Why CC-BY is not for us, not for now

We are not members of the OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association) yet, but as a self-proclaimed Open Access publishing platform we certainly hope to become one. As such, we will have to meet one of their key requirements, which is to have published at least one Open Access book with a license that allows the “broadest re-use of published material possible”. In essence, this means using the “CC-BY”-license, now also required by the United Kingdom funding bodies if they fund research, the European Union, and increasingly other funding bodies around the world.

Philosophically, I have nothing against CC-BY, quite to the contrary. I think it is a wonderful thing that published material be made as widely available as possible, and that the only condition for that is that my name or the name of my publisher be cited. I don’t particularly share the concerns as to some of the misuses CC-BY might lead to, in particular the bundling of free, original research into expensive unoriginal derivatives, such as collections of articles (such bundling can already be done with out-of-copyright materials – and it is a customer’s prerogative to find out what is the best offer for an identical product). I do not really buy the view put forward here by John Emerson that the Humanities’ integrity might be put more at risk by CC-BY than the raw data of the technical and natural sciences. People are freely rewriting, rewording and misinterpreting ideas all the time and I don’t really see what CC-BY changes to that. Finally, I also have if not blind, then definitely some faith that the main advocates of Open Access have thought this through and sized up the pros and cons before deciding in favour of CC-BY.

Having said all that, I am bothered by OASPA’s requirement and we will definitely not be applying CC-BY licences to our books to start with, and we might possibly not stick any CC licence on them at all, at least not on all of them and not by default. Why this retrograde attitude? Because we are still transitioning.

My first argument is maybe a bit obvious: with sdvig press we are trying out a whole new experiment, with no clear models or indeed role-models to follow. As it is, we are being bold enough, and if we can control any parameters, or put the experimentation with any part of the project to a later, more mature stage of our development, I think we should, and we will. CC-BY, seen strictly from our point of view, is an experiment and is not necessary at this point. A simple statement on our website of our relaxed approach both to fair-use and the downloading of our texts should amply suffice to guarantee open access and the convenient use of our platform to our users. All we need then is a further statement propounding our openness to the various reuses of our texts and calling upon interested scholars to just contact us. We certainly won’t be submerged by demands and we’d anyway be keen on knowing who are the strange creatures interested in our outrageously niche texts on Czech structuralism. It might turn out there isn’t a need to CC-BY our books at all.

Secondly and much more importantly, the business model of sdvig press, not unlike the one developed by OpenEdition Books (do they CC-BY?), relies or will rely on traffic to the platform. We will not be making money from the books themselves, neither from the digital open access version, nor the POD print version, but from “freemium” subscriptions (paid by libraries, not individuals) to the user-friendly and function-heavy interface we provide for these texts. Although we’d like to think of ourselves as a publishing house, in essence we’ll probably just be a drearily academic aggregation, curation and social tool with a bit of obscure, often painfully badly written content (yes we’ll have a lot of 19th Century German philosophy). As such, although our content will be available for free, it is vitally important that it remains located and accessible exclusively on the (otherwise completely open) sdvig platform. That is not to say we will not be open to sharing metadata (of course we’ll share metadata), or indeed to pool part or most of our contents with selected partners or networks. We want to be able to cherry-pick these partners however, and make sure they play the same game as we do.

Indeed, imagine a legacy publisher who either has figured out there is money to be made by developing an advanced interface with bibliometric tools, community features, etc (which of course, remains to be proven), or who is intent on making sure OA platforms such as ours do not get off the ground. If our contents are CC-BY, all they have to do is make our content available on their own, much larger platform (since they will have their own fully copyrighted material) and, thanks moreover to their more recognizable brand name, will divert all the traffic. If we go to sleep, they might even paywall it again. Not a nice prospect.

Imagine also that we want to publish or, more likely, republish some crucial material, whose copyright is owned by a somewhat cooperative legacy publisher. Our strategy (yet to be tested) would be to cut a deal with said legacy publisher, where it retains all the rights and profits from the print edition (and can even set an extortionate price if it so wishes), but we are allowed to put up an OA digital version on our website (this makes sense for sdvig press as we are not expecting to make any money from print sales). If CC-BY is a must, the project would be immediately wrecked because the legacy publisher loses its incentive.

If these arguments have already been made and (convincingly) refuted somewhere, please link me to them. If not, have a go here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


2 thoughts on “Why CC-BY is not for us, not for now

  1. Thank you for your excellent blog post !

    Regarding Oaspa criteria, it reads exactly : “The book licensing policy (including policy on re-use and redistribution) shall be clearly stated and visible on the web site and all published material. Ideally, a Creative Commons license policy would be used. The license policy should allow for the broadest re-use of published material possible – OASPA may ask for information on the reasoning for your chosen license policy if restrictions apply.”

    It is not clear if “ideally” applies to the CC license only, or to the next sentence as well…
    However, I urge you not to stand aside OASPA but rather to join and to argument why CC-BY is not for you. OASPA is not a monolith but a professional association with members having different views and positions. That was perfectly clear during the last Conference of the association last week in Riga, especially during the panel on humanities, where we had a lot of discussions around the licences. OASPA is on its way to encompass a broader diversity of viewpoints, from different disciplines and linguistic areas. Therefore, we need your voice inside OASPA rather than outside ! Because the conversation you’re opening is crucial for the OA movement, especially for books and in humanities.

    By the way : did you apply to DOAB ? http://www.doabooks.org/

  2. Dear Pierre,
    Thank you for your comment and retweet! Thanks also for pointing out the exact terms of the OASPA criteria, which are indeed more nuanced and flexible than I made them sound. And no, we will not shun OASPA because of this, not all, we are keen to join!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.