Copyright Policy at the European Commission – Science Commons’ Response

November 24th, 2008 by Kaitlin Thaney

This past July, the European Commission released a green paper on issues pertinent to work in increasing access to scholarly content. The paper, “Copyright in the Knowledge Economy”, raises a number of questions regarding licensing schemes for scholarly content. The following is Science Commons’ submitted response to the Commission on Question 19.

The question reads:

“Should the scientific and research community enter into licensing schemes with publishers in order to increase access to works for teaching or research purposes? Are there examples of successful licensing schemes enabling online use of works for teaching or research purposes?”

Science Commons – Response to Question 19

Submitted on November 21, 2008 —

Within the scope of the Green Paper (section 1.2) is the dissemination of research, science, and educational materials to the public, and question 19 asks whether the scientific and research community should enter into licensing schemes with publishers to increase access to work for teaching and research purposes.

With respect to governmentally-funded research, the fruits of research should be openly available to the scientific community and the public, in accordance with the principles laid out in the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Science and Humanities, and the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing. We believe that these declarations already articulate principles that are appropriate for ensuring broad, digital access to the scientific and scholarly corpus. Such access is particularly important with respect to results arising from research projects supported with government funding, because broad-based, digital dissemination serves important social and governmental purposes that motivate such funding.

We recognize that publishers have a variety of business models, and while open access models used by publishers such as Public Library of Science and BioMed Central offer the fastest and most direct means of making scholarly works available to the public, other, so-called “traditional” publishers, pay for peer-review and publication-related costs through subscription and access fees. They have argued that an exclusivity or “embargo” period is needed in order to fund investments in quality control and to support publication costs. We believe that fee-for-access publishing models are not necessarily inconsistent with the broad goals of open access, as long as the embargo period(s), if any, are reasonable, and that subsequent to the embargo period, scholarly papers published in journals are deposited in an online repository and made available for download free of charge and free of technical or legal restrictions. An example of such a policy would be the NIH Public Access Policy (April 7, 2008).

Furthermore, such works should be licensed to the public under terms that permit redistribution and appropriate reuse, including in certain circumstances, the creation of compilations, annotations, and other derivative works. Examples of licenses that support the ability to disseminate and to reuse works include the Creative Commons licenses, published by Creative Commons Corporation. The Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license is an example of a license that is widely adopted by open access journals and recognized as consistent with the open access declarations discussed above. However, such open licenses need not be limited only to open access journals, but they can also be used a model for licensing works made available after any relevant embargo periods. Such licenses ensure that open access is not only available at a technical level through download (read-only access) but also at a legal level through appropriate licensing of copyright in order to permit the preparation of derivative works and other transformative uses (read-write access), which are central to scientific and cultural enterprises. Creative Commons has also worked with many international collaborators to make these licenses available in many languages, as well as to adapt them to the laws of many jurisdictions.

For almost two years, Science Commons has operated a portal and a tool called the “Scholars Copyright Addendum Engine,” which aggregates a wide variety of recognized “Author Addenda” by means of which scholars can enter into negotiations with publishers to retain rights of reuse for scholarly and teaching purposes. While such tools may indeed aid a few scholars in negotiation with publishers to retain rights to archive and reuse their own works for teaching and research, such case-by-case negotiations do not make a significant impact in the vast majority of cases, which represents the bulk of published research. This is due in part to the relative imbalance in negotiating power and legal expertise of the parties to such publication agreements, as well as an imbalance in incentives, with many authors having a larger stake in being accepted for publication than in promoting post-publication access. Therefore, we believe that effective policy intervention requires action at the funder or governmental level to set the appropriate standards, through mandates and incentives that ensure that fruits of research, and especially government-funded research, are disseminated as broadly as possible and with the fewest legal restrictions, consistent with sustainability and quality.

Science Commons also supports broad digital access to the scholarly and scientific corpus because we believe that many difficult and important scientific and social problems require that scientists and researchers be empowered to take advantage of software, Web tools, and other data management technologies to support advanced searching, querying, and information integration. However, in the present environment in which access to the corpus of scientific knowledge is restricted and fragmented into a variety of “wall gardens,” our ability to use that corpus and to apply modern computer technology to it is likewise fragmented and piecemeal. This has important implications for scientific productivity, impact of funding for research, knowledge dissemination and preservation, and the achievement of social and governmental goals.

Therefore, Science Commons encourages the Commission to consider strategies that incorporate the broad goals of open access, adoption of standardized licenses that facilitate appropriate reuse and exchange of knowledge and research products, and the enablement of digital information technology. We encourage the Commission to consider a variety of tools, including mandates, policies, and incentives to achieve this goal.

This can be found in our Reading Room. The Commission is soliciting feedback from the public on the questions listed in their paper until November 30, 2008. We invite your comments here, and also encourage you to submit a response to the EC on the green paper. There are a specific set of questions listed at the end of the paper, but responses may address a broader set of issues. Formal responses can be sent via email to

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