The CC By licence does not let people distort and misrepresent your work

September 18, 2014

I was skim-reading the Political Studies Association’s evidence submitted to RCUK’s review. I was struck by one part that perpetuates a common but completely unfounded misapprehension:

There is little enthusiasm for CC-BY […] in the field of political studies. […] It is clear that there is serious concern about the potential for work published under a CC-BY licence to be distorted and used inappropriately.

There may be concern, but it’s misplaced. Using CC By does not allow your work to be misrepresented. The human-readably summary of the licence clearly states, in its definition of the attribution clause: [Emphasis added]

You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

What does this mean? It means creationists can’t take our paper on sauropod neck anatomy, change it so that we seem to be advocating Intelligent Design, and post the result as though it’s our work. Instead, the terms of the licence require that they state that changes were made, and that they do not portray us as endorsing their use.

Really, I don’t see how much clearer or simpler the CC By licence could be. It’s 108 words long. For heavens’ sake, folks, go and read it. It’s ridiculous that we have academics, who are supposed to be trained in research and rigour, expressing flagrantly incorrect opinions about a hundred-word-long document that they’ve not even read.

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4 Responses to “The CC By licence does not let people distort and misrepresent your work”

  1. coppenheim Says:

    In addition, it is worth noting that the author’s Moral Right to sue if there is derogatory treatment of their work remains. “Derogatory treatment” means any change to the work that reduces the reputation of the author. Thus, for example, quoting the author out of context, or manipulating the words to present another meaning, would qualify as an infringement of the Moral Right.

  2. Dave Godfrey Says:

    Just because the license doesn’t allow you to do it, doesn’t mean that people won’t. Cdesign-proponentists spend most of their time quote-mining anything they can get their hands on. Personally I think the risks of this are far outweighed by the benefits of making research freely accessible.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Just because the license doesn’t allow you to do it, doesn’t mean that people won’t.

    Of course this is true. But it’s exactly as true of CC By-NC-ND material, or for that matter all-rights-reserved material. Bad Actors will act badly; we know that. The reason you pick one set of distribution terms over another are (A) to impose appropriate restrictions on those who will abide by the terms, and (B) so you have legal recourse against those who violate them.

    And it turns out that CC By imposes all the terms that researchers want or need(*) — but that either genuine ignorance or a deliberate campaign of misunderstanding has resulted in many researchers not realising that.

    (*) Exception: researchers who hope to make royalties by selling copies of their research as books may find their ability to do so undermined by using CC By instead of (say) CC By-NC-ND. But frankly I doubt it.


  4. Of course creationists could reprint your paper in part or whole and then explain how they would “reinterpret” your data. I only bring this up because once again image copyright becomes a bit trickier – they aren’t after all misrepresenting a silhouette if they put it into a tree that depicts an evolutionary relationship (or the lack thereof) in a sign.

    Aside from the illustration-specific issues I agree though.


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