7 February 2013

Which licence for your publication?

Over at Nature, Richard Van Noorden discusses the various choices authors make when publishing in open-access journals, in particular the wide-spread adoption of the 'noncommercial' (NC) and 'no derivative works' (ND) clauses. I can see two interesting points:
  1. The possibility of data-mining (requiring bulk downloads)
  2. The meaning of "re-use".
As to the first point, I do not know whether the authors are given the choice between 'only individual downloading' and 'bulk downloading' (and I think the distinction would be difficult to implement technically). This looks more like global journal policy.

Re-use seems to cover a lot of very different situations, from "build[ing] on work if [credit is given] to the original author" to "remix[ing]", "tweak[ing]", and reselling for a profit.
  • The first type of use is unobjectionable, since that is exactly what publishing is for.
  • Forbidding others from making a profit on one's own work (NC) is a reasonable point of view, but it might be at odds with the commonly involved argument that "all this work has been paid for with public funding, so it should be made available with as little constraints as possible".
  • Modifying the work is a much more serious problem. In the particular case of scientific publications I cannot see how the 'attribution' clause (BY) can work without the ND one. In a changed version of a paper, what is still by the original author? Can I take an article from a prestigious journal, keep all the data and "slightly" modify the presentation to draw exactly the opposite conclusions (all this while benefiting from the reputation of the original authors and of the journal)?

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