law unless Congress specifically repeals Bayh-Dole, which has been widely hailed as a tremendously successful driver of innovation.

    If you wish to accomplish your laudable goals, then publishers are the wrong targets. Instead, university technology transfer offices and researchers themselves must be willing to give up the potential financial windfalls from their work, and at least private funding agencies must make this a condition of their funding. Access to the papers written about the research is an entirely separate issue.

    What CC-BY does accomplish is to potentially create new businesses built around the reuse of scholarly papers themselves. For government funders, stimulating the economy is undoubtedly a worthy goal. Think of someone like Mendeley being able to re-sell a subs cription to the current literature that has been run through their various community filters and activities. Or for a text-mining company to sell an annotated and indexed version of a journal's entire content.

    Those are interesting prospects, and the debate should probably revolve around whether those for-profit companies deserve free raw materials to make their fortunes, or whether they should be asked to help support the publications they rely on in order to make those profits, and in doing so, reduce the financial burden on the research community itself. It confuses the issue, however to imply that CC-BY licensing of papers will have any impact whatsoever on the reuse and patenting of research results themselves.

    More on this here:

  4. Report this comment #53210

    Stevan Harnad said:


    1. For the reasons I will try to describe here, raising the goal-posts for Green OA self-archiving and Green OA mandates from where they are now (free online access) to CC-BY (free online access PLUS unlimited re-use and re-publication rights) would be very deleterious to Green OA growth, Green OA mandate growth, and hence global OA growth (and would thereby provide yet another triumph for the publisher lobby and double-paid hybrid-Gold CC-BY).

    2. The fundamental practical reason why global Green Gratis OA (free online access) is readily reachable is precisely because it requires only free online access and not more.

    3. That is also why 60% of journals endorse immediate, un-embargoed Green OA today.

    4. That is also why repositories' Almost-OA Button can tide over user needs during any embargo for the remaining 40% of journals.

    5. "Upgrading" Green OA and Green OA mandates to requiring CC-BY would mean that most journals would immediately adopt Green OA embargoes, and their length would be years, not months.

    6. It would also mean that emailing (or mailing) eprints would become legally actionable, if the eprint was tagged and treated as CC-BY, thereby doing in a half-century's worth of established scholarly practice.

    7. And all because impatient ideology got the better of patient pragmatics and realism, a few fields' urgent need for CC-BY was put ahead of all fields' urgent need for free online access — and another publisher lobby victory was scored for double-paid hybrid Gold-CC-BY (hence simply prolonging the worldwide status quo of mostly subs cription publishing and little OA).

    8. If Green OA self-archiving meant CC-BY then any rival publisher would immediately be licensed to free-ride on any subs cription journal's content, offering it at cut-rate price in any form, thereby undercutting all chances of the original publisher recouping his costs: Hence for all journal publishers that would amount to either ruin or a forced immediate conversion to Gold CC-BY...

    9. ...If publishers allowed Green CC-BY self-archiving by authors, and Green CC-BY mandates by their institutions, without legal action.

    10. But of course publishers would not allow the assertion of CC-BY by its authors without legal action (and it is the fear of legal action that motivates the quest for CC-BY!):

    11. And the very real threat of legal action facing Green CC-BY self-archiving by authors and Green CC-BY mandates by institutions (unlike the bogus threat of legal action against Gratis Green self-archiving and Gratis Green mandates) would of course put an end to authors' providing Green OA and institutions' mandating Green OA.

    12. In theory, funders, unlike institutions, can mandate whatever they like, since they are paying for the research: But if a funder Gold OA mandate like Finch/RCUK's — that denies fundees the right to publish in any journal that does not offer either Gold CC-BY or Gratis-Green with at most a 6-12 month embargo, and that only allows authors to pick Green if the journal does not offer Gold — is already doomed to author resentment, resistance and non-compliance, then adding the constraint that any Green must be CC-BY would be to court outright researcher rebellion.
    In short, the pre-emptive insistence upon CC-BY OA, if recklessly and irrationally heeded, would bring the (already slow) progress toward OA, and the promise of progress, to a grinding halt.

