Following up on Biology Open journal’s not-quite-open CC-BY-NC-SA licence
March 27, 2012
A few weeks ago, I noted that the new journal Biology Open, which had just published its very first issue, had made the unfortunate choice to use the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license. Although this licence does offer a lot of freedom, it’s too restrictive to be properly described as “open access”, a term originated in 2001 by the Budapest Open Access Initiative which defined it as follows:
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.
I wrote to the editors, as I noted last time, and received a polite reply from Rachel Hackett, the managing editor. After a little more back and forth, she sent me the following statement from the Company of Biologists with permission to publish it on this blog:
“The Directors of the Company of Biologists, who are active scientists, reviewed the licence under which Biology Open publishes its articles both before and after launch.
We are aware of the implications of the different licence types and it was decided that the CC BY-NC-SA licence was appropriate to ensure that the rights of both author and publisher are protected. Those wanting to use our content for commercial purposes can still ask us for permission.
The Company of Biologists is a not-for-profit Charity that finances journals, supports meetings and awards travelling fellowships.”
So there are a few things to say here:
1. It’s their journal, and of course they have every right to publish it under whatever terms they want.
2. It’s a pretty open licence, allowing the articles to be freely read by researchers and to become input to further (non-commercial) research. So credit is due, and I hope no-one at Biology Open feels I’m picking on them. But:
3. It’s a missed opportunity. Heather Piwowar said this rather well in a recent comment: “We do basic research not only to know more, but to do more”. Non-commercial licences impede the use of research, and that’s not to the benefit of wider society. (I won’t labour this point now, because I’ll have more to say on non-commercial clauses in a subsequent post.)
The upshot here is that, because no-one really knows what “commercial” means, there will be a chilling effect on using Biology Open papers for anything other than human reading. For example, consider a company wanting to run text-mining software across a corpus of papers to discover chemical reactions. They will know they can do this with, say, PLoS articles (which are CC BY), but will have to skip Biology Open if they want to stay on the safe side. No-one gains by this exclusion — certainly not the journal or its publisher.