open access

Creative Commons awarded $450,000 from the Arcadia Fund to support open access publishing for authors

Rebecca Lendl, September 25th, 2015

Creative Commons is pleased to announce a grant award in the amount of $450,000 over 3 years from the Arcadia Fund, the charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. Since its inception in 2001, Arcadia has awarded grants in excess of $331 million. Arcadia works to protect endangered culture and nature. Creative Commons will use funds from Arcadia to develop tools that complement the current CC license suite and empower authors to retain or regain their right to publish so they can make their scholarly and academic works available for public use.

Building on the success of the current CC licenses — now with nearly 1 billion licenses in use across over 9 million websites — Creative Commons is enthusiastic about developing tools that can be used by authors who “write to be read” but face all too common barriers to making their research openly available. These resources will be developed for global use, taking into account country-specific copyright laws, customs, and language. Once in widespread use, these tools are expected to increase the number of articles and publications that are available for broad public use.

To accomplish this ambitious goal, Creative Commons will work with CC’s international network of over 100 affiliates working in over 80 regions around the world. This core group will next convene at the 2015 Creative Commons Global Summit on October 14-17 in Seoul, South Korea. A dedicated summit session will be held to discuss the best approach to formulating tools and materials that enable authors to retain and regain their rights, while also addressing the needs of publishers. Collaborators on this project include Authors Alliance, Free Culture Trust, and SPARC, all of whom are dedicated to supporting authors, institutions, and the public in promoting access to research and scholarly work. Importantly, this group also includes academic publishers who support or have interest in promoting open access principles.

Creative Commons is grateful to the Arcadia Fund for its essential support of our work. We look forward to sharing our progress and success with all of you!

About Creative Commons and our collaborators

Creative Commons enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools to help realize the full potential of the Internet—universal access to research and education, and full participation in culture.

Authors Alliance is a membership-driven non-profit organization that supports and advocates for authors who write to be read.

Free Culture Trust is dedicated to helping authors and artists make their works widely available by removing bureaucratic and structural barriers to sharing.

SPARC is an international alliance of organizations dedicated to creating a more open system for sharing research and scholarship.

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Colombian student Diego Gomez is going to trial for sharing a research article online

Timothy Vollmer, June 29th, 2015

Last year several organizations highlighted the situation of Colombian graduate student Diego Gomez, who had a criminal complaint filed against him for sharing a research article online. Gomez is a student in conservation and wildlife management, and for the most part has poor access to many of the resources and databases that would help him conduct his research. He shared an academic paper on Scribd so that he and others could access it for their work. If convicted, Diego could face a prison term of 4-8 years. Gomez will appear in court on June 30.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sums up Diego’s situation well:

He posted the paper online because he was excited that he found it, because he wanted to share that knowledge with others who shared his passion. Copyright should not turn students like Gomez into criminals for reveling in their quest for knowledge nor for helping others to do the same.

As Gomez goes to trial this week, we must ask again: why are we prosecuting students for sharing knowledge? We know that this type of draconian leveraging of copyright law is not uncommon. From suing a student for downloading scholarly journal articles to issuing a takedown of a dancing baby video to pushing through secret international trade agreements that will extend the term of copyright and harm the public and the commons, large rights holders organizations continue to wield copyright law to punish those who attempt to do what comes naturally for them–sharing.

At the same time, with the dedicated work of individuals and organizations advocating for a sensible balance to copyright, there is hope that laws, regulations, and norms can be changed to support users and the public interest. For example, universities are adopting open access policies that preserve and make accessible the research of their faculty. The copyright reform debate in Europe has finally dropped a potentially dangerous provision that would have permitted rights holders to control how linking operates on the web. And WIPO adopted a treaty to increase global access to copyright-protected materials for the blind and visually impaired.

You can read what Diego has to say about his upcoming trial at Fundación Karisma. Fundación Karisma is the Colombian digital rights advocacy organization that is providing legal support to Gomez. And you can take action now to support Diego by signing the global declaration promoting open access to research.

Image by EFF / CC BY.


Elsevier’s new sharing policy harmful to authors and access to scholarly research

Timothy Vollmer, May 20th, 2015

Today Creative Commons and 22 other organizations published a letter urging the publishing giant Elsevier to alter its newly revised policy regarding the sharing and hosting of academic articles so that it better supports access to scholarly research.