    Finch/RCUK's bias toward paid Gold over cost-free Green was clearly a result of self-interested publisher lobbying. But if it were compounded by a premature and counterproductive insistence on CC-BY for all by a small segment of the researcher community, then the prospects of OA (both Gratis and CC-BY), so fertile if we at last take the realistic, pragmatic course of mandating Gratis Green OA globally first, would become as fallow as they have been for the past two decades, for decades to come.

  5. Report this comment #53212

    Stevan Harnad said:
    ---- WHAT HOUGHTON & SWAN ACTUALLY RECOMMENDED: "At the institutional level, during a transitional period when subs criptions are maintained, the cost of unilaterally adopting Green OA is much lower than the cost of unilaterally adopting Gold OA ? with Green OA self-archiving costing average institutions sampled around one-fifth the amount that Gold OA might cost, and as little as one-tenth as much for the most research intensive university.

    "Hence, we conclude that the most affordable and cost-effective means of moving towards OA is through Green OA, which can be adopted unilaterally at the funder, institutional, sectoral and national levels at relatively little cost."

    Houghton, John & Swan, Alma (2013) Planting the green seeds for a golden harvest: Comments and clarifications on 'Going for Gold' (D-Lib Magazine, in press)

  6. Report this comment #53320

    Cameron Neylon said:

    David, I wondered how long before you would comment.

    Basically no. You're taking something rather simple and making it complicated.

    All things being equal something will be used more if it is more usable. All kinds of usage restriction matter but legal restrictions are an important kind of friction to deal with. So patent reform, data availability, and technical usability are all important, and as you know I have argued for them consistently. My point here is that there is one important form of restriction that we can deal with now, we have the tools, and if we have the will it can happen.

    What we know is that all forms of resources when you a critical mass of interoperable objects generate a significant enhancement of all forms of output, and that this is enhanced to a very large degree if you can exploit the connectivity and scale of the web to create both the critical mass and the interoperability. Papers are just another form of research resource. Your argument hinges on the assertion that it is use that is important, not reading, but that's exactly my point – by liberating the resources within the literature we can enhance discovery, bring more minds to bear on existing problems, and enable new forms of use that we can't imagine today.

    You can argue that the resources within papers are already optimal, something I think we'd agree is not the case, that they are not important enough to worry about, which I doubt, or that it is more important to tackle other bottlenecks. The latter could be true, but my point was not that there aren't other important bottlenecks but that this one is easy.

    Is it a real bottleneck? Well one piece of anecdote. I have a bunch of emails from pele who would like a reprint of this article, but who cannot access the web. Of course the irony is because of the copyright status of this piece I can't send them a copy. That's people who won't be able to use my work because of the licensing. No great loss perhaps but multiply that by a few billion people and 100 million papers.

    And the other uses that are prevented? Making copies for a company meeting. Inclusion by consultants in a report for government. Copies for teaching in a private school. Aggregation, synthesis, excerpting, translating...the list goes on and on.

    So I'd argue that you are making the category error. Materials, literature, databases, data, software, reagents, methods. They're all resources, that will be more used, generating greater incomes, if they are more usable. And at the narrow level of economic returns that worry governments we know that that generates more activity. One way to make resources usable is to ensure that anyone anywhere can make any use they can imagine of them and to do that one important aspect is ensuring they have the legal rights to do so. A big part of the problem, and the issue with the 'special license, your propose is that you are thinking way to small. Supporting obvious applications can be done with specific licensing and case by case negotiation. Exactly the kinds of rights that industry incumbents favour because they limit the potential for the unexpected. Supporting innovation requires giving people the clear rights to let their imagination fly.

  7. Report this comment #53369

    David Crotty said:

    Cameron, I'm actually trying to simplify things, as you've conflated two different intellectual property systems in a misleading manner. I'm not sure this is deliberate, but you continually write articles about the CC-BY license and imply that it has something to do with the reuse of data such as that from the human genome project. It muddies the waters and distorts the reality of what the CC-BY license offers.

