Academic publishers draft and release their own Open Access licences

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The International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM) has published a set of open access licences (thanks to David Prosser for directing me to the licences).

As a person who once drafted an open access licence for fun, I am not given to criticise other people from trying their hand at drafting. However, licence proliferation has become a bit of an issue, and it is one of the main reasons why Creative Commons has moved against porting in its version 4.0.

CC has been working really well for open access, so why is STM creating their competing versions? In a policy environment that is seeing more and more requirements towards open access, this act seems to be an attempt by the academic publishing industry to stop the meteoric rise of Creative Commons content by providing a competing set of licences that would initially appear to fulfil the OA requirements set by funding bodies and governments.

Because CC is the de facto standard in OA licensing at the moment, it is important to look at the STM licence suite to try to find out what it actually says, and how it differs from the norm in open licensing.

The STM suite has 3 full licences and 2 suplimentaries. The names are a bit of a mouthful: “Research rights added licence: All commercial re-uses of reproduction copies other than defined reserved commercial rights (RCRs) and translation and text and data mining”. Really. The full licences are

And the supplements are:

The full licences are designed to stand on their own, while the supplementaries are supposed to be added to “other existing standardised or bespoke licences”. In other words, the supplements are designed to sit on top of CC licences.

The first question is whether these licences are at all open. There are various definitions of freedom and openness in the context of licensing (see here and here). While I have some few quibbles about the narrowness of the open definition that excludes non-commercial works, it is undeniable that it is a useful starting point. OKFN’s Open Definition (OD) states:

“A piece of data or content is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike.”

My own definition tends to match a much broader look, which includes all licences containing non-commercial and non-derivative elements. At the most basic level, an open licence should give the licensee permission to use, redistribute and modify the work, allowing access to sources if applicable. The licences often have a number of acceptable restrictions, they can require attribution of the author(s);  they can impose that improvements should be communicated to the community (viral elements); they can impose that modifications should be released with the same rights (share-alike), or can impose commercial use restrictions (non-commercial elements), and also impose restriction on modifications.

In my opinion, all of the STM licences fail the Open Definition as they are non-commercial. Even the one that allows commercial uses (STM COM/NONCOM SL) does so by leaving a number of reserved commercial uses that are not included in the licence, which means that it ends up being an incredibly diluted version of the CC non-commercial licences, and does not appear to fall within the wide boundaries of the OD.

Even using my much broader definition, the STM licences are very suspect from an openness perspective. On first reading, they appear to be open, but looking at the details they contain a couple of eye-watering clauses that for me make it incredibly narrow, and very difficult to comply with. Take the broadest one, STM NONCOM. Initially, it appears to be quite open, licensees are allowed to:

“Use  the  Work/Article  anywhere  in  the  world  for  non­‐commercial  purposes, including  by  access, download,  copy,  display  in  any  manner  or  form,  redistribute, abridge,  describe  the  Work/Article…”

So far so good. The problem is that in order to obtain the above permissions, the user must comply with clauses like this one:

“Cite  the  Work/Article  using  an  appropriate  bibliographic  citation,  eg  authors,  book/journal,  article title/chapter  title, volume,  issue,  page  numbers,  DOI  and  the  link  to  the  definitive  published  version. “

So, all attribution must be done by use of an appropriate bibliographic citation! While I would like everyone in the world to properly cite my work, this requirement is incredibly narrow, and it would seem like the only acceptable non-commercial users are those who cite properly, a minority within a minority surely!

Furthermore, non-commercial use is practically defined out of existence, as it includes websites with advertisement, and even non-commercial uses by for-profit organisations. In other words, if you have a company and want to reuse non-commercially, you cannot do it under the STM.

If the full licences were not bad enough, the STM supplementary clauses really scare me, as they seem designed to destroy the open elements of other open access licences. Imagine that a work is going to be released under the most open and free licence out there (other than CC0), the CC Attribution licence (CC-BY). This licence allows commercial and non-commercial reuses and modifications with few limitations, specifically it requires attribution. Now imagine that a publisher convinces the author to attach the supplement to that work as a requirement to publishing with them. Now the very open licence will have a list of reserved commercial uses that include the following prohibitions:

“- The sale of reprints or copies in any manner or form.
– The provision of reprints or copies in the course of selling educational or information services of the user.
– The distribution of reprints for advertising or marketing of the user’s products or services or corporate identity the provision of sponsored access to licensed materials to customers or end-users of the products or services offered by the user.
– The sale or distribution of any translation of the Work for money or money’s worth or for
advertising, marketing or promotion of company products or services.”

Suddenly the licence is no longer compliant with the Open Definition, it has turned into a strictly non-commercial work for all intents and purposes. The same applies to the text and data mining supplement, which would turn a Free (as in Freedom) CC-BY licence into a non-commercial licence for the purposes of text and data mining.

Concluding, I cannot see the reason for the existence of the STM licences other than to taint the open access licensing environment by generating more licence complexity and more confusion on the academic authors. I am not concerned about the knowledgeable people when it comes to copyright and licensing, they will never use the STM suite. I am more concerned about the average author who really has no time to think about the wider implications of their licensing decisions, and will simply sign any agreement that has the term “open” in it, because in that way they will comply with the OA requirements imposed by funding bodies.

We must denounce the STM licences for what they are, good old FUD.

“A piece of data or content is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike.” – See more at: http://opendefinition.org/#sthash.ToHmAHR8.dpuf

4 thoughts on “Academic publishers draft and release their own Open Access licences

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