Elsevier’s new policy, announced 30 April 2015, is detrimental to article authors as well as those seeking access to these research papers. The policy imposes an embargo of at least 12 months before authors can self-archive their final manuscripts in an institutional repository–with the option of these embargoes being as long as 48 months. Beforehand, Elsevier allowed immediate deposit of the articles in repositories. The new policy also restricts access once the embargo expires by requiring that articles be shared under the most restrictive Creative Commons license–CC BY-NC-ND–which prohibits commercial use and the creation of derivative works.

From the letter:

This policy represents a significant obstacle to the dissemination and use of research knowledge, and creates unnecessary barriers for Elsevier published authors in complying with funders’ open access policies. In addition, the policy has been adopted without any evidence that immediate sharing of articles has a negative impact on publishers subscriptions.

Kevin Smith, Director of the Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communication at Duke University, calls their updated embargo policies “both complicated and draconian,” and criticizes the requirement that authors apply a restrictive license to their works at the expiration of the embargo period:

This, of course, further limits the usefulness of these articles for real sharing and scholarly advancement. It is one more way in which the new policy is exactly a reverse of what Elsevier calls it; it is a retreat from sharing and an effort to hamstring the movement toward more open scholarship.

Elsevier should reconsider these policy changes in order to support the rights and wishes of academic authors, and to support better access to the research that they publish.

The letter is available here. It has been signed by the following groups, and you can add your organization to as well.

COAR: Confederation of Open Access Repositories
SPARC: Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition
ACRL: Association of College and Research Libraries
ALA: American Library Association
ARL: Association of Research Libraries
Association of Southeastern Research Libraries
Australian Open Access Support Group
IBICT: Brazilian Institute of Information in Science and Technology
CARL: Canadian Association of Research Libraries
CLACSO: Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales
COAPI: Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions
Creative Commons
Creative Commons (USA)
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Greater Western Library Alliance
LIBER: European Research Library Association
National Science Library, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Open Data Hong Kong
Research Libraries UK
SANLiC: South African National Licensing Consortium
University of St Andrews Library

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Wikimedia adopts open licensing policy for foundation-funded research

Timothy Vollmer, March 23rd, 2015

Last week the Wikimedia Foundation announced it is adopting an open access policy for research works created using foundation funds. According to their blog post, the new open access policy “will ensure that all research the Wikimedia Foundation supports through grants, equipment, or research collaboration is made widely accessible and reusable. Research, data, and code developed through these collaborations will be made available in Open Access venues and under a free license, in keeping with the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission to support free knowledge.”

The details of the open access policy can be found on the Wikimedia Foundation website. There will be an expectation that researchers receiving funds from the foundation will provide “unrestricted access to and reuse of all their research output…”. Published materials, proposals, and supporting materials will be covered under the open access policy. The policy states that media files must be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license (the version currently used by Wikipedia), or any other free license. In addition, the policy requires that data be made available under an Open Definition-conformant license (with the CC0 Public Domain Dedication preferred), and that any source code be licensed under the GNU General Public License version 2.0 or any other Open Source Initiative-approved license.

The open access policy from the Wikimedia Foundation joins other institutions–including governments, philanthropic foundations, universities, and intergovernmental organizations who have adopted policies to increase access to important and useful information and data for the public good. Thanks to Wikimedia for their continued leadership in support of free knowledge for all.

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Are commercial publishers wrongly selling access to openly licensed scholarly articles?

Timothy Vollmer, March 13th, 2015

Ross Mounce, a postdoc at the University of Bath, recently wrote about how Elsevier charged him $31.50 for an “open access” research article licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (BY-NC-ND) license. Mounce was understandably upset, because the article was originally published by another publisher – John Wiley  – and was made available freely on their website. Elsevier’s act of charging for access initially appeared improper because of Wiley’s use of a noncommercial license.