    If you have indeed written articles against the patenting of research results, and against the technology transfer practices of universities, I must have missed them, but please do send along links as I would love to read them. I imagine they were met with quite a bit more controversy than articles about copyright, as most researchers and institutions are unwilling to give up the billions of dollars they earn each year from exploiting their own inventions and discoveries.

    And I'm not arguing against the value offered in the reuse of scholarly articles. I'm questioning who should pay for that value. A CC-BY license is neither sufficient or necessary for open access, so let's dismiss your argument about being able to send someone a copy (seriously, your associate can email you but can't access the web?). Put the article under traditional copyright, make it openly accessible, send your associate a link to the article, problem solved. If you really must email that person a copy, then a CC-BY-NC license would suffice. Also, if this were a research article in Nature rather than what they consider commissioned content, you would have retained your own copyright on the article making the point moot.

    But copyright does come into play for the other uses, inclusion of the large swaths of text in a consultant's report that is sold, some (but not all) uses for teaching, some types of aggregation, translations, etc. These all are worthwhile, as is the reuse for marketing purposes I mentioned, pharma reprints distributed to physicians. But should the researcher pay for these reuses? Right now, the APC or subs cription price the researcher pays is at level X, and it's set at that level because the publisher knows that it will also bring in Y dollars from secondary rights licensing. Acces prices are subsidized by the revenue that comes in from other sources. Eliminate those other sources (via CC-BY), and the APC/Subs cription price goes up to X + Y.

    That's a possible approach, but one which asks the researcher to contribute to the profits made by the companies, the profits of the consultants, the profits made by the school charging tuition, the profits made by the translator, the aggregator and by the pharma company selling drugs. Is that a good use of research funding? Should dollars be diverted from funding research to supporting the profits of all of these private interests?

    That's what the blunt CC-BY license calls for, and why I don't think it's the best tool for the job. Open up the literature as much as possible, make it as reusable as possible for further research and non-commercial purposes, but if you're going to use it to make a fortune, then you should contribute to the process that generates it, rather than asking for a free lunch on the back of the researcher.

  8. Report this comment #53474

    Cameron Neylon said:

    So I maintain I'm not conflating the two different forms of IP but trying to make a general point that all forms of friction in a networked innovation system reduce the re-use potential. The point is that networked resources, when they achieve critical mass of quantity and usability deliver greater returns. Patents are a block to usability but so can copyright be. Open source software might be a useful analogy. Copyright lies at the heart of enabling open source through open licenses, but the value is created when people use software. What open source enables is the creation of a pool of software that is large enough that the thing that someone wants to use is there. And without the nature of OSS licenses enabling commercial re-use that pool would not be anywhere near as big because commercial concerns wouldn't be contributing into that pool. Patents are also deeply problematic here of course.

    But actually our disagreement is more fundamental I think. The second part of your reply hinges on two aspects "is it worth the researcher paying" and a kind of zero-sum argument; there is x commercial potential so we can reduce publications costs by x. I think this is flawed in two ways. First I was very explicit in the article about my focus on public and charity funding – the funder is paying and the funder has different interests to the researcher, particularly when the funder is the government. In the UK specifically the Finch and RCUK policies are explicitly driven by a government policy of supporting innovation and economic activity. So yes, someone making a lot of money, employing people, creative economic activity, is a positive outcome for the people actually handing over the money. And if we fail to engage with government funding agencies and their agenda we're heading for a fall – part of the reason I disagree with Stevan (above) violently is his refusal to engage with what it is governments wants. We don't have to agree with the agenda necessarily but refusing to understand and engage with it is foolhardy.

    But more than that we have a different vision of what is possible. Your argument (and I've seen similar from Kent and Todd Carpenter) hinges on an assumption that a) no commercial innovation will happen without exclusive rights (again I will point to the multibillion dollar Open Source industry as a counter example) and b) that publishers already know where all the commercial opportunities are and are creating all that value – or at least will or could. And yet all I ever hear about is reprint income. I think the missed opportunities to create value are huge and that part of that value creation would see a significant global increase in the efficiency of research overall.

