In recent months, the open access community has called for greater consistency in licensing and attribution practices for academic research. As scholarly publishing experts discussed in recent OASPA webinars on licensing and attribution, publishers are well placed to lead the way in standardising attribution and open licensing practices.
OASPA provides here a basic guide to practices in licensing and attribution in open access publishing, with the aim of improving consistency, making key best practice recommendations, and communicating how and why particular licensing and attribution policies and standards are preferred.
Why license policies are needed
For any publisher, author, or user of academic research, clear licensing policies are essential to ensure that everyone knows the legal permissions and requirements relating to the work. Open licenses ensure that the owner of the copyright of a work is clearly identified, and within open access publishing this is particularly important if others are going to be using and building upon existing work.
Scholarly publishers and authors across the world can choose to apply a wide range of licensing policies. For published articles to meet the true definition of open access, content should be free to reuse as well as to read, and so liberal licenses that encourage the broadest reuse of published material possible should be chosen. As stated in OASPA’s Membership Criteria, open access publishers belonging to or applying to join OASPA must use liberal licenses that encourage the reuse and distribution of content.
Why OASPA recommends Creative Commons and CC-BY
OASPA membership requires the use of CC licenses, not only because they are very well established legal tools, but also because they have the benefits of simplicity, machine-readability, and interoperability. Creative Commons offers several licenses, but OASPA strongly encourages the use of the CC-BY license for scholarly content, rather than one of the more restrictive licenses or a custom license that is is functionally equivalent to CC-BY.
Instead of transferring rights exclusively to publishers, which is the approach usually followed in subscription publishing, in open-access publishing authors typically grant a non-exclusive license to the publisher to distribute the work, and all users and readers are granted rights to reuse the work under the terms of a Creative Commons license. CC-BY allows for unrestricted reuse of content to maximise the reach and influence of the work, subject only to the requirement that the author is given attribution.
The benefits of open research practices have become more apparent with the increasing global adoption of Creative Commons licenses. For example, OASPA has demonstrated a year-on-year increase in the number of articles published with a CC-BY license by its members.
Communicating your licensing policy
As well as copyright and licensing information being clearly described on the journal website, licensing terms should be indicated on all published articles, whether HTML or PDF versions. PDF versions of articles may be missing license information because the publisher knows it is readily available on their website, but it should be remembered that PDFs are able to be downloaded and stored or shared and so may often be read without being alongside the license information provided online. By including license information on the article itself, together with full publication details, the article will be more likely to be used and authors attributed appropriately. Creative Commons has provided a useful Wiki resource on how to mark work with the CC license, which is available here.
Open data licensing
Of increasing importance in open-access publishing are discussions of how to license and attribute data. Copyright laws differ across countries, but Creative Commons again provides helpful information regarding licenses for open data. The Open Data Institute also offers some useful data-specific guidance, and the efforts of several working groups on the Joint Declaration of Data Citation Principles can be found here. Data-licensing practices are less well established, but some publishers are encouraging the use of the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication waiver to minimise the barriers on the effective reuse of data. OASPA will consider having a further webinar on this topic.
Attribution is a straightforward legal requirement, but copyright and licensing policies vary amongst publishers, and attribution and citation are sometimes confused. Attribution and citation are not the same: citation is a scholarly practice, influenced by the norms of specific communities, and which acknowledges, builds on, or links to other relevant work. By contrast attribution is a legal requirement under particular licenses to identify the copyright holder of the work being reused.
OASPA recently hosted a webinar on the subject of attribution, which was followed up by an online discussion. The consensus was that guidelines specific to attribution of scholarly works would be helpful and OASPA is working towards producing some standardised guidance and best practices for this.
Creative Commons has set out some general examples of best practice when providing attribution for other creators of CC licensed works, which can be found here.
OASPA recommendations on best practice in open-access publishing
In 2015, OASPA collaborated with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), and the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) in an effort to identify principles of transparency and best practice for scholarly publications, and to clarify that these principles form part of the criteria on which membership applications will be evaluated. These recommendations can be found here.
OASPA is proactive in improving standards in open-access publishing around the world, and our role extends far beyond our membership. Our work includes working closely with small publishers and organisations globally to facilitate the improvement of scholarly publishing. One such organisation is the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), which is a multi-university initiative that conducts research to improve the quality and reach of scholarly publishing. PKP has developed free open source software for publishers of books and journals, such as the Open Journals Systems (OJS) journal management and publishing software.
Following discussions with OASPA, the new version of OJS provides more information at the set-up stage than before to help new users with licensing published works and ensuring that the correct information is included. As the software is often used by scholars who run journals in their field of expertise on a voluntary basis, this guidance within the software is particularly helpful in cases where publishing support is not provided by their institution. The same guidance has also been included in PKP’s Open Monograph Press software. By making this software freely available to journals worldwide, open access publishing and the provision of freely accessible knowledge as a public good has become a viable option for small scholar-led journals across the world.
We hope that these guidance notes will be of value to the open access community and welcome any and all feedback.