14 November 2007

'Adaptation' and 'derivation' in Creative Commons' licences

SPARC Europe is cooperating with the Directory of Open Access Journals DOAJ) in the promotion of a 'Seal of approval' for OA journals. There is nothing about this, at the moment, on the SPARC Europe Website but it seems that the award of the 'Seal' will depend upon the journal using the Creative Commons BY licence and supplying DOAJ with metadata for the papers. The CC-BY licence is suggested as being the most 'open' of the licences allowing for 'derived works' and, by implication, it would seem, allowing archiving, text-mining, etc.

Originally, Information Research used the CC-BY licence (or its equivalent at the time I adopted the licence) but I found that the situation was rather ambiguous, since the full licence contains no full definition of 'derived work'. Rather, it defines 'adaptation' and mentions 'derivative work' as part of that definition. Nothing in the full licence says anything about archiving, text-mining or any other post-publication use of OA papers. The definition of 'adaptation' suggests why this is the case:

'Adaptation' means a work based upon the Work, or upon the Work and other pre-existing works, such as a translation, adaptation, derivative work, arrangement of music or other alterations of a literary or artistic work, or phonogram or performance and includes cinematographic adaptations or any other form in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted including in any form recognizably derived from the original, except that a work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License. For the avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical work, performance or phonogram, the synchronization of the Work in timed-relation with a moving image ("synching") will be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License.

From this, we understand why the "Creative" Commons is so called - it is a licence for creative products in the sense of literary, musical and artistic works, which may undergo various forms of adaptation, a novel into a radio programme, a work of art into an advertisement, etc. - it is does not appear to be designed for works of academic scholarship.

The key questions for scholars are, 'What is meant by derivative work', and 'What kind of derivative work is permitted under this licence?' and I cannot imagine many academics being happy with the idea that their work can be 'built upon' other than in the way we normally think of that, i.e., someone taking an author's ideas as expressed in a work, using those ideas, building upon them to produce a novel work of scholarship with quotation, citation and referencing. Any other form of 'adaptation' that brings about a new product surely deserves the original author to be treated as joint author of the new production.

It should also be noted that the CC-BY licence permits commercial re-use of an author's work and I would find this completely unacceptable for Information Research for the simple reason that the journal is genuinely 'open', i.e., not closed at the input end through author charges, and neither I nor any of the Associate Editors, nor Lund University Libraries (which hosts the journal) receives any financial support for its publication. The notion that any commercial organization could then take the papers and use them for commercial purposes is a complete anathema to me, and I imagine, to the authors whose work would be used in such a way.

My conclusion after exploring this issue is that the present Creative Commons' licences do not properly protect scholarly work, if a BY (or 'attribution') licence is adopted. I turned to Science Commons to see what happens there, but that organization simply uses the CC licences and has not produced a separate licence for scientific works.

At present the only sensible licence for scholarly works is the "Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivs" (or BY-NC-ND) licence, which allows open access and anyone may:
a. ...Reproduce the Work, to incorporate the Work into one or more Collections, and to Reproduce the Work as incorporated in the Collections; and,
b. ...Distribute and Publicly Perform the Work including as incorporated in Collections.

Perhaps it is time for a new 'Scholarly Commons' licence, which makes clear what a 'derivative work' is and removes the present ambiguity and uncertainty.


  1. The notion that any commercial organization could then take the papers and use them for commercial purposes is a complete anathema to me.
    Why so? As an author (not in Inf Res, but in other scholarly journals) I would have no objection whatsoever to commercial re-use. I understand that selling reprints is big business in some fields (e.g. biomed, where Big Pharma likes to send reprints to prescribing physicians), and in such fields smaller publishers avoid CC-BY, keeping the NC license so that the reprint sellers are forced to pay royalties. But unless I missed something, Inf Res is not charging or making money, so what does the journal lose by allowing commercial re-use?

  2. I thought I'd explained the reason: it is essentially ethical - why should commercial interests profit from the free labour of others? Heaven knows, commercial publishers have done so long enough through the scholarly publishing busines!

    There is also an economic reason Information Research is produced entirely through voluntary effort, but that effort has costs - of software, of server maintenance, of the opportunity cost of my time and the time of others, etc., etc. Any unrewarded commercial use of the papers published in Information Research removes the opportunity for income. This is why we published 'Introducting information management' (edited by Maceviciute and Wilson, Facet Publishing, 2005) and directed that the royalties, otherwise payable to the editors and authors, should be paid to Lund University Libraries and this is why any income from our arrangement with Ebsco will also be paid to Lund University Libraries.

    Simply because authors give their work freely to the journal, which makes it freely accessible to the world at large, does not mean that we should forego any possibility of income to support the journal.