Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The importance of labelling OA as OA

Rufus Pollock, Dead knowledge: why being explicit about openness matters, Open Knowledge Foundation Weblog, August 8, 2006. Excerpt:

When I think of the amount of knowledge that is ‘dead’ because of a lack of explicitness about its ‘openness’ I am always surprised by the number of examples. Consider the following two:

Example 1....Years ago, back when I was at university I remember stumbling across [two sites with free online information, one and two]....

Thinking about these two sites recently I asked myself: ‘what license did they use’ and, relatedly, ‘am i allowed to download/redistribute/incorporate their data in another project?’. The answer was perhaps unsurprising: neither site seemed to have thought about it - at least not originally - and, as a consequence, their copyright policy was the default: everyone retains copyright to what they do....

Hence with respect to my second question: ‘am i allowed to redistribute/reuse their material’ the simple answer was: No - I’d would have to go out and identify, and then gain permission, from each contributor; an endeavour that would clearly be prohibitively time consuming. And this is despite the fact that - from their very participation - it is clear that the vast majority of individuals who made contributions to these sites wanted others to be able to freely access their work (and freely reuse it as well in all likelihood)....

Once you start building any kind of ‘commons’ in which multiple contributors are the norm [explicit permission for reuse] becomes especially important since relying purely on tacit agreements and implicit consent becomes a major obstacle and serious threat to the long term future, and value, of that information....

[PS:  To save space, I've clipped the second example, on crystallographic data structures, but it's well worth reading.]

To stitch together the knowledge commons it’s not good enough for information to be implicitly open, it has to be explicitly open. To be explicity open it must have clearly attached an open knowledge license. Without this the knowledge produced immediately becomes ‘locked’: in order to do anything other than have the information sit there on the original server requires a rights-clearance effort of such daunting proportions as to be completely infeasible.

Furthermore when engaging in any kind of collaborative effort - the norm on the web - the adoption of an explicitly open approach can be considered as providing a form of social contract among the participants which is clearer than the informal tacit arrangements which would otherwise operate.

PS: I agree and made a similar argument in SOAN for August 2003:

Readers should be told when a work is free of price and permission barriers. They might be reading a copy forwarded from a friend and not know whether the publisher would like to charge for access. They might want to forward a copy to a friend and not know whether this kind of redistribution is permitted. When an article has no label, then conscientious users will seek permission for any copying that exceeds fair use. But this kind of delay and detour, with non-use as the consequence of a non-answer, are just the kinds of obstacles that open access seeks to eliminate. A good label [or license] will save users time and grief, prevent conscientious users from erring on the side of non-use, and eliminate a frustration that might nudge conscientious users into becoming less conscientious.