Defining Open Access. Again.

Next week is Open Access Week, and as has become my tradition, I will be traveling to another university (actually, two universities this year) to give presentations on copyright, scholarly publishing, Creative Commons and open access. This morning I ran into my former copyright professor. We got to chatting, he asked what I’ve been up to, and I mentioned my busy Open Access Week. My professor, as he is fond of doing, asked a good question.

“So, what does ‘Open Access’ mean when you talk about it?”

Flustered, I said something about how the organizers of international Open Access Week tend to focus on the classic definition and scope of OA, meaning peer-reviewed scholarly articles available for free online, preferably with open licenses attached. I also explained that the institutions I visit for Open Access Week tend not to have much expertise about copyright or publishing, and so rather than talk about Open Access what I actually do is teach a basic introduction to copyright and scholarly publishing. That’s all true, but it didn’t really do justice to the question. The definition of open access, and more importantly the public understanding of what open access means, was never terribly clear, but lately it seems to be getting fuzzier. That’s what my professor was really asking about.

As more and more open movements have sprouted and expanded over the last few years – open peer review, open education, open government – it gets harder and harder to tease them apart. Open means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and we can’t assume that a roomful of people who care about openness care about the same thing. Chances are they really really don’t.

Within the Open Access movement alone there are a growing number of tactics for achieving openness, not to mention a gradual loosening of the requirements for labeling something open. On the tactics front, we have the Compact for Open Publishing Equity, flourishing institutional repositories, deposit mandates from both funding bodies and research institutions, and good old fashioned outreach to faculty. As for loosening requirements, we have been conflating Open Access with Free Online Access for years. Things got even muddier when publishers like Springer and Elsevier started offering the “Open Choice” publishing option, which gives authors the “opportunity” to pay several thousand dollars to make their work freely available online. The other night a friend of mine mentioned that she and her co-authors were given several different options from their publisher, all confusing; she knew she wanted the one that would make their work free to everyone, but wasn’t confident she could identify which option would do that. She just told her co-author to look for the one that had open in the name, and hoped she was right. It’s all a far cry from the Budapest definition.

Is it bad, this watering down of Open Access? Certainly it makes it harder to talk about. It makes it harder to brand and market. But nobody owns open. That’s the whole point. Despite the fragmentation and confusion, ultimately I think it’s probably going to be better for the public and better for our future to have lots of people approaching the problem of how to improve access to knowledge and scholarly output from lots of different angles. Names and definitions are useful for raising awareness and building community, but the ultimate goal of the open access movement is to make itself and its definitions obsolete. If this movement succeeds eventually we won’t need to distinguish between open scholarship and closed scholarship. It will all be scholarship, and it will all be accessible.

Open Ed 2010 Conference Proposal

Over the last year I have become increasingly interested in the role of libraries and librarians in the production and publication of Open Educational Resources (OER). It seems like an area with lots of overlap in mission – improving access, sharing knowledge, supporting teaching and learning – and also one where libraries would have a lot to contribute, both in terms of expertise and infrastructure. At Michigan, we’re investigating the possibility of bringing parts of Open.Michigan, the OER operation that is currently housed in the Medical School, into the Library, and my Open.Michigan colleagues and I have collaborated on a proposal about it for the Open Ed 2010 Conference:

Abstract (aka. tweet): Many university libraries are primed to run OER and OCW shops, but no one is doing it. The University of Michigan just might lead the way.

Reaching the Heart of the University: Libraries and the Future of OER

University libraries are well positioned to run OER production and publication operations, but so far most institutions developing OER or OCW have little or no integration with their respective libraries. Given a number of aligning factors, the University of Michigan (U-M) has an excellent opportunity to integrate Open.Michigan, its OER operation, with the Library. While the U-M Library’s established publishing apparatus is larger than that of most academic libraries, many institutions share elements that would make OER integration feasible in one form or another. We propose an interactive strategy session where we present the case for greater university library involvement in OER projects generally, with U-M as a case study.

