Wiley has switched to Creative Commons licensing for its open-access journals

October 22, 2012

Back in July I wrote an open letter to Wiley, asking them to use the Creative Common Attribution licence for their open-access activities. They sent two brief notes in response — one from Director of OA Rachel Burley, and the other from STM Publicity Manager Jennifer Beal. Both are appended to my original post.

Unfortunately, I dropped the ball in following this up — my apologies to Rachel and Jennifer. Six weeks after this, Wiley announced that they were indeed shifting to Creative Commons licences for their open-access journals. The immediate driver for this switch seems to have been the UK Government’s announcement on its new funding regimes.

So this is great news — though not quite perfect. Although the initial announcement mentioned only the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence, the details show that “a limited number of Wiley Open Access journals continue to use the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial (CC BY NC) license”. The list shows that three journals use CC BY-NC, while nine are fully BOAI-compliant with CC BY.

I would like to know why the NC clause is used on these three journals (ChemistryOpen, Food and Energy and JAHA – Journal of the American Heart Association). It seems like a bad mistake, not least because it means that UK Government-funded research can’t be published in these journals.

But even with this reservation, Wiley’s move is very good news for two reasons. First, obviously, it means that 3/4 of their “open-access” journals now really and truly are open access by all definitions, and can be used by even the most radical open-access supporters. Second, even for those three NC-restricted journals, adoption of the CC BY-NC licence is at least clear: anyone looking at the will know instantly what the meaning of the licence is, rather than being bewildered by Wiley-specific wording. So even where it’s not a gain in actual openness, it’s a gain in transparency.

It’s great to see the world moving not just to “open-access” sensu lato, but specifically to the vision of Open Access as first laid out by the Budapest Open Access Initiative a decade ago. In a similar vein, Acta Palaeontologia Polonica, which has long been open access, has now adopted the CC BY licence specifically, in a codification of its existing practice and intent. I only wish that Biology Open would respond to my similar plea to them, rather than continuing with their destructive insistence on the NC clause.

Update (the next day)

As Ross Mounce has pointed out, Creative Commons licences are currently used only for Wiley’s wholly open-access journals, and not for OnlineOpen, their elective “open access” programme for articles in otherwise paywalled journals. At present, OnlineOpen articles are encumbered by a complex proprietary set of terms that forbid many kinds of re-use. We can only hope that this program, too, will shortly switch to CC BY.


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12 Responses to “Wiley has switched to Creative Commons licensing for its open-access journals”

  1. emckiernan Says:

    Great to see Wiley responding to feedback and moving in the right direction! However, I agree with you that they could do even better. In addition to the three journals you mentioned that remain CC-BY-NC, I would like to know why they haven’t changed to CC-BY licensing for the open access option they offer in their subscription journals. The Wiley OnlineOpen program description does not list a specific license (a fault in itself), but it has a non-commercial clause and the publisher keeps copyright. The lack of BOAI compliance in this program should also be corrected.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yeesh! I had missed this. If you’re right, it’s a Big Deal. Do you have a link?

  3. emckiernan Says:

    Here is the link to the OnlineOpen program description http://olabout.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-406241.html Scroll down to Terms and Conditions.

  4. RMS Says:

    There is a huge misunderstanding with regards to the NC license. It does not prevent science from being re-used, even commercially, just as any science published in closed access journals nowadays. It only prevents the the published materials (i.e. text and figures) from being re-used (e.g. by someone writing a book and then selling it).

    In the CC website it clearly says: “Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.” It doesn’t say ideas, findings, interpretations, any kind of knowledge in general, it says “work”, meaning elements of the paper (it may be confusing terminology, but that’s what it means). Copyright, of any kind, protects written materials; science cannot be copyrighted, it can be patented (big difference).

    CC-BY-NC is fine, if not better. Wiley is likely aware of this.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    There’s no misunderstanding at all: we know exactly what CC BY-NC means. And so does RCUK, which is why it mandates CC BY, with no NC clause, for the work that it funds. To quote their policy:

    a user must be able to [...] re-use (including download) the content of published research papers both manually and using automated tools (such as those for text and data mining) provided that any such re-use is subject to proper attribution. Open Access therefore allows unrestricted use of manual and automated text and data mining tools, as well as unrestricted re-use of content with proper attribution.

    PLOS also know exactly what NC clauses mean, which is why they don’t use them. BMC also know exactly what NC clauses mean, which is why they don’t use them. Springer Open also knows exactly what NC clauses mean, which is why they don’t use them.

    Heather Piwowar said it best: we reseearch not just to know more, but to do more. To achieve that most effectively, we need to clear all barriers out of the way. NC clauses prevent many important classes of reuse, and just as important cast a chilling effect over other uses that probably OK but that no-one want to find out about in court.

  6. RMS Says:

    Mike, now you’ve clarified it better, it’s the paper not the science that gets protected. The issue for me is that with all content being open to re-use, someone will eventually, and unethically, find ways to exploit research to their own personal gains (like writing and selling books, reports, etc…), and that feels a bit like cheating to me. Hence my hesitation towards CC-BY.

  7. RMS: you’re thinking of the books sold on the internet that consist of c&p-ed wikipedia articles?

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    RMS, the question to ask yourself is this: how does it harm you if someone finds a way to leverage your CC BY’d material into a revenue stream? The answer is, it doesn’t. If someone takes part of one of my papers and uses it in a textbook which they sell: great! More education! It’s not like I was ever going to go to all the effort of compiling a textbook out of my work. It’s a net win for the world.

    For more on why CC BY is the right choice for scholarly works, see this new post at the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association.

  9. [...] to writing about why CC BY is the right open-access licence for scholarship, especially given the comments on the last post. But until I do, this post by Claire Redhead, on the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association [...]

  10. Michael Richmond Says:


    You’re a better man than I am. I understand your point, and I agree with it: since I (like you) am certainly not going to write a textbook, it can only be win for society as a whole if someone grabs material from a paper I write, copies it into a textbook, and makes a boatload of dollars while educating youngsters.

    But I must admit that if that were to occur, it would bother me. It would probably bother me enough to stop publishing material without the NC clause.

    You are on the side of Right, but you may not be on the side of human nature. Ugh. It makes me feel a bit dirty to write this…

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Well, Michael, I think I will refrain from replying to your comment … I’ll just leave you to stew for a while :-)

  12. [...] indexed by Scopus in 2011 were made available under OA. The sci community rejoices when a publisher or government [pdf] shows signs of getting more involved in the movement. But, in my experience, [...]

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