 This situation has sparked a debate among supporters of Open Access about whether or not Elsevier violated the terms of the BY-NC-ND license, and whether articles that are intended to be distributed freely can end up locked behind paywalls. This isn’t the first time this has happened; Peter Murray-Rust documented another instance of it last year. This kind of situation can leave researchers questioning why they should invest in ensuring that their research is distributed for free if another publisher can simply turn around and sell it – especially if the article carries a Creative Commons license that is supposed to restrict commercial use. Mounce complained to Elsevier about the arrangement, and as of March 9, they’ve removed the pay from the article and promised Mounce a refund. A representative from Elsevier claimed “there was some missing metadata for some of the OA articles,” thus apparently allowing for users to be charged for access to those openly licensed articles. Elsevier said it will investigate and reimburse others who purchased access to those articles on the Elsevier site during the time that the paywall was up. At the same time, Elsevier has hinted that it has the right to sell access to BY-NC-ND articles it holds because of a separate license they get from the author.

So, what is really going on here?

A fundamental feature of copyright law is that authors hold the copyright in any work they create. Authors have control over the permissions they grant beyond “all rights reserved” copyright. For example, an author could grant certain permissions by offering the work under a Creative Commons license (some rights reserved), or even place the work in the public domain (no rights reserved) using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. And since the CC licenses are non-exclusive, an author can both share a work with a CC license, and also enter into a separate agreement that would allow a publisher to sell it.

It is common for an author to sign a publication agreement with a publisher that may grant additional rights to the publisher independent of a CC license. And if an author agrees to a particular set of separate permissions for the publisher, then the publisher could offer the author’s article on those terms–for example, the ability to sell access to a work–even if the work was originally made available under a noncommercial open license. The authors of the article in question may have signed an agreement like this when the article was originally accepted for publication with Wiley. If this is the case, then Wiley would likely have been able to transfer or sell those rights to Elsevier when Elsevier acquired the article. However, there is no way to know for sure that this is what happened without seeing the publication agreement the authors signed with the publisher.

The question really boils down to: Who owns the copyright to the article? And did the copyright holder grant permission to Elsevier for commercial use?

According to the copyright notice in the article, the copyright belongs to the authors. Mounce contacted the lead author earlier this week. The author said he was not aware that Elsevier was selling the article, and had not granted Elsevier permission to do so. If Elsevier was relying solely on the BY-NC-ND license for its use of the article, it seems likely that their action would have violated the noncommercial restriction by charging for access to the work on the Elsevier site.

Elsevier’s own policies raise one additional question. For the majority of articles they publish, Elsevier retains “the exclusive right to publish and distribute an article, and to grant rights to others, including for commercial purposes.” But their copyright terms state that for open access articles, “Elsevier will apply the relevant third party user license where Elsevier publishes the article on its online platforms.” Since the Wiley article came to Elsevier already as “open access” (let’s set aside for a moment the fact that many do not consider BY-NC-ND to qualify as “open access”), you would think that Elsevier would retain the existing CC license from Wiley. Therefore, Elsevier would not be in a position to charge for access to the article because of the noncommercial condition in the CC license. But it’s not clear whether Elsevier applies this reasoning to articles they acquire versus articles originally published on their platform.

So where does all this leave us in understanding what is going on with how these sorts of publishing agreements intersect with open licenses? There still seems to be some outstanding questions that perhaps Elsevier could help answer. Elsevier should share publicly its author’s publishing agreement so that prospective authors and the public can better understand the terms of Elsevier’s license (and as Mounce suggests, publishers should “print the terms and conditions of the author-publisher contract within each publication itself…”). In addition, Elsevier should clarify its copyright policy with regard to when they hold an exclusive right to publish and distribute and when they will adhere to the open license provided with an article.


Public access to research language retained in U.S. spending bill

Timothy Vollmer, December 22nd, 2014

Last year, the U.S. Congress included a provision in its appropriations legislation that would ensure that some research conducted through federal spending would be made accessible online, for free. It mandated that a subset of federal agencies with research budgets of at least $100 million per year would be required provide the public with free online access to scholarly articles generated with federal funds no later than 12 months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The agencies affected by the public access provision of the appropriations bill included the Department of Labor, Department of Education, and Department of Health and Human Services. Of particular note is the Department of Health and Human Services, which encompasses research-intensive agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SPARC reports that the public access language has been included in the fiscal year 2015 spending bill (PDF), which appears on p. 961-962:

SEC. 525. Each Federal agency, or in the case of an agency with multiple bureaus, each bureau (or operating division) funded under this Act that has research and development expenditures in excess of $100,000,000 per year shall develop a Federal research public access policy that provides for— 1) the submission to the agency, agency bureau, or designated entity acting on behalf of the agency, a machine-readable version of the author’s final peer-reviewed manuscripts that have been accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals describing research supported, in whole or in part, from funding by the Federal Government; (2) free online public access to such final peer reviewed manuscripts or published versions not later than 12 months after the official date of publication.

