Field of Science

A clearer perspective on CC-BY reuse

Over the weekend I posted and discussed the results of my survey on the editing and re-publication of open access articles in what pretend to be multi-author edited books containing new material.  The articles are published under the original authors' names, but the titles and text have been lightly edited, and the original publications are either not cited or cited in an obscure appendix.  When I composed the survey I thought that this reuse was permitted by the CC-BY license, but now (after a lot of Twitter discussion) I think that this particular form of reuse contravenes the license in at least two ways.  Because the reuse is illegal, the best remedy is legal action by the journals that originally published the papers.

Here's the relevant legalese from the CC-BY license:
  1. If you distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work or any Derivative Works or Collective Works, You must keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and give the Original Author credit reasonable to the medium or means You are utilizing by conveying the name (or pseudonym if applicable) of the Original Author if supplied; the title of the Work if supplied; to the extent reasonably practicable, the Uniform Resource Identifier, if any, that Licensor specifies to be associated with the Work, unless such URI does not refer to the copyright notice or licensing information for the Work; and in the case of a Derivative Work, a credit identifying the use of the Work in the Derivative Work (e.g., "French translation of the Work by Original Author," or "Screenplay based on original Work by Original Author"). Such credit may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Derivative Work or Collective Work, at a minimum such credit will appear where any other comparable authorship credit appears and in a manner at least as prominent as such other comparable authorship credit.
Contravention #1:  In the specific case of articles from scientific journals, it's not clear (to me) whether this requires citation of the original publication or just listing the names of the authors.  However, PLOS's description of their CC-BY license explicitly says that any reuse must cite the original article. (I can't find anywhere on the BioMed Central site that explicitly says this; they just quote the standard CC-BY license.)

So, at least for papers from PLOS journals and probably for papers from other OA journals, the book publisher is contravening the license by not conspicuously including a citation to the original publication.

Contravention #2:  The CC-BY license prohibits 'implied endorsement'.  Here's what the Creative Commons wiki says:
"All CC licenses prohibit using the attribution requirement to suggest that the original author or licensor endorses or supports a particular use of a work. This "No Endorsement" provision protects reputation, and its violation constitutes a violation of the license and results in automatic termination."
This means that the book publisher cannot simply list the original authors of the article as authors of the book chapter.  Instead they must say something like "This is an edited version of the paper by the original authors" or otherwise make it clear that these authors are not responsible for this new publication.  Similarly, the book must not list the authors as "Contributors", since this also implies that the authors endorse the new work.

The appropriate response is legal action by the journal agains the book publisher:  My survey of authors found that authors are most concerned about how this reuse could affect their reputations; they want to be sure that their work will be correctly cited and that they are not held responsible for the reuse.  Preventing the two contraventions described above would go a long way to eliminate the authors' concerns.

In principle the individual authors could sue the book publisher, or maybe organize a class action suit.  But in this situation I think legal action should be the responsibility of the journal publishers. The authors have paid substantial fees to the publishers, and legal action to protect their rights should be considered part of the cost of running an open access journal.

I still think that open access journals should give potential authors more information about the risks of the CC-BY license as well as its benefits.  But taking responsibility for defending authors' rights would let journals provide this information in a much more positive way.  For example, they could say:
"The CC-BY license protects the rights of authors to have their publication correctly cited when it is reused, and to not be seen as responsible for any alterations.  This journal will take legal action to defend these rights if they are infringed."


  1. For your point 1, the publisher must be providing a citation, sure. But they argued, at least in the case of Chris Schadt, that they normally do provide this information in a 'How to Cite' page at the back of the book, and that any omission is an accident that will be corrected. (Let's see if it is, eh!).

    Now, you leap to the additional argument above that the citation must be 'conspicuous': "at least for papers from PLOS journals and probably for papers from other OA journals, the book publisher is contravening the license by not conspicuously including a citation to the original publication".

    But who said the citation must be conspicuous? Legally, why isn't putting a citation at the back of the book, sufficient?

    1. That's how I interpreted the last sentence of the quoted CC-BY 'legalese' paragraph. In a Notes page at the back of the book is not how citation information usually accompanies a published or republished article.

  2. The license requires you attribute them in the manner stated by the author or licensee. PLOS states "[a]ppropriate attribution can be provided by simply citing the original article" but that seems to be guidance rather than a requirement so it suggest other means are acceptable. The legalese states:

    "The credit required by this Section 4 (b) may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Adaptation or Collection, at a minimum such credit will appear, if a credit for all contributing authors of the Adaptation or Collection appears, then as part of these credits and in a manner at least as prominent as the credits for the other contributing authors."

    It seems to me that "any reasonable manner" gives our dubious publisher fairly free reign to choose the manner in which to present it.

    It's not at all clear to me that simply listing the authors could be characterised as implied endorsement. In fact, if you investigate the various sham collections offered by our dubious publisher you'll find that in most cases only the editors are listed, occasionally accompanied by an author or two. This suggests that these people are aware of the situation.

