Publishers' copyright move 'could limit use of research'

Scientific publishers producing model copyright licences will make it harder for academic research to be a “first class citizen of the web”.

August 9, 2014

The warning has been made in an open letter signed by nearly 60 open access advocates, publishers, library organisations and civil society bodies.

Earlier this year the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers, known as STM, which has 120 members across 21 countries, produced a set of model licences governing copyright on open access articles.

The move was a response to concerns from some publishers about the widespread use of Creative Commons licences, some of which permit commercial reuse and the creation of “derivative works”.

Research Councils UK current requires the so-called CC-BY licence, which permits all reuse subject to proper attribution of the original, for all accounts of research it funds that are published via the “gold” open access route.

On August 7, an open letter was published calling on STM to withdraw its model licences. The 58 signatories include Research Libraries UK, the American Library Association, the Wikimedia Foundation and publishers Plos, eLife and BioMed Central (which is owned by STM member Springer).

The letter says the STM licences “would limit the use, reuse and exploitation of research” and would “make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources”. This is because the licences are incompatible with Creative Commons licences, which are also commonly used for pictures posted on Flickr, Wikipedia articles and videos posted on YouTube.

“If research outputs are to be a first class citizen of the web then they should use the same licenses,” the letter says. “Let us work together towards a world where the whole sum of human knowledge, both that from within academia and that from without, is accessible, usable, reusable and interoperable. And let us work within the legal frameworks that have already been globally adopted as a base for building the rest of the tools we need to make this a reality.”

In a statement in response, STM says it “shares the positive vision of enabling the flow of knowledge for the good of all” and believes its licenses “work well” with Creative Commons approaches.

But it acknowledges that some of its members “feel that the benefits of one single ‘standardised’ licence outweigh any concerns”.

“We…welcome all constructive debate and discussion around improving the options available to authors, funders and publishers within open access licensing,” it says.

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Reader's comments (1)

STM’s licenses are entirely voluntary. They do not create or cause inconsistency with existing CC licenses. They have been designed to be compatible not only with CC’s existing suite of licences but to also be combinable and compatible with any licenses. Anyone wishing to adopt or adapt one of the voluntary licences will find this both very easy and also low-cost. Examples are provided on our website: Matt McKay STM Association

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