Alongside the federal spending legislation, there were references included in accompanying reports (see Departments of Commerce, Justice, Science report at p. 30 and Department of Interior report at p. 32) that point to President Obama’s Directive requiring agencies to increase access to the results of federally funded scientific research. The appropriations language passed for 2014 and 2015 echoes the language of the White House Directive, issued in February 2013. It directs “Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research.” The agency plans were due in August 2013, and according to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), all agencies have submitted at least a draft plan (PDF). Those plans are now being reviewed by OSTP.

Progress has been slow, but public access to publicly funded research remains on the table in the United States.


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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to require CC BY for all grant-funded research

Timothy Vollmer, November 21st, 2014

Philanthropic foundations fund the creation of scholarly research, education and training materials, and rich data with the public good in mind. Creative Commons has long advocated for foundations to add open license requirements to their grants. Releasing grant-funded content under permissive open licenses means that materials may be more easily shared and re-used by the public, and combined with other resources that are also published under open licenses.

Yesterday the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it is adopting an open access policy for grant-funded research. The policy “enables the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded, in whole or in part, by the foundation, including any underlying data sets.” Grant funded research and data must be published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (CC BY). The policy applies to all foundation program areas and takes effect January 1, 2015.

Here are more details from the Foundation’s Open Access Policy:

  1. Publications Are Discoverable and Accessible Online. Publications will be deposited in a specified repository(s) with proper tagging of metadata.
  2. Publication Will Be On “Open Access” Terms. All publications shall be published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Generic License (CC BY 4.0) or an equivalent license. This will permit all users of the publication to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and transform and build upon the material, including for any purpose (including commercial) without further permission or fees being required.
  3. Foundation Will Pay Necessary Fees. The foundation would pay reasonable fees required by a publisher to effect publication on these terms.
  4. Publications Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. All publications shall be available immediately upon their publication, without any embargo period. An embargo period is the period during which the publisher will require a subscription or the payment of a fee to gain access to the publication. We are, however, providing a transition period of up to two years from the effective date of the policy (or until January 1, 2017). During the transition period, the foundation will allow publications in journals that provide up to a 12-month embargo period.
  5. Data Underlying Published Research Results Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. The foundation will require that data underlying the published research results be immediately accessible and open. This too is subject to the transition period and a 12-month embargo may be applied.

Trevor Mundel, President of Global Health at the foundation, said that Gates “put[s] a high priority not only on the research necessary to deliver the next important drug or vaccine, but also on the collection and sharing of data so other scientists and health experts can benefit from this knowledge.”

Congratulations to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on adopting a default open licensing policy for its grant-funded research. This terrific announcement follows a similar move by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, who recently extended their CC BY licensing policy from the Open Educational Resources grants to now apply foundation-wide for all project-based grant funds.

Regarding deposit and sharing of data, the Gates Foundation might consider permitting grantees to utilize the CC0 Public Domain Dedication, which allows authors to dedicate data to the public domain by waiving all rights to the data worldwide under copyright law. CC0 is widely used to provide barrier-free re-use to data.

We’ve updated the information we’ve been tracking on foundation intellectual property policies to reflect the new agreement from Gates, and continue to urge other philanthropic foundations to adopt open policies for grant-funded research and projects.


Open Access Button launches with new features

Timothy Vollmer, October 21st, 2014

Open Access Button / CC BY 2.0

Today at an Open Access Week event in London, the Open Access Button was re-launched with new features “to help researchers, patients, students and the public get access to scientific and scholarly research.” The Open Access Button originally was created in response to researchers running into paywalls or other control mechanisms when they attempted to read and re-use scholarly journal articles.

The beta Open Access Button–released in November 2013–documented these stymied research efforts, tracking nearly 10,000 instances of denied access due to paywalls. The updated button is a browser plug-in that enables a person who conducts a similar search–but who is once again denied access–to explore other options in order to get access to the paper. It does this by conducting a search for a freely-available version of the research article on the web, for example a preprint or unformatted version of a finalized article manuscript. If this does not work the button provides the functionality to send an email to the author of the article to ask that a copy of the article be made available and shareable to others who need it. The button will do other things, too, such as creating a unique listing for each paper that is requested, so that authors can view demand for access to their works. Finally, the button aims to collect data and anecdotes arising from its use in order to feed advocacy and reform efforts related to the scholarly communications and publishing system.