University libraries were among the first OER producers. Early projects to digitize and share public domain materials were spearheaded by libraries in support of their missions to collect, preserve, and provide access to knowledge and information. The Making of America project was a Mellon Foundation-funded partnership among U-M, Cornell University, and the Library of Congress that created one of the first digital libraries of public domain content. Since then, the U-M Library MPublishing department has built a robust digital publishing program that includes a copyright office, an institutional repository, and an experimental unit that publishes open access scholarly journals, monograph series, public domain image collections, print-on-demand textbooks, and reprints. When it assumed responsibility for the University of Michigan Press in 2009, the U-M Library consolidated within MPublishing tremendous expertise in the skills necessary to create and publish open digital content. Recently, the U-M Library began exploring the addition of OER to its portfolio with a strategy to integrate Open.Michigan into MPublishing.

This is what makes Michigan unique. However, the key elements that university libraries share – and OER initiatives need – are infrastructure and relationships. Many university libraries already have the technical, service, and policy infrastructure in place that would provide economies of scale for nascent OER projects. Areas where existing library infrastructure could support OER includes search and discovery, scholarly communications, assessment, metadata and indexing, and institutional repositories. Assessment skills are particularly valuable at this moment as the budget pressures that have pushed academic libraries to scrutinze how their resources and instructional services affect learning are also beginning to shape the world of OER. Meanwhile, most university libraries have a central and trusted position in the lives of faculty, students, and administrators on their campuses. Librarians support curriculum development, guide instructors to appropriate course content, and assist with research. Libraries are already at the heart of universities, which would make mainstreaming OER much easier.

When an OER shop is a stand-alone unit isolated from the day-to-day activities of students and faculty, it becomes difficult to sustain. To achieve long-term sustainability, university-based OER projects need a stable and well-funded home. Libraries could provide that home, and the University of Michigan, which has already established an ethos of sharing and a policy of open licensing in its library, is poised to figure out how.

Worlds collide: Copyright, CC, and wedding photos

Offbeat Bride book jacketIn general, I treat this blog as a professional outlet and try to keep my personal life out of it, but I had little online colliding of worlds recently and I decided it’s worth sharing here as well, with apologies for the blurring lines. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Creative Commons licenses and wedding photography for the Offbeat Bride Tribe on Ning (a private, member only space), and it got picked up by the Offbeat Bride blog. I tweeted about it, then Creative Commons tweeted about it, and I didn’t really think about how online your personal you and your professional you tend to bleed together, especially if you only use one Twitter account for everything. So now the news is out: I’m getting married. To a fellow copyright nerd. And I negotiated with our photographer to attach CC licenses to our wedding pictures. The post I wrote about the experience for Offbeat Bride is below – please keep in mind that this is written for an audience that mostly never thinks about copyright, in a context that is generally very informal. Also, I should warn you, it’s pretty long.

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, it’s worth heading over to the post on the Offbeat Bride site because the comments have been lively. Lots of photographers weighing in, which shouldn’t have surprised me.

Copyright, Creative Commons, and your wedding photos

I’m really excited by the amazing success we had negotiating with our wedding photographer around copyright, and I wanted to share what we did with the Offbeat Bride community.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, I’m a librarian with a background in publishing who frequently does outreach and education about copyright. None of this is legal advice, etc.

Okay. So before I explain what our photographer is doing for us, you need a very very abbreviated introduction to copyright. (I’m sorry, I’m a librarian, I have to teach you things, I can’t help myself).

1) The purpose of copyright law is to promote the progress of science and art. Hardly anyone knows that anymore. So many people think it’s about generating profit for the music industry and giving individual artists total control over their work, but that’s just not true. Once upon a time, copyright law was balanced between the needs of creators and the needs of the public. Things have gotten really unbalanced over the last 40 years, but the goal of serving the public and promoting progress is still in there.

