A Creative Commons Guide to Sharing Your Science

Puneet Kishor of Creative Commons explains why researchers ought to share their work under open CC licenses and, more importantly, how.

A more restrictive copyright license probably doesn’t do what you think, according to Puneet Kishor of Creative Commons. A more open one likely does exactly what you want, when it comes to moving research forward and getting credit for your work. Here is a guide to the licenses best suited for science and the principles behind them, from the organization that aims simply to usher in a new era by making the very most of the Internet.

A more restrictive copyright license probably doesn’t do what you think, according to Puneet Kishor of Creative Commons. A more open one likely does exactly what you want, when it comes to moving research forward and getting credit for your work. Here is a guide to the licenses best suited for science and the principles behind them, from the organization that aims simply to usher in a new era by making the very most of the Internet.

 

As a scientist, two fundamental goals probably drive much of your professional existence. Puneet Kishor, the manager of science and data policy at Creative Commons, sees them like this: to advance science and to get credit for your work. 

Puneet Kishor Creative Commons

The down-to-earth Mr. Kishor was speaking about the equally earthly needs of researchers, and research itself, at the 2nd Open Access Colloquium organized earlier this month by the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. The system of open copyright licenses under the Creative Commons (CC) label, he explained, can help researchers achieve both objectives – and the most common of fears surrounding them are quite unfounded.                

The vision behind Creative Commons, a global non-profit, is “nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet”, through universal access to research, for one thing. There are currently well over half a billion objects on the internet carrying CC licenses,” says Puneet Kishor, “and that only includes what we can count on platforms.” Individuals who release their own work under a CC license are not counted, nor are the contents of certain databases, which, within a single structure listed as one object, might contain 20 million items. 

Growth in CC Licenses

 

This has everything to do with research. “For hundreds of years, scientists have used the work of others and given them credit. It’s the right thing to do and you don’t need the law to tell you to do it,” Kishor reminded his audience matter-of-factly. Therefore, to meet the first of those fundamental goals – advancing science – researchers should make their work as easy as possible for others to reuse. By using one of several variations on the Creative Commons theme, the scientific world will be able to see, learn from and build upon the steps your research has taken. He cited several scientific players already using CC licenses: PLOS, PeerJ, BioMed Central, certain branches of Nature and AAAS. Something else to keep in mind: “If you don’t apply a license,” Puneet Kishor cautions, “you license nothing. The law defaults to the most restrictive option.” 

“A license is not a magic shield”

Restriction may, actually, be what some people are convinced they need. “What if I use Creative Commons and someone steals my work?”, Kishor hears from anxious researchers. Well, CC labels are the same as every other license in their failure to act as “magic shields”, deflecting misuse of a work, left and right. All licenses are merely signposts, indicating under what conditions a product of your research may be duplicated, modified, built upon. “Either people are going to do right or wrong,” he says. “A license is a signal to the good folks, a guide to the unsure, and meaningless to the bad guys.”

Today, on the Creative Commons science menu…

So, scientists can forge fearlessly ahead into the world of open licenses and the collaborative construction of the future of research. How, specifically?  Under the Creative Commons umbrella are eight legal instruments, only three of which are actually compliant with the Budapest Open Access Initiative. (“It’s really more about cultural acceptance,” Kishor explains.) He lays out the “complete menu” of licenses relevant to scientists, in order to release their work in open access:

 

  • CC0 – No Rights Reserved CC0 – No Rights Reserved. This tool allows users to place works or the contents of databases, in the public domain, without restrictions. Puneet Kishor notes that CC0 applies even in countries, like France, where the law does not let authors simply renounce their rights.

 

  • CC BY license CC BY 4.0 – Attribution 4.0 International.  With this license, you give others the right to share (copy and redistribute) and adapt (transform, build upon) your work for any use they like, as long as they give you credit. 

 

Keep it simple

Puneet Kishor advises that, if you use several items with different licenses in one article, mark them all clearly. Not only will this help people who reuse your work, but labeling is vital for purposes like data mining. “Creative Commons licenses have machine readable tags, so we can teach a computer to identify them, but this requires a human to have labeled them correctly.”

Creative Commons Three layers of licenses 

The simplest of the Creative Commons offerings, CC BY and CC0, should be sufficient to meet those two fundamental motivations in science. And to address the second – that is, getting credit for one’s work – the simpler, the better.

Kishor insists that an open license probably already does what you want, while a less open option probably does not do what you think. And when you start combining licenses with different levels of restriction, things get complicated (see chart below).

Basically, Creative Commons wants researchers to worry about their science, not the intricacies of intellectual property rights. Researchers, no doubt, agree. So, in the name of productivity and progress, “always move toward simplicity,” Kishor urges, “and get on with your science.”

 

Creative Commons combining licenses chart

 

Thanks to Creative Commons for all charts and images in the text, released under a CC0 public domain dedication.

CC sketch on the front page by Karin Dalziel via Flickr.

 

For More Information:

The new Creative Commons 4.0 Licence – what’s new and why it’s important
A presentation by Puneet Kishor, April 11, 2014

Creative Commons for Science: Interview with Puneet Kishor
by Martin Fenner on PLOS Blogs

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