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Creative Commons Licences: Copyright or Copywrong?

Posted by on February 3, 2014

By Michael Walsh, BBSRC Policy Fellow at the Society of Biology, discusses the new Creative Commons licences and the Society’s advice to members.

Copyright exists as a form of protection around something which you have created. Most people might immediately think of its relevance in the arts with examples such as literature or film, but it is equally important in the sciences: for example experimental techniques can also be subject to copyright. Copyright places restrictions on whether or not someone can copy all or part of your work, which is important for claiming ownership and making sure that you are acknowledged or rewarded, but sometimes this can be a bad thing.

When a scientist puts their work out into the world, the current system generally has the author sign over some or all of their rights to the publisher, and then an article is published under whichever restrictions are usual for that particular journal: some will keep tight control, while others will let the reader do what they want. However, Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Wellcome Trust (WT) have said that research which they fund must now be made available more widely. They are pushing the use of Creative Commons (CC) licences, which have fewer copyright restrictions and give the reader of an article more rights than they currently have in terms of use and reproduction of the work. We’ve produced a brief guide on the changes, which also includes a few other useful pieces of information and the view from RCUK and WT.

By championing research dissemination open access journals, RCUK and WT hope that the work which they fund will be more widely viewed, and with the use of CC licences they expect that their publications will be used to contribute to other studies. Essentially, they’re trying to make sure that studies which use their money have a greater impact: they want more bang for their buck.

This makes sense, especially right now when people are trying to make their finances stretch, but will the changes be detrimental to researchers? Some may view the new requirements as an unwelcome imposition, and worry that they might not be sufficiently rewarded for their hard work. As long as they don’t deter scientists from publishing, the new measures will hopefully succeed in helping research reach a wider audience.

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