Show me the data!

Further info about the licences that free/open access journals use

February 7th, 2013 | Posted by rmounce in Open Access | Panton Fellowship updates

I’ve been quoted in a Nature News story about Open Access journal licencing.

I’m a staunch defender of the use of the Creative Commons Attribution licence, as it’s a good licence for academic research.

Here’s just some of what I sent Richard Van Noorden (Nature News) by email. I don’t blame him for only using select quotes. But I do feel much of this provides additional useful context, so I am republishing it here for everyone to read:

I believe RCUK want their research publications to be made available under the CC BY licence because it allows *anyone* to re-use them. That specifically includes commercial organisations. This is a good thing. Academic researchers aren’t good at commercializing their research. I for one would be delighted if someone could make money out of my research publications. I already get paid by RCUK to do research. I don’t need more money from licensing royalties on something I could have written 50 years ago (remember copyright law in many jurisdictions has extended protection to the life of the author plus 70 years!). I do research to find new knowledge and help the scientific community and society as a whole. I know many other researchers also have this philosophy about their work. It is a privilege to be given public funds with which to perform exciting research. Furthermore as RCUK fully fund my research, why should *I* have control over access to the outputs of that research? As far as I’m concerned if they funded the work, they have the right to dictate how it is published to ensure maximum benefit as they see fit. Researchers who carry out RCUK funded research have the right to be formally acknowledged as people who made these discoveries, and this is ensured and protected by the BY module. By mandating the CC BY license for gold OA articles, RCUK are ensuring maximum benefit from the money they may pay for the publication of it (but note that not all gold OA journals charge an APC. There are many excellent high-quality fee-free gold OA journals and I would encourage authors to publish in these good outlets).

Obviously, please link to my chart if you wish, the newest version is here:

You can even republish it if you wish, without even asking my permission. All content on my blog unless otherwise indicated is made available for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence :)

( I cannot for obvious reasons guarantee that this plot is still correct. Prices change all the time. I have data to show that on average across 97 BMC journals the mean price increase in APCs from 2012 to 2013 prices was just over %5 )

Furthermore, journals can change the licence under which they publish. I alerted Mike Taylor that Acta Palaeontologia Polonica was not using a Creative Commons licence to publish. He in turn contacted an editor about this, and now the journal happily publishes all new articles under CC BY. Simple as that. Changing licenses is a simple process that costs journals nothing – it is easy to do.

I suspect many free access journals and authors who publish in them would see no problem in granting full open access with CC BY. I suspect they don’t currently do this only because they are not aware of the problems this causes to those that wish to re-use content. Copyright law in many countries and jurisdictions unfortunately requires permission to be sought to re-use works (e.g. textmining, format shifting, printing-off copies for educational use in the classroom) even if they are freely (gratis) available to read on the internet.

This ‘free’ only provides ocular access as Jan Velterop terms it. Open Access as defined by the original Budapest Open Access Initiative statement

permits any users to “…read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.”

This statement was recently reaffirmed …with pretty much exactly the same definition as originally given.

Thus only articles made available under licences that are compliant with that definition are truly Open Access. One such licence that is compliant with the definition of Open Access is the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY) but it may not be the only compliant licence.

The Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial licence (CC BY-NC) is not compliant with the definition of Open Access because it prevents commercial uses of such licenced material – BOAI clearly states *any* users. Note that even non-profit companies and charities can be prevented from re-using content by this – if there is commerce involved (e.g. donations, advertising) re-use is blocked in this setting. Many people who use this licence think they are just blocking use by for-profit companies but it is much wider than this.

I have a project running at the moment to get the licencing details for the 985 journals featured in Jevin West et al’s recent cost-effectiveness of open access plot These are a selection of just those high-quality (Thompson Reuters JCR ranked) free access journals. The vast majority of these use CC BY. This set of JCR-ranked journals seemed like a fair sample to me.

of those 985 free journals (over 500 of them so far), mostly use CC BY (survey not completed yet, work still in progress) examples:

American Physical Society journals

AOSIS OpenJournals

BioMed Central journals

European Geosciences Union journals

Frontiers journals

Genetics Society of America

Hindawi journals

MDPI journals

Pensoft journals

PLOS journals

SAGE journals

Springer journals

Versita journals

Wiley journals

+ many society & very small publisher journals

Thus whether by number of journal titles, or article volume – CC BY is the most used license. (Given the article volume of BMC + PLOS + Hindawi + MDPI + Frontiers + Pensoft is significant it’s also likely to absolutely dwarf that of the number of articles put out by the non CC BY journals. That’s a safe estimation)

Across these journals the use of CC BY-NC exclusively is rare. Only 19 journals (not including the optional ones where it is offered as a choice of licence) amongst the 620 scored so far. These 19 are mostly Brazilian, which is notable and odd (even though I’ve been doing this alphabetically it’s still significant):



Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria

Sao Paulo Medical Journal

South African Journal of Surgery

Brazilian Journal of Biology

BMJ Open

Acta Botanica Brasilica

Horticultura Brasileira


Revista Brasileira de Ci ncia do Solo

Revista Brasileira de Fruticultura

Brazilian Journal of Infectious Diseases

Journal of the Brazilian Society of Mechanical Sciences and Engineering

International Brazilian Journal of Urology


Jornal de Pediatria

Revista Brasileira de Pol’tica Internacional

Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia/ Brazilian Journal of Pharmacognosy

CC BY-NC-ND users:


Journal of Toxicologic Pathology

NATL INST SCIENCE COMMUNICATION journals (Indian, 10 of them)

CC BY-NC-SA users:

CBE Life Sciences Education

Journal of Engineering Technology

Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education


Medknow journals (14 journals)

Sadly, there are also a significant number of journals that do not indicate any kind of Creative Commons license. One such alarming one is the CDC journal ‘Emerging Infectious Diseases’. It is lamentable that content in this important free-to-read medical research journal requires permission to be sought to re-use and/or textmine. In these ambiguous re-use cases one must assume the default state of “All Rights Reserved” even though the PDF is free (gratis) to view, for anything else permission must be sought.

source data:

There are many examples of such unintended problems caused by the NC license module detailed in this excellent publication recently translated from the original German by members of the Open Knowledge Foundation:

Consequences, Risks, and side-effects of the license module Non-Commercial – NC

Such NC content cannot be used in Wikipedia or newspapers

Educators that charge their pupils fees cannot use NC content without permission

CC BY-NC is incompatible with CC BY-SA content. No mashups, remixes, or combinations of these (and btw Wikipedia publishes its content under CC BY-SA so incompatibility is a BIG PROBLEM). CC BY content is compatible with CC BY-SA.

Many blogs are ad-supported, these generate income and thus no matter how little are classed as commerce and thus NC content cannot be reused without permission here either.

“It is also commercial use if an image is printed in a book that is published by a publishing house, entirely independent of whether the author receives a remuneration or possibly even has to pay a printing fee to make the publication possible. The publishing house acts with a commercial interest in either case.”

“…NC restrictions are most minutely heeded where their consequences are least intended.”

“Am I ready to act against the commercial use of my content? If not, you should consider not to use the NC module in the first place”

See also this Zookeys paper for problems with NC: