Monthly Archives: January 2014

CC-BY and Reprint Etiquette

I’m in the process of putting together a multi-author volume on issues in Open Research Data, as the major output of my Panton Fellowship at the Open Knowledge Foundation. The contributions are currently being written and I’m super excited for how it will turn out.

One of the potential contributors I contacted suggested that even though she didn’t have the time to write something, I should feel free to use one of the CC-BY pieces she had published elsewhere. This got me thinking more about current scholarly norms and some issues related to the reuse of CC-BY material.

I hadn’t originally considered including previously published articles, though after a quick scan of a few journals it was clear that there is a goldmine of CC-BY content relevant to my book and I’d like to use one or two articles. I am fully aware that the CC-BY licence will permit me to include such articles without an author’s permission (with correct attribution, etc. etc.) and in many ways this could be an interesting experiment in the kind of book publishing I advocate. The question, though, is how to do I approach the authors?

In the first instance, I plan to contact the author(s) to ask how they feel about my using their piece and whether they would be interested in editing it for my book, or at minimum, how would they like to be cited. But what if they flatly refuse to let me re-use it or, rather, say that they would reeeeally prefer if I didn’t?  Obviously we would all like to believe that everyone who publishes in a CC-BY journal fully appreciates what this permits, but sometimes this is not the case.

I’m pretty certain that I would be uncomfortable with re-using anyone’s work against their wishes, even if legally I would be permitted to do so. Naturally, if the CC-BY licence becomes more widely adopted, author awareness would also increase and this state of affairs would be less common. Until then, I wonder if we are able to come up with some basic etiquette surrounding the reuse of CC-licensed research. I’d suggest a few items of scholarly best practice (in addition to the legal requirements that CC-BY imposes):

  1. As far in advance as is feasible, inform the authors of the piece that you will be re-using their work. Give them a chance to make edits or to suggest how they would like to be cited.
  2. Perhaps leave a grace period before you re-publish the work, however long you feel is appropriate. For example, maybe hold off on re-posting a blogpost until, say, a few days after it was originally posted.
  3. If you’re making substantial edits to the piece yourself, it is a good idea to share the final version of the text with the authors prior to publication (alongside clearly demarcating whose words are whose, of course). Again, a right of reply is a sensible idea.
  4. If the text is a translation, ensure that you include a sentence, in both the original and translated languages, to indicate that the author has not endorsed the translation (unless s/he has!). The licence deeds indicate that re-users must not present the work in a way that indicates the original authors have endorsed it, but it is good to be explicit about this.
  5. Most importantly: be nice. Remember that scholarship is a collaborative process and the authors of the content you’re reusing are your colleagues. If, after a discussion with the authors,  they are still against the reuse of their content, you should probably respect that.

Though there will be times when some of these suggestions are not practical, I still think it’s worth articulating a list of things to bear in mind when reprinting CC-BY articles. The idea here is not to create more friction in reuse, which is exactly one of the things CC-BY was designed to avoid, nor to inundate creators of CC-BY content with emails, requests, etc., but to place oneself in the shoes of someone who published an article under CC-BY but perhaps, in this transition time to more open practices, did not appreciate the implications. I’d be grateful for any additional suggestions on how to approach this.

I’ll post about my experiences later in the month.

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