A Reply to Schadt’s Rant on Strawberries, Open Access Licenses, and the Reuse of Published Papers

This rant has been lighting up the twittersphere — at least, the little corner of it inhabited by people I follow. And for good reason — it’s a good read, and the comments are also well worth reading!

A Rant on Strawberries, Open Access Licenses, and the Reuse of Published Papers | C.W. Schadt | ORNL-UTK Microbial Ecology Lab.

I’ve got something to add to the discussion that goes beyond a comment, which is why I’m replying here. In my reply, I’ll assume you have already clicked on the link and read the initial rant and comments. My basic point is this: this sort of reuse of published papers has little to do with open access (OA) or OA licenses.

It’s tempting to blame open access — publishers, licenses, and the whole OA movement be damned! To his credit, Schadt doesn’t do so. Instead, he expresses surprise mixed with a sort of indignation that someone could take his published, freely available paper, slap it into an anthology, and then sell it for profit — and all this without so much as a word to him or the other author of the paper. Schadt lists 5 reasons he’s really irked, which I won’t list here (all strike me as good reasons, and interestingly are reminiscent of many of the reasons humanists give in favor of CC-BY-NC licenses over CC-BY). But here is a more troubling paragraph:

Anyway, Im not sure who to be more upset with.  The “editor” and publisher that republished the article, or myself for not noticing the reuse clause in the open access license.  From now on I vow that I will pay closer attention to this, and it may influence where I end up submitting future papers.

Schadt admits that he should have paid more attention to the license under which the paper was published, and then suggests that he will have to consider whether he wants to publish future papers under the same license in the future. Ross Mounce (@rmounce) comments that Schadt shouldn’t blame the license, which is a good thing: CC-BY prevents authors from blocking reuse “for no good reason.” Of course, this leaves open the question of what would constitute a good reason for not wanting your paper republished without either your knowledge or your permission. It’s a good question, and one that is at the heart of the debate surrounding CC-BY. But the really good thing about CC-BY and cases like Schadt’s is that they draw our attention, or should, to the question of copyright.

In fact, it’s entirely possible for the same scenario to be played out anytime an author gives up her copyrights, whether to an open access publisher using CC-BY or not.

I know this because essentially the same thing happened to me. My co-author and I published this article in Issues in Science and Technology. You’ll notice that at the bottom of the page, it clearly states the terms of copyright:

Copyright © 2007. University of Texas at Dallas. All rights reserved. 800 W Campbell Road, Richardson, TX 75080-3021.

The hyperlink takes you to the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), where it’s possible* to obtain permission to republish the article. Once permission has been purchased (yes, it costs money that varies with the venue and circulation of the intended reuse), it’s possible — and now legally permissible — to republish the article.

See, the California Science Teachers Association did it here for an issue on “Ethics in Science” that can be purchased for what appears to be $10 plus tax.

Of course, all this was done without contacting either my co-author or me. I was surprised to find it one day on Google when searching for the hyperlink to the original publication. I wrote a nice (I thought) email to the California Science Teachers Association asking them why they had republished our article without contacting us first. They wrote back that they’d obtained the required legal permissions through CCC and were under no obligation to contact us. And, legally speaking, they were right. I still think this move is a breach of etiquette and is ethically questionable, even if it’s perfectly legal.

Now, I don’t mind supporting science teachers. I hope they made their money back, and then some. But it would have been nice to receive an email telling us how happy they were to republish our article — or even asking us whether we might be happy about it and would care to add it to our CVs. I might even have appreciated a free copy of the issue. It looks pretty interesting. Instead, I got the legally correct answer, which came off as a double rudeness.  Needless to say, that left quite a bad taste in my mouth, and I do not include this republication on my CV.

But my hurt feelings (or Schadt’s) aren’t the point here. I signed over my copyrights, which means my feelings are irrelevant. Schadt signed over his, which means the same. But it has nothing to do with whether the license is CC-BY or all rights reserved by the entity to whom one has signed over one’s copyrights. Once an author gives up her copyrights, she has no legal right to reassert them (short of obtaining permission from the new holder of those copyrights). This isn’t about open access or the CC-BY license. It’s about copyrights. This is what makes resources like SPARC’s author addendum so important.

I’m not upset with Schadt, who hasn’t done anything wrong. I’m not upset with Ross Mounce, either. I think this is a discussion we need to be having. (Oh, and like Schadt, to be clear, I’m not upset at strawberries, either.) What would be upsetting to me, however, is if cases like Schadt’s were used uncritically to disparage open access.  What would please me is if authors would take some time to educate themselves about copyrights. I promise it’s interesting — and it may even affect you, one day.


* When I click on the copyright hyperlink, I get the CCC site and it asks me to search for the article. I can’t find it by searching the title. There is an additional hyperlink on the article page that takes one directly to the CCC site to purchase permissions for the article here: For more information regarding reproduction of this article, please click here. However, when I follow the link and try to get a quick price quote, for some reason I keep getting a ‘sorry, we cannot process orders for international customers’ notice.

7 thoughts on “A Reply to Schadt’s Rant on Strawberries, Open Access Licenses, and the Reuse of Published Papers

  1. Er hang on. As far as I understand this, Schadt didn’t sign over his copyright. The authors retain the copyright, but they collectively decided (by publishing in PLoS One) to append a CC-BY license on the paper.

    Notice that on the PLoS One paper, it says ‘Copyright: © 2010 Reganold et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.’

    That’s a different position than yours, where you did sign over the copyright.

    Is that correct?

    • Quick answer: I don’t know. You may well be right. But I would’ve thought that the CC-BY license gives up specific copyrights. Will see if I can find out — and if anyone who knows more about copyright than I do (which is lots of folks), please feel free to chime in!