2) Copyright protects creative works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This means that in order for something to be protected by copyright, it has to be recorded some way, on paper or on a hard drive some other physical thing. There are several classes of creative work that qualify for copyright protection: literary works, musical works, dramatic works, choreographic works, pictorial, graphics, and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works.

3) Copyright does not protect ideas or facts. Those are free for anyone to use, even if it makes them look like they’re biting someone else’s style. A work has to be at least a little bit creative to qualify for copyright protection. Something that is purely factual, like a phone book, does not have enough creativity to be copyrightable even if it takes a lot of effort and hard work to make it.

4) Copyright attaches to a work automatically the moment it is recorded. There is no need to register the copyright, or to put a little (c) on it, or even claim it. If a work is relatively new (created in the last 50 years or so) creative, and recorded in some way, it’s almost definitely copyrighted. Copyright also lasts a really long time (currently, life of the creator plus 70 years after the creator dies). This means that most of what you find online is under copyright, even if there is no copyright symbol and no attribution and no source listed.

5) Copyright comes with a set of exclusive rights. These are things the copyright holder can do with the work that other people mostly cannot do (there are some important exceptions, but it would take way too much space for me to go into them here). The rights that come with copyright are: 1) The right to make copies. 2) The right to distribute copies. 3) The right to make derivative works. 4) The right to perform or display the work. The copyright holder may keep these rights to herself, or she may give some or all of them away, usually with a contract or a license.

So what does any of this have to do with your wedding photos? Everything. The way the default rules of copyright ownership work, the photographer you hire to shoot your wedding holds the copyrights in your wedding photos. She is free to sell them, publish them, Photoshop them, and share them. You are not. I hear all the time from people who believe that because they are the subjects of the photos, or because they are the ones who hired the photographer, then they are the ones who hold the copyright in the photos. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Those exclusive rights are hers, not yours.

But that’s just the default. You can change all that with the contract you sign when you hire your photographer. Most wedding photographers these days do retain the copyrights in the photos they take of your wedding, but they may give you a license to make personal, non-commercial uses of your photos. This is especially common when photographers offer a CD or DVD containing the high-res files of all your pictures. You usually have to pay extra, but a license like this means you can print copies yourself, post your pictures on Facebook, and send them to your friends, without asking for permission and without violating your photographer’s copyright. These are all good rights to have, and I highly recommend reading your contract carefully to see if you get them, and if you don’t, to ask.

For me and my boyfriend, a personal license was absolutely the bare minimum of what we would accept from our photographer. We’re both copyright nerds, and we knew we needed a license to use our own wedding pictures. But what we really wanted – and ended up getting – was more. A couple of weeks ago in the post about the XKCD save the dates, Ariel alluded to something called Creative Commons. Creative Commons is a system that allows creators to attach a license to their work that gives certain permissions to the whole world. There are several Creative Commons licenses to choose from. All the licenses require that whoever uses the work must attribute the creator and provide a link back to the original. Other options permit only non-commercial uses, forbid derivative works, or require people who build on a work to share the new work under the same license as the original. Many photographers, artists, musicians, and authors – including the ones who make a living from their art – now use Creative Commons licenses because they recognize that it is good for them. They always get credit as the creator, and it’s easier for people to discover and fall in love with their work when fans are free to copy and share it. I love love love Creative Commons because it has made possible a huge pool of new creative material that we are free to use and build on without worrying about copyright infringement. This is especially exciting to librarians and educators like me and my boyfriend, but anyone who loves remixes or mashups or funny cat pictures on the internet should appreciate how much better life is when people feel free to build on the creative work of others.

