Note to readers

This is a blog that I'm required to keep that's full of unedited, near stream-of-consciousness reactions to similarly required and related readings in a graduate course in N.C. State University's Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program. The way these posts are written help me interrogate and understand what's going on in our readings. I'm identifying what's troublesome so that I can give it more thought, but the posts aren't written in a style that's productive for audiences outside of our class to read. That's by design. I start with contestation, then spend heavens only knows how long researching, recutting, and reevaluating so that I can try and see what potentially productive readings I can extract from these source for use in my own work's contributions back to the field. Comments encouraged, but please, you'll likely need a thick skin if your work is quoted here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Using proper licenses, revisited with an example

I mentioned that it was important to use the proper licenses in your classroom, and critiqued Logie for not doing the same. I'd mentioned that the Creative Commons licenses were one popular alternative. I'm honestly not sure if the way that these licenses are usually used protect the author and the "copyrighted public domain" as much as they should -- and here's one site that's both using a Creative Commons license and embodying my fear of not going very far to protect the contents of authors' submissions as they distribute scientific, peer-reviewed articles, called PLoS one. (PLoS apparently means the Public Library of Science.)

The PLoS is specifically using the Creative Commons Attribution License (CCAL). As I understand it, the included right "to remix" means that someone could take what you've done, change it in some trivial way (let's say change the author names to their own, perhaps?), and then submit to a new journal as long as they attribute the original author in some (minor?) fashion! Now we all know that one usually has to promise that submissions have not been submitted, much less published, somewhere else, but the overly flexible "protection" from the CCAL makes it a poor choice for academic texts. It all but entitles future users to plagiarize with the most minor of attribution.

Let me be slightly political for a second... I've argued for a measure of protection just short of the GNU General Public License (GPL) for several years, and this reasoning extends to written works. Something like the Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works or Attribution-No Derivative Works licenses from the Creative Commons project seem more appropriate to me because these two stop the trivial-change co-opting I mentioned before. They both allow anyone "to Share — to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work," and the second even allows someone to do so and make money off of that work, say by publishing and then selling a collection of articles that includes your own. (Note that they don't have to tell you you've been published, however!)

Also keep in mind that licensing a work under most open or free (or potentially closed) licenses does not restrict you from licensing the same work in another way in the future. There's nothing stopping you from using Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works and then licensing your work to a for-profit collection in the future if all the authors of your work agree. You'd still have the No Commercial protection from your Creative Commons license, and the only folk that could make whatever limited cashola from your writings still exists would be the people you expressly okayed.

I do worry every bit as much about licenses that demand exclusive rights to your work as I do free licenses that allow your work to be too easily exploited, and I've noticed a few too many of those exclusive rights clauses in, say, the two bit collections I've given up stuff to. Now I have to ask them to use more of my work than fair use would allow. ST*U!

In any event, that's one real world example of a Creative Commons license for written texts living in the wild. To find out more, you might bug Christian [Casper], who has presented on the commenting function of PLoS One a bit; I'm reading what he's presented now.

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