      • OK, Richard, after some quick research, I have what I think is at least the beginning of an answer to your question. The main difference between what Schadt (I wonder whether he’d mind — or prefer it — if we refer to him as Christopher or Chris … anyway) and I did is in the specific copyrights we signed over.

        Two key points, as far as I understand it: 1) there is no single monolithic right known as THE copyright, but rather a bundle of rights, some or all or none of which may be signed over; and 2) the point of the CC licenses is to allow one to sign over some copyrights while retaining others. So, Schadt retained some copyrights, while I signed over all of mine. The CC-BY license provides all the permissions listed on the Creative Commons website, meaning that Schadt did sign over his right to restrict republication (among others). Since I signed over all of my copyrights to them, UT Dallas was legally able to grant a license for the California Science Teachers Association to republish our article. So, CC-BY is sort of like ‘some rights reserved’ or ‘only a few permissions not granted’, CC-BY-NC is ‘some more rights reserved’ or ‘fewer permissions granted’, and so on.

        This is how I understand it, anyway. Someone please do correct me if I’m wrong.

        Thanks for making me look this up, Richard.

        • That’s mostly how I understand it. With one important distinction, which may be only semantics.

          I would say that Chris Schadt didn’t ‘sign over’ any rights to anyone. He and his co-authors retain copyright (which is, yes, a bundle of rights with different definitions in different states). PLoS One takes nothing. Then the authors choose to make their work available to the public for particular uses, as defined by the CC license. I wouldn’t say that licenses involve ‘signing over rights’, rather, it’s the rights-holder ‘permitting particular uses’.

          You did sign over all your copyright to UT Dallas. Then UT Dallas chooses how it wants to allow others to use the work: it could conceivably offer different licenses to different users.

          It’s splitting semantic hairs a little but that is how I prefer to think about it. The point is that the rights-holder chooses the uses they permit others. At no point do Chris Schadt and his co-authors ‘sign over’ their rights to someone else (i.e. allow someone else to decide how the work may be used).

          • I agree that most of our difference in understanding comes down to semantics. But I also think it points to an area that may be confusing for many — I know it is confusing for me — about the relation between licenses and copyrights. It’s important, because I think it may well interfere with the use of CC-BY licenses.

            It’s hard to express this, but I want to say something like, I can see where you’re coming from, and our semanitic difference, until we get to your last sentence. There, it seems we get into a difference that goes beyond semantics and starts to get at the possible confusion around CC licenses.

            You say, “At no point do Chris Schadt and his co-authors ‘sign over’ their rights to someone else,” which you then interpret as allowing someone else to decide how the work may be used. I think that as soon as they publish the work with the CC-BY license, they sign over almost all their rights to someone else, where this means that they allow others to decide how the work may be used. What they don’t do is give anyone else the EXCLUSIVE right to decide how the work will be used.

            Essentially, then, what the CC-BY license does is make everyone a holder of most of the copyrights to a work published under it. Does that everyone include Schadt and co-author? Of course. So, in that sense, they haven’t ‘signed over’ their copyrights. But PLOS exercises the right to reproduce the work as soon as they publish it. And anyone else can exercise that right, as well, providing they attribute the work. That’s what it means to be part of the ‘commons’.

            The point of joining the commons is precisely to move away from the idea of the private ownership of a work. To say that Schadt retains his copyright makes it sound like he still asserts his private ownership of the work. But when we publish under CC-BY, we give up that ownership in order to make use and re-use something for which no one has to ask our permission. Essentially, CC-BY amounts to saying, ‘The only thing I ask is that you attribute the work to me’.

            This is why some people have a problem with CC-BY, I think. I make the work into something that is available for common use, but in doing so I give up my right to say that someone else cannot make my (now ‘our’) work back into private property. Now you might want to say that I don’t give up this right, I still have it; but that’s what CC-BY-NC is for — to retain that right.

            In other words, there’s a kind of paradox built into CC-BY. In making the work common, I thereby allow someone else to make it private. This seems unjust. This, I think, accounts for a lot of the resistance one finds — especially coming from humanists — to CC-BY.

  2. Good points. Thanks. I dont blame the license either, just didn’t understand it’s full implications when we signed on. Basically if the publisher would have cited the original source somewhere (so i could get more citations for the original article), all would be good. I would like to see this be a more prominent part of the CC licenses. Because the publisher changed the title of the article, it would take the reader a little work to find the original in order to cite it if they wanted to.

    Interestingly, as much of the work I do is as a primary US government contractor for DOE , I do retain the right to redistribute article as I see fit or allow others to do so if it furthers the goals of the agency (gov employee’s retain this right too).

    Sorry about the pingback thing. As Ive only been blogging a few months, and this is the first entry that has ever got much attention, I have been struggling to keep up with the comments and stuff.

    • Oh, no worries about the pingback thing! Thanks for approving the comment and great job raising an important question.

      As for the issue of getting more cites to the original article, there may be ways around this. Other people no doubt know more than I do about this, and it likely varies in some details depending on the database used to track citations to your articles and the people doing the tracking. But I know with Google Scholar, it’s possible to merge the two records yourself. I believe doing this should also merge all the citations (meaning citations to either version should count on your newly merged article).

      It’s also possible to contact the people at Scopus to correct some things in your record. I found out about this after I registered for an ORCID (http://orcid.org/), which also allows you to see your Researcher ID and Scopus Author ID. I contacted the folks at Scopus to resolve some minor issue, and they were very responsive. There are some things they won’t do, of course. But I’m a proponent of researchers using tools like this and taking charge of their own online identity (I’m not alone in this, either, thankfully).

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