battle,  open access

Infrared instead of sun

In case you missed it, The Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers have proposed some new open access(ish) licences for their research articles. They argue that: “CC licenses are intended to be used across the entire creative sector, and are not designed specifically for publishing, or for academic and scholarly publishing”. Well that was kind of the point of CC licences, they were simple, effective and could be applied across many domains. That they are simple is not a fault, but the result of hard work and good minds. Compare the CC-NC definition with this one from STM:

“STM stand-alone non-commercial+TDM+Translation and some commercial uses other than “Reserved Commercial Uses”: rationale see comments under B above for those not having a be-spoke publisher licence or not wishing to use a UCLA licence or a CC licence or other licence”

I do what now?

Needless to say most open access people have decried this unnecessary attempt to add confusion to the sector, and pointed out that we’ve been getting on just fine with CC licences, thanks. Here is the PLoS response, who state that the new licences would “make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources and sources of knowledge to the benefit of both science and society.”

Other people more knowledgeable than me can point out the problems of the licences (see for example this discussion I had with Cameron Neylon on Twitter) but the story is interesting to me for two reasons. The first relates to my digital scholarship interest, as it demonstrates a rather irritating academic habit, which is to say that the thing used by everyone else isn’t quite suited to the special needs of academia, and they need to create their own specialised, more complex version. It’s like academic versions of Twitter, or the death by metadata of learning objects. This is often well meaning, in that there may be some fine issues with using a general tool, but the benefits are worth the sacrifices. For a start those popular tools are popular for a reason, usually simplicity of use. As Cameron points out there is also a benefit to be gained form being part of a bigger, global community. Why create an academic ghetto of specialised use that no-one else relates to?

The second reason I find it interesting relates to the battle for open stuff. One could view it cynically and see it as a move by commercial publishers (many of whom STM represent) to either muddy the open access waters, or to control what the new definition of open is. Either way, open ends up not meaning what you think it means. And once that happens they can reclaim it to have any meaning. It could mean “Publisher X brand of open”, which means it is open to anyone who pays a subscription to their system. In this sense it is a good example of how the battle for open moves from big claims (open vs closed) to more detailed arguments which actually determine its future (CC vs STM open licence).

Unless they are forced upon authors, I’m hoping they’ll go the way of other unnecessary academic complications to perfectly functioning systems. People vote with their feet.


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