    So lets take that reprint income. Our hosts here recently did what you propose – charge extra for a CC BY license. So this puts a top end value on what NPG sees as the commercial revenue that could be protected of around 10%. So basically you're signalling that total additional value is around 10%. The RIN study from a few years back looking at costs in the scholarly publishing industry showed that the single biggest indirect cost after peer review was discovery (ie finding what to read) and this was on order the same size as the total direct cash costs of the publication process. So there is just one potential area for value creation that's already bigger than the 10%. I don't think incumbent traditional publishers are capable of realising the full value from what they're being given so I'm not keen to hand over exclusive rights. And this argument only gets stronger as the inevitable commodification of publication services kicks in.

    And lets be clear – if we as researchers start buying a product it will be because it gives us a nett benefit – that's not taking money out of research its putting it back in. And if the value is created outside our traditional research community so much the better – we're increasing the impact of our research.

    There is also of course the side argument – those publishers already providing a CC BY license are generally charging less than hybrid and mixed competitors. So this "extra" cost argument seems a little unfounded anyway.

    You see a fixed amount of value to be created based on an existing system. I see a huge potential pool of untapped value and new systems that are currently still born. You want to allow specific kinds of use but restrict others and are not concerned about the loss of unexpected downstream effects those restrictions cause. I see unexpected downstream uses as a significant component of the potential value creation. The reason we see it for data, for software, and for online creative content in some cases, is because they have achieved a critical mass in some domains. The reason we haven't seen it for the literature is partly because its badly configured, so re-use is already hard, and partly because we haven't got critical mass.

    I'll offer you the opposite deal – you can have exclusive rights over branded reprints with your corporate logo and the laid out printed version as long as you give up all the other commercial rights. Of course you have this anyway – its a trademark issue not a copyright one. In my view anyone trying to safeguard reprint revenue through copyright is a fool. We're within reach of a world where distributing reprints won't require making copies.

    The funny thing is that I think it likely that, after restructuring it's the existing publishers that could gain the most from this pool of open content. The services involved in curating and delivering content are your core competencies, but no-one is interested in services that provide access to small segments of the content. I think the push for NC has real potential to come back and bite. For instance, when the UK government opens up text mining later this year it will only be for NC purposes. Someone, somewhere is going to create something really interesting. And publishers won't be able to use it...oh you could license it specially, but it will be a combination of everyone's content and you'll spend the next ten years arguing about the cross licensing, it will tie up your legal teams for years and cost a bomb.

    Aside: You're right, I haven't written much about patents specifically, at least not since way back when I was writing more about open notebooks. It's a much bigger set of windmills to tilt at with much bigger entrenched interests so hasn't seemed worth the effort. Data/process availability and interoperability is a much easier target. Standardised material transfer agreements could also be another easy win – something I have at least brought up in talks if not written about.

    FWIW in the short term I would say we need presumptive licensing arrangements, patent offices with the competence and resources to rapidly and effectively throw out a lot of the rubbish they get, and serious penalties for vexatious patent litigation. In the longer term root and branch reform would be ideal and there are some interesting ideas out there but they seem unlikely to be achievable. Hacking the system in the way that Creative Commons did for copyright seems the most productive way forward but I don't know of any big successes there yet. The awareness that CC has raised seems to be raising a wider interest in copyright reform which I never would have believed possible a year or so ago – there may be a pattern there to learn from in a few years time.

    Aside2: People with email but not web. Vist Cuba, or central Africa, or even large chunks of eastern Europe. Its not uncommon for email attachments to be viable but the web not to be, even today. And technically no, CC BY-NC wouldn't allow me to distribute as the article arguably makes a case for a product my employer sells (as noted in the CoI statement). It could be argued that was a commercial activity and with punitive copyright damages its not worth the commercial risk. I'd have to ask special permission (which is another form of friction).

Subscribe to comments

Additional data