Open@VT

Open Access, Open Data, and Open Educational Resources

Open Dissent

Last Sunday Evgeny Morozov published an opinion piece in The New York Times, “Open and Closed”, which addresses openness as a fad:

…”openness” has become a dangerously vague term, with lots of sex appeal but barely any analytical content… Openness is today a powerful cult, a religion with its own dogmas … “open” has become the new “green”

There’s some truth to this. “Open” is being prefixed to a lot of things, almost as a sales technique, in the same way as the words sustainable, natural, organic, and local. And to some extent perhaps I have been susceptible- for example, the Links page here directs readers to initiatives for open data, open science, open peer review, etc. While I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about open access, I know much less about these other “open” efforts and hoped to use this blog to examine them.

The problem, as Morozov states, is that “open” everything emerged from the open source movement and was then translated to other areas. But that is a unique domain with its own problems and solutions. So the takeaway, which I think most of us already knew, is that

We must differentiate the many different types of “open.”

His later point about MOOCs perhaps has some merit, although I find it odd that he falls in with the strongest advocates of open in saying that MOOCs should “also give users the ability to reuse, remix and repurpose their content.” So it isn’t that “open” is unfocused or misguided, it’s that it isn’t open enough.

We should always evaluate claims critically, particularly in the university, where we claim to promote just that, though those involved in the open access movement have been examining particular problems and potential solutions for years now.

On the whole I find a critique of openness intriguing, though I actually wish it had a bit more bite to it. It’s an issue I’ll be returning to again.

Which CC license?

You may have noticed that CC-BY license over there on the right-hand sidebar. That’s the basic Attribution license from Creative Commons. So why not non-commercial (NC), share-alike (SA), or no derivatives (ND)? And why use a CC license at all?

Two caveats: I am not a lawyer, and the dust has not settled on some of these issues. Creative Commons is currently finalizing version 4.0 of their licenses, and the documentation should be out in the next few months.

The purpose of CC licenses is to reduce the friction in the exchange of information. Without a CC license, if others want to use your work, they must weigh the four fair use factors (often quite fuzzy and subjective), or they must ask permission. The first is a judgement call (which might result in a lawsuit) and the second doesn’t scale very well. In academia, the emphasis should be on sharing and building knowledge, not on permissions and lawyers. Friction is removed from the system when authors give permissions in advance by using a CC license.

I’ve personally cycled through using a variety of CC licenses, based on a somewhat face-value interpretation of them. Unfortunately things can get complicated, and the meaning of terms is not always what you think. The best example is “noncommercial.” I interpreted this to mean that for-profit entities could not use my work, but non-profits like universities could. Not necessarily, according to CC’s FAQ:

“Please note that CC’s definition does not turn on the type of user: if you are a non profit or charitable organization, your use of an NC-licensed work could run afoul of the NC restriction; and if you are a for-profit entity, your use of an NC-licensed work does not necessarily mean you have violated the term.”

I became concerned when opinions were issued that would even block use in teaching under a NC license (see a translated report from German Wikimedia/CC, summarized in this blog post, and see an excellent blog post by Peter Murray-Rust).

So what about share-alike (SA)? This is the “copyleft” condition that stands copyright on its head by requiring all subsequent use to invoke the same license, and best known for its use in Wikipedia . The problem is that this “viral” license is a restriction that prevents use by those not able to license the same way.

I use CC-BY for this blog and my archived work for the reasons mentioned by Peter Murray-Rust: it’s the simplest license, avoids restrictions, avoids “infecting” other licenses when aggregated with other works, enables text-mining and other automated uses, and is the license used by major OA journal publishers like PLOS and PeerJ.

I encourage you to use CC-BY whenever possible for your work, but read the licenses carefully and choose your own.

Open licensing to enable greater downstream use has been a part of the open access movement from the beginning, and it’s starting to get a lot more attention (e.g., How Open Is It?). Open access is more than just making material available on the Internet.

Support for Open Access at the University Libraries

Welcome to the Open@VT blog, where the focus will be library support for open access (see the links on the upper left) as well as other aspects of openness. Part of the impetus for the blog was the realization that our outreach efforts needed to be year-round and not just focused on Open Access Week, which we held for the first time in October 2012. Library support for OA activities has ramped up significantly in the last couple of years, and now we have a pilot OA publishing (subvention) fund, discounts on article publishing charges as a result of institutional memberships, a new institutional repository for archiving scholarship, VTechWorks, and we host a growing number of OA journals. Virginia Tech was the first university to require ETDs back in 1997, the vast majority of which are openly available. In addition, we provide training through the Faculty Development Institute (FDI) (also open to graduate students) for VTechWorks, data management plans, and open access/copyright. We’ll be examining these efforts in more detail in future blog posts, but in the meantime, please feel free to comment, send me ideas, spread the news, and thanks for your patience as I learn to blog.