The Open Access Button is an interesting tool because it both increases awareness of a problem within the academic publishing ecosystem and strives to deliver needed articles into the hands of the researchers to conduct their work. It is informational, empowering, and practical. Anyone can now install the Open Access Button. Congratulations to the terrific team on extending a creative and useful tool in support of open access to scholarly research.

Below is the video recording from the Open Access Button launch on 21 October. Keep an eye on the CC blog and Open Access Week website for more information about OA events this week.

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Ministries of ICT, Education, & UNESCO join to formally launch School of Open Africa

Jane Park, October 21st, 2014

As promised last week, here are the details around the formal launch event for School of Open Africa taking place in Nairobi tomorrow morning.

SOO AfricaV3
SOO logo here. Earth CC BY by Erin Standley, Noun Project.

Our Creative Commons and School of Open volunteers in Kenya, including CC Regional Coordinator Alex Gakuru, are hosting a formal launch event of School of Open Africa in celebration of the School of Open programs launched last month in Africa, and to announce new programs in higher education. The event will feature a panel discussion with senior government officials from the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and Ministry of ICT along with Dr. Bitange Ndemo (University of Nairobi) and regional representatives from UNESCO and Google regarding the status of open education in Africa, School of Open’s contributions and future. Alex says,

“This event will help establish a conversation platform for policymakers around School of Open Africa, connecting and synchronising education and ICT policies with the innovative open education programs being led by Creative Commons volunteers in Africa. It will also connect current School of Open programs in primary and high school education to academia and NRENs1 — towards the realisation of the international aspiration for universal access to education.”

Additional attendees include professors from local universities and law schools; participants of the copyright law course, CopyrightX:Kenya, who will be awarded certificates of completion; our CC Kenya affiliates; and School Open Kenya leads.

CopyrightX Kenya
CopyrightX Kenya / CC Kenya / CC BY

In addition to the panel, SOO Kenya’s Simeon Oriko will present on School of Open Africa programs led to date, and Dr. Tonny Omwansa with C4DLab at the University of Nairobi will announce a new School of Open program to develop OER courses for higher education. This program will serve as a model for other universities across Africa to develop high quality open educational resources for use in higher education under CC BY. In celebration, CC t-shirts in Kiswahili will be distributed, “mwananchi mbunifu,” aka ‘creative commoner.’

soo africa launch shirts2

The event is hosted at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi and will last from 9am-1pm, followed by a celebratory lunch. The event and new OER program in higher education is made possible with technical support from UNESCO and generous financial support from the Hewlett Foundation.

About the School of Open


The School of Open is a global community of volunteers that provides free education opportunities on the meaning, application, and impact of “openness” in the digital age and its benefit to creative endeavors, education, and research. Volunteers develop and run courses, workshops, and training programs on topics such as Creative Commons licenses, open educational resources, and sharing creative works. The School of Open is coordinated by Creative Commons and P2PU, a nonprofit that builds and supports learning communities on the web.

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Open Access Week 2014 is underway

Timothy Vollmer, October 20th, 2014


Today begins the 8th annual Open Access Week. Open Access Week is a week-long celebration and educational opportunity to discuss and promote the practice and policy of Open Access to scholarly literature–“the free, immediate, online availability of research articles, coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.” Open Access Week has become a huge international initiative, including dozens of in-person and virtual events, the launch of OA-related projects, and the development and publishing of materials and tools supporting education about the benefits, challenges, and opportunity for open access to scholarly research. This year’s Open Access Week theme is “Generation Open”:

The theme will highlight the importance of students and early career researchers as advocates for change in the short-term, through institutional and governmental policy, and as the future of the Academy upon whom the ultimate success of the Open Access movement depends. The theme will also explore how changes in scholarly publishing affect scholars and researchers at different stages of their careers.

Check the feed at for hundreds of posts about the variety of activities hosted this week, and share what you’re doing on Twitter using the hashtag #OAWeek2014. There’s already many interesting things happening, with more to come this week! Follow the CC blog, Twitter, and Facebook for more.


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