CC-BY considered harmful

Dear colleagues,

we publish since 1995 the open-access workshop proceedings series
The service is free-of-charge for readers and editors of the proceedings.

Some weeks ago I sent a questionnaire to a past editors of workshop proceedings
about their preferences for the licenses for
(1) the meta data of the proceedings, i.e. the bibliographic details
of the papers and the proceedings as a whole
(2) the papers themselves

The relative majority of respondents preferred CC0 (“public domain”) for the meta data
but there was a rather unclear result about the preferred license for the papers.

I would like to raise this question to your attention.

Some OA services prefer a CC-BY license. But the consequence can be harmful!

Suppose that there is a pool of papers, all published with a CC-BY license
and all about some subject, let’s say about R-Trees.

The papers could all come from different sources (OA conference proceedings,
OA journals, OA workshop proceedings).

Now, anyone (let’s call him John Doe) can retrieve a subset of those papers and publish them in
a new book, edited by a person who never talked to the authors or to
the editors of the original publication.

If it is just CC-BY, then John Doe can even slightly change the papers, e.g. omitting
some chapters or some figures. This would nit violate the CC-BY license as long as John Doe
includes in his new book a page with the references to the original papers.

John Dow could also include his own (low quality) papers on R-Tress into his new book,
side by side with the peer-reviewed papers that he downloaded.

Now, this would be morally wrong and a violation of scientific standards.
But it shows that CC-BY is rather inappropriate for scientific papers.
Even CC-BY-ND is problematic, since it still allows to republish without
the consent of the authors.

Likewise CC-BY-NC is not helping. It may prevent commercial players to
make money out of OA papers. But still, a person could corrupt the original
papers by re-pblishing them free-of-charge in a FALSE CONTEXT.

The conclusion is: should keep the existing copyright clause
“Copyright © XXXX for the individual papers by the papers’ authors. Copying permitted for private and academic purposes. This volume is published and copyrighted by its editors.”

This does not license re-publication.

Comments welcome!

Manfred Jeusfeld

  1. Phillip Lord said:

    It is certainly true that you can come up with negative scenarios with the CC-BY. But, this does not invalidate it. Consider, for example, that I take all of the files of WS-CEUR, transform them into a form that allows the reader to select their prefered format; say an HTML presentation which scales. Or a PDF presentation where all the references are actually hyperlinked rather than just readable. Or, where I can switch between numeric and author-year citation.

    With CC-BY, all is clear, I can do this. With your license, I cannot. In fact, with your license which says “for private or academic purposes”, it’s not clear what I can do. As with the NC clause from Creative Commons, it is very hard to know what private or academic purposes actually means.

    So, you need to weigh the value against the cost.

  2. Thanks, Phillip, for your view! I agree about the fuzzyness of “academic and private”. The only hard fact is that the copyright of the PDFs is with the authors, and that they passed a non-exclusive right to the proceedings editors to include the paper in the proceedings volume.

    Responses to the questionnaire on the preferred open-access copyright were quite diverse. So, I consider this as an open question for — Ruzica will eventually decide this since she is now the publisher.

  3. An afterthought: The transformation of published papers to a new format is creating a new artefact. For example, adding URLs to the references links to paper to websites that the original author may have preferred not to link to. The transformation to HTML removes page breaks which might have carried a meaning. I think the author must agree to such changes. I doubt that all authors would understand that a CC-BY license is allowing such uses. I do see the benefit of legal clarity. I also observe that many open-access sites switch to plain CC-BY.

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