Is There Such a Thing as Too Open in Open Access?

LeEtta Schmidt, Kyle Courtney, Calvin Manning

(L-R) LeEtta Schmidt, Kyle Courtney, Calvin Manning

Open Access (OA) is gaining momentum.  LeEtta Schmidt, Copyright Librarian, University of South Florida; Kyle Courtney, Copyright Advisor, Harvard University; and Calvin Manning, Managing Editor, Taylor & Francis discussed whether it is possible to be too open in an OA environment. OA is a new way for researchers to share their work, which has traditionally been given to publishers. For small businesses and economically challenged countries, OA is a way to keep up with research. There are different methods of achieving it:

  • Gold OA is OA done by a publisher. Many, but not all, Gold OA journals are free of APCs.
  • Green OA occurs when authors publish and commit to self-archiving their work in an institutional repository. Green OA is free of APCs. Some publishers require Green OA articles to be embargoed, but others do not. Embargo periods vary among publishers from as short as 6 months to 12 months or more.

Some authors feel that the goals of OA are not being achieved with green OA. Policy requirements have been set that authors being supported must publish in an OA repository, and many of them do under a Creative Commons (CC) license. CC-BY is the most open of creative commons licenses.

The Research Councils UK (RCUK) has issued a policy that requires that all authors receiving funding publish under a CC-BY license. The panelists were asked to respond to these questions regarding OA publishing and CC-BY licensing:

  • What do you perceive are the primary concerns of humanities and social science scholars in regard to OA publishing?
  • How do different disciplines react, interact, and respond to OA publishing, and what are their differing goals and approaches to it?
  • In the light of disciplinary differences, what obstacles must OA policy makers consider to ensure the future growth and adoption of OA?

Here are some of the panelists’ responses:

Kyle: The primary concern in the humanities and social sciences is that undesirable activities such as commercial uses of CC-BY, derivative works, and plagiarism will lower the bar of publishing. Concerns are elevated by a lack of understanding in some fields. The hard sciences have had over 20 years  of experience working with CC-BY so they have a greater understanding of it. CC-BY should not be more harmful to humanities than the hard sciences.

Derivatives: CC-BY allows someone to build on your work. It is built into scholarship. Uses for reviews or teaching are allowed; no permission is needed, just attribution.  This allows types of articles that are new to humanities—reviews, case studies, text mining, visualizing etc.–to enter the literature, which can be examined in ways that have not been done previously in the humanities. Protections for authors are built into the license. Open licensing is necessary for these types of articles.

Commercializing: CC-BY allows commercialization, but the definition of commercial use is extremely fuzzy now. We have commercialization in the sciences; for example, scientific papers can turn into patents. The concept of research is reuse: building on what goes before.

Plagiarism will happen, whether or not a license is attached. CC-BY gives users a license to reuse a work, but if they do not say it is yours, you have legal recourse. The author is in control, even when the copyright has been signed over to the publisher. With CC-BY, the author retains the copyright and requires users to attribute, but they do not have to seek the publisher’s permission.

Kyle: There is a lack of funding for humanities research, so there might need to be a top-down approach to OA from the federal level. Publishers are working on ways to use OA, but APCs are an obstacle for authors. Publishers are like the music industry: they have put up a wall but users can go around it to get the content they want. Is there a grass-roots movelment there and how effective will it be? Publishers need to have a sensibility that OA is coming; how do they show their best side to it?

Calvin: It will only be a matter of time before everyone will have to make a choice about OA. Would it be possible to get a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund research?

Kyle: there doesn’t see to be a movement like that in OA.

LeEtta: Will a top down approach work when the funding is coming from a government agency? Will this impact academic freedom by taking away the author’s right to choose where they want to publish? All the licenses and types of OA have created a lot of confusion among scholars.

Calvin: Most scientific researchers understand the types of OA.

Kyle: It is in the DNA of librarians to understand OA.

Calvin: Some people think there is no peer review of OA papers because authors are paying an APC to have it published.

Kyle: Humanists have not had the opportunity to see that the sky doesn’t fall when papers are published in OA systems. Faster growth of OA causes faster growth in understanding. This environment is “rocky soil” for a good crop. OA in the sciences used to be slow, but for the last 20 years, the viscious circle has become a virtuous circle. A reversal is therefore possible. How do we seed the field best to remove the fear of OA?  Nature introduced CC-BY options in its journals, and now 96% of authors chose the CC-BY license, up from 26% only a few years ago, which is a tremendous shift. Let the humanities and social sciences take their turns now to experience this.

Calvin: There have not been well established players stepping up to CC-BY licenses, nor have societies taken that approach.

LeEtta: Many of the concerns by scholars concern reputation: they must establish a reputation to get tenure and promotion. If OA journals are too new or slow growing, scholars will turn away from them.

Kyle: OA and CC-BY let authors control their own works better. If they know that CC-BY is built on top of their copyright, they might be more willing to publish in an OA journal. Researchers are writing to be read; they are not concerned with commercialization.  They want exposure, and CC-By gives it to them. They need to realize that a new and broader audience will open to them.

LeEtta: Libraries can also help with that and spur that effort, letting the faculties control their work.

Kyle: We understand that CC is a well established legal tool that is being used by scientific societies and it’s working well for them, letting reserach be used more effectively and for new uses.


If authors have been fully apprised of CC-BY and the opportunities it gives them, will they give up their right to control their own work and where to publish it?

In some fields, the book is the gold standard; what it takes to publish a book and get tenure have different rules than articles do. These comparisons don’t work in many disciplines. Why should book authors give up their royalties? There needs to be more conversation about books. OA emerged in article-based fields first, and there is a difference between textbooks and original research.

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston 2015 Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist

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