    One interesting thing I noticed was this in 4(a): "If You create a Collection, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Collection any credit as required by Section 4(b), as requested" - suggesting anyone concerned can act to have their names removed.

    I agree that we should look to journals to provide legal protection for authors, it's not clear that the behaviour of our dubious publisher, whilst bottom feeding, is actually illegal. The fact is that the freedoms provided by CC-BY are always going to have negative as well as positive consequences; I think the benefits outweigh the costs but others may differ on that.

  3. Those Apple Academic Press collections where the contributors list includes only the editor and a few authors may contain only genuine specially-written chapters, not reuses of CC-BY articles. I'd assumed that but haven't done the Google Scholar searches to verify it.

  4. I agree that what Apple Press are doing is unacceptable, not only ethically but probably legally.

    But I don't want to make it PLOS's responsibility to pursue them in court. I'd rather publishers were free from such tangential responsibilities, and able to concentrate on the business of publishing. The last thing I want is for PLOS to have raise APCs to they can afford to retain lawyers. And that goes double from a lean startup publisher like PeerJ or Ubiquity.

  5. I think authors would much rather see a small increase in OA publication charges than have to individually defend their CC-BY rights.

    1. You might be right. It's not so much the raising of APCs that bothers me -- though as a percentage that could be significant at low-cost publishers like PeerJ. It's the dilution of mission. I like it that OA publishers' only job is to get stuff out there where it can be seen. It seems fundamentally wrong-headed for them also to have a branch whose job it is to prevent dissemination -- even unpleasant dissemination such as what Apple Academic Press does. It's hard to imagine the presence of such a department not polluting attitudes across the whole organisation, drawing them in the direction of caution and adversariality rather than adventure and collaboration.

    2. OA journals could work together, sharing the costs of protecting authors' rights. If they don't take responsibility for this admittedly dirty work they're going to lose many potential authors.

    3. Yes, they could work together. That would mitigate the cultural damage. If we care enough about this problem to want to retain lawyers, then I guess a professional body like OASPA would be the obvious place to handle this kind of issue. Each legitimate OA publisher could pay a somewhat increased membership fee which goes to fund whatever legal actions might prove necessary.

      Myself, I'd still rather not waste a lot of mental or emotional energy on this. Nine times out of ten, peer-pressure should fix badly behaving publishers. In the end, I want my work to be read, and I see publishers' role as helping that to happen, end of.

    4. Yeah, peer pressure has been very effective in curbing the spread of predatory OA journals...

    5. I'm not remotely bothered by "predatory OA journals" in the Jeffrey Beale sense of the world. They a Nigerian Spam scams for academics, and anyone who falls for one really needs to ask themselves some serious questions about their critical-thinking faculties.

      Outfits like Apple Academic Press are the issue here, and they are in one sense more of a problem because they can exploit me without my consent (or even my knowledge) since they don't do so by persuading me to give them money.

      And I think peer-pressure, the expectations of what an academic publisher is, will be much more telling on the likes of Apple. To make money from their scam, they have to sell their expensive books to librarians. That's hard to do -- librarians tend to know their way around. Especially when the community is talking negatively about the publisher in question.

    6. I've asked some librarians about this (UBC and York U). They say they usually buy whatever jobbers send them. UBC has bought about 50 books from Apple.

    7. Yikes!

      Then perhaps this is a job for OASPA (or similar) after all.

  6. The problem with having the journals pursue legal action in this matter is that they lack legal standing.

    It's the responsibility of the copyright holder to pursue legal remedies in the event of copyright violations. For open access articles, it's the authors that retain copyright, and as such are the ones which need to file any legal recourse. If the journals tried to file a lawsuit all by themselves, the courts would laugh them out of the building. (Well, there's no problem with them writing a strongly worded letter, but if the compilation publishers maintain they're not doing anything wrong there's nothing they can follow up with.)

    That said, authors could authorize journals' lawyers to act on their behalf. But that's not something that currently happens with journal publishing agreements. Authors would have to sign a separate document to authorize it.

    1. Good point. Since the problem is still small, the journals could just directly contact those authors whose papers have been republished and ask for authorization to take legal action on their behalf.

      In future it might prove best to have another checkbox beside the 'accept CC-BY' one, authorizing legal action if needed to defend CC-BY rights.

  7. I'm not sure where I feel about this but it is an interesting question which I hadn't considered -- it reminds me a bit of the concerns about the use of GPL-licensed code in commercial projects where often the words but not the spirit of the GPL is respected.

  8. I think there is a very easy remedy for Apple: just follow the rules. From the way I see it, it's just re-arranging some of the layout and perhaps adding a disclaimer here or there. That's a zero cost modification to any future books they might want to publish and will honor word and spirit of the license.
    Why not just tell them that, instead of (or before) threatening legal action?

    On the other hand, it is quite telling about our relationship with commercial publishers that we seem to take for granted that they won't listen to us except in a court of law :-)


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