SV-POW! is now (finally!) open access

April 28, 2012

Given the huge amount we’ve written about open access on this blog, it may come as a surprise to realise that the blog itself has not been open access until today.  It’s been free to read, of course, but in the absence of an explicit licence statement, the default “all rights reserved” has applied, which has meant that technically you’re not supposed to do things like, for example, using SV-POW! material in course notes.

It was never our intention to be so restrictive, of course.  We always wanted what we write to be as widely useful as possible; but like most bloggers, we just didn’t think about what that entailed.

So now, belatedly, we are placing SV-POW! under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.  This means that you can do anything with our content, subject only to giving us credit.  Go nuts.  We want our work to be useful.  (Our use of this licence is indicated by the CC BY button at top right of all the pages.)

Note that SV-POW! is now compliant with the Budapest Open Access Initiative’s definition of open access — the only definition that matters, really, since it’s where the term “open access” was first coined.  That definition is rather noble and striking:

By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

We are applying this licence restrospectively to all the original content on the site — not just what we write from now on.  To ensure that we’re on safe ground doing this, all three of us agreed on this measure, and we also obtained consent from the only (so far) guest-blogger on SV-POW!, Heinrich Mallison.

Finally, we should note the exceptions to the CC BY licence. When we’ve included material from other sources — most often figures from published papers — we do not own the copyright and can’t licence it.  Similarly, all photographs of fossils held by the Natural History Museum in London are copyright the museum.  If you want to re-use any of the non-original material, you’ll need to track down the copyright holders and negotiate with them.

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9 Responses to “SV-POW! is now (finally!) open access”

  1. Tor Bertin Says:

    Out of curiosity, in instances where blog posts are converted to peer reviewed publications (which you’re well aware have their own copyright issues), what kinds of problems could the open access license cause? I’m somewhat doubtful that there would be any issues, but given the sometimes strange nature of copyright legality it may be worth pondering.

    Alternatively, I could be talking nonsense. ;-)

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Interesting question, Tor. Here’s how it works.

    First, whoever writes an SV-POW! post (or anything at all) owns the copyright by default. (Exception: if it’s done under contract as a “work for hire”, the hiring entity owns copyright. But that’s rare, and doesn’t apply to anything on SV-POW!.)

    Second, applying a CC licence doesn’t change that — in fact, that’s sort of the point of CC: that you can licence your work rigorously without transferring or otherwise relinquishing copyright. All the CC licence does is give everyone else lots of rights to do things with the work.

    Third, when we formally publish any material that’s previously been on SV-POW!, we’re most likely to use a venue such as PLoS that doesn’t ask us to transfer copyright. If we ever publish SV-POW! material in a venue that does ask us to transfer copyright, we’ll probably push back on that using the SPARC Author Addendum to give them a licence to redistribute instead.

    But suppose the journal won’t accept our submission on a licence-to-publish basis. We have the option, of course, of withdrawing the submission and taking it elsewhere, but let’s assume we don’t want to do that — say, for example, because Nature have accepted Your Neck is Pathetic as being of outstanding general interest. What then? Here’s where it gets interesting.

    Once the original SV-POW! article has been released under CC BY, there’s nothing that anyone can do to rescind that — not Nature, not me. So we could transfer copyright in the accepted manuscript to Nature, and they could own the formatted version that they make from it, and restrict access to it on their web-site. But they can’t prevent anyone who wants to from looking at the original SV-POW! article, or from doing any of the other things that CC BY allows them to do, such as making Your Neck is Pathetic T-shirts and selling them. (Come to think of it, we should do that.)

    Now if they know their jobs, Nature will understand that, and on that basis may choose not to accept the awesomeness of Your Neck is Pathetic in the first place. It’s perfectly possible that they’ll say they only want to publish articles that they have control over all versions of. That’s up to them, of course.

    The key point to take away here is that, once something has been licenced under CC BY, no-one can ever take that away, whatever else might happen.

  3. Michael Richmond Says:

    Could you provide a little guidance on the meaning of the last sentence in the Open Access definition, please? (The one which starts, “The only constraint …”). It’s not clear to me what “control over the integrity of the work” means. Does that mean that if I want to make a “Your neck is pathetic” T-shirt, I need to acquire your permission? What if I want to make a “God designed your neck to be pathetic?”

    Is twisting your words like that the aim of the “integrity” clause, or is it something else?

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Good question, Michael. I am not entirely sure what the intent of that “preserve integrity” clause is. I will ask more seasoned OA veterans to comment.

  5. Peter Suber Says:

    On the BOAI’s use of the phrase “control over the integrity of the work”:

    We wanted to permit modification and derivative works (such as translations) but not mangled copies (such as copies that add or subtract the word “not” in a key sentence). There may be a blurry line between unmangled and mangled copies, but copyright law is full of blurry lines, and the distinction is a familiar one in the moral-rights tradition in Europe. This was our very brief way of saying that authors of OA work had a right to object to mangled copies, just as they had a right to object to misattributed copies, but that copyright had no further role in protecting OA work.

  6. Michael Eisen Says:

    As an attendee of many of the early OA meetings (Budapest, Besthesda, Berlin), I recall that the “integrity” clause was a concession to people who expressed concerns about the misuse of their work. The examples people put forward were drug companies using papers to sell their products and (ridiculously) papers being included in porn. The practical implications of this clause were never clear, as it implies that authors should maintain some kind of veto power over how their work is used, which is a terrible idea because it makes widespread reuse all but impossible. Plus, most of the imagined misuses aren’t really copyright violations, and can be dealt with under fraud protections and the like.

  7. Michael Eisen Says:

    Just for the record, I was against including the “integrity” thing, as I think the inclination for authors to control how their work is used, while understandable, both stands as a barrier to efficient reuse of content, and often shifts from protecting against true misuses (which copyright isn’t really about anyway) into things like prohibiting commercial reuse, or reuse of competitors, etc….

  8. Michael Richmond Says:

    If you’re going to campaign for open access, it certainly would be wise to be able to explain the details of the license you choose to use yourself.

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    What are you talking about? The details of the licence are explained in detail on the Creative Commons web-site, including in legalistic detail, for those who require it. That is the point of using Creative Commons: the definitions and explanations have already been done.


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