So back to wedding photos. Instead of a license that would just allow me and my boyfriend to use our wedding pics, we wanted a license that would allow anyone in the world to use our photos. We wanted a Creative Commons license. I really didn’t think we’d be able to convince a professional photographer to license our photos this way, but we did, and it wasn’t even that hard. First, we found an amazing photographer who already offers a personal copyright license along with the CD of high-res files. This way, we already knew we had someone who didn’t feel the need to retain complete control over the images. Once we’d gotten past the initial email exchange figuring out whether she was available, telling her how much we loved her work, describing our offbeat wedding plans, etc., I explained in an email a little bit about Creative Commons and why it was important to us, and I provided a couple of links to information where she could learn more. I was afraid we’d lose her right there, but to my surprise, she was just excited to be working with people who actually understood copyright law, and was totally open to hearing more about CC. Then we set up a phone call where we could talk about all the usual stuff you talk about with a photographer, but in addition we discussed the CC license. I explained again why it was important to us, and talked about ways in which it could be good for her as well. We agreed that it would have to be a non-commercial license – anyone who wanted to make a commercial use of a photo, like for advertising, would have to contact her for permission. Her biggest concern was that if the license was attached to high-resolution versions of the photos it would be too easy for people to make infringing uses, especially in print. Ultimately, we compromised with an agreement that we would be allowed to attach a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license only to low-res versions of the files. This is enough to allow for web-based reuses of our photos, but was limited enough that our photographer was comfortable giving it a try. We edited the language in her standard photographer contract to reflect the new license, and that was it.

Contracts can be intimidating and full of legalese, but it’s really worth taking the time to understand what is in your agreement with your photographer, and to negotiate for more rights if they’re not in the standard agreement. I was surprised by how much we were able to get just by asking.

If you want a concise overview of what Creative Commons is and why it is valuable, I highly recommend this video.

Creative Commons Annual Campaign and CC Learn Productions

Here’s a post-Thanksgiving CC two-fer to kick off the holiday season…

1) Every year, Creative Commons holds a big fundraising campaign, and they ask a few members of the CC community to write letters explaining what makes CC so important and why they support it. This year I wrote one of those letters focusing on CC Learn and the tremendous value of open educational resources. This feels a bit like self promotion, but it’s me promoting myself promoting CC, so I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway: Check it out, grow the Commons.

2) I just found out that several months ago CC Learn launched a series of reports, guides and documentation to help support people who are running and building open education initiatives. They’re short and clear and useful; I’m particularly fond of Why CC BY? (pdf). Now the folks at CC Learn are developing a series of advanced topics that go into more detail on particularly complicated subjects. The first one is on trademark, a topic almost as confusing as copyright for most humans, and in particular on the ways that CC and trademark are not necessarily incompatible. It clarified some things for me and I recommend checking it out if you have any concerns at all about branding and the use of CC licenses.

La la, CC is awesome, happy December!

Defining Noncommercial Use Study published by CC

A year in the making, Creative Commons just released the results of their investigation into how users and producers of content define noncommercial use. Defining “Noncommercial”: A Study of How the Online Population Understands “Noncommercial Use” details the results of research gathered through online surveys of content creators and users in the U.S., open access polls of global “Creative Commons Friends and Family,” interviews with thought leaders, and focus groups with participants from around the world who create and use a wide variety of online content and media.

The report is long and detailed, with a lot of interesting information about how creators and users approach the question of what is and isn’t noncommercial. While the research did identify a spectrum of opinion about NC that suggests that not everyone is on the same page, in general the results seemed to be that the existing definition of NC is pretty good, and the range of understanding may not be a bad thing. From CC’s blog post announcing the report.

Overall, our NC licenses appear to be working rather well — they are our most popular licenses and we are not aware of a large number of disputes between licensors and licensees over the meaning of the term. The study hints at some of the potential reasons for this state of affairs, including that users are in some cases more conservative in their interpretation of what is noncommercial than are creators and that in some cases creators who earn more money from their work (i.e., have more reason to dispute questionable uses) are more liberal in their interpretation of what is noncommercial than are those who earn less.

As an advocate of the use of NC licenses by scholars and others, I’m glad to know that they’re not as broken as we feared they might be. There are lots more findings in the report that may interest you; it’s worth perusing the executive summary at the very least.