Friday, October 16, 2015

Open Access: Creative Commons Licensing

Attention would-be December 2015 graduates! October 30, 2015 is almost upon us! This means -- for those of you paying close attention to the Graduate School's deadlines calendar -- that the last date to submit the postdefense version of your thesis/dissertation fast approacheth! Well, that and ... it's almost Halloween.

You should know that ProQuest -- the electronic repository for the postdefense PDF version of your thesis/dissertation -- has updated its website. How does this apply to you?

During the (what many NIU grad students have described to me as tedious) process of submitting your postdefense graduate work, you will come across a section having to do with copyright and licensing. As explained in a previous blog on open access philosophy, you will have two options when it comes to publishing/copywright: traditional or open access. For those of you who know that you will be selecting open access, ProQuest will then prompt you to decide on your licensing rights. This is where Creative commons licensing comes into play.

Creative commons offers four options when it comes to licensing your work: Attribution (a.k.a. BY), Share-alike (SA), Non-commercial (NC), and No Derivative Works (ND).  Well, technically, there is a fifth option: public domain.

When you choose Attribution, you are giving your audience the right to copy your work, distribute your work, and build upon your work -- this latter part is especially relevant in the case of scientific research. The person(s) who do any of these actions are required to give you, the original author, credit. They are not permitted to simply pass your work off as their own.

Share-alike means that if anyone copies or builds upon your work (which you allow them to do in accordance with the open access philosophy), then their work is required to have the exact same license that you chose for your own work, which would be the original research in this scenario.

A Non-commercial license stipulates that you agree that the reader can make copies of your work, distribute your work, build on your research, and even display your work (on a website, a poster, a YouTube video, etc.). However, you draw the line at them making any money off of your original research.

Finally, No Derivative works stipulates that the reader has your permission to copy, distribute, and display your original material. However, they may not modify the original materials in anyway. In other words, the individual who reads your work cannot adapt your work into a top 40 hit single or an Emmy winning HBO miniseries. Your work is your work.

You may also choose Public Domain, which simply means that you are allowing your work to be freely available to everyone to do with as they choose - there are no restrictions being placed on the material.

You should know that the ND licensing option is very controversial in open access circles. Many open access devotees view ND licensing as antithetical to the core mission statement of open access publishing. The whole purpose behind open access is to make research widely available to the public and other researchers in order to further scholarship. One way to accomplish such a feat is to empower researchers and laypeople to read your original work and then build off of your theories. On the other hand, many academics and researchers feel that too much liberty is being taken with their  original research. There have been instances where someone's research has been plagiarised or the original author has not been attributed in subsequent derivatives of their original research.

Be aware that even though there are five licensing options, these options can be combined in a variety of ways depending on how "free" you want your original research to be. The most common  combinations include:Public Domain on its own, Attribution on its own, Attribution AND Noncommercial, Attribution AND Share-alike, Attribute AND No Derivatives, Attribution AND Noncommercial AND Share-alike, and Attribution AND Noncommercial AND No Derivatives.

If you believe in open access publishing and you wish to opt for open access publishing when you submit your thesis/dissertation, please please please . . . take the time to review your licensing options. Make sure that you are receiving the credit that you are due. After all, you are devoting a large amount of time to researching and writing your thesis/dissertation. What you need to decide is, how available do you want to make your work to the public and other academics. One issue that may influence the license you choose is whether or not you intend on patenting your work.

Before you submit your postdefense work to the NIU Thesis and Dissertation office, sit down with your director and discuss the best licensing options for you and your work.

A short video explaining Creative Commons licensing has been attached to this blog. It was created courtesy of the Creative Commons organization (click here to visit their website).

Remember, open access and creative commons is not an exclusive publishing domain for students and academics in the sciences. Open access and creative commons can impact and be beneficial for those of us in the humanities. 

Creative commons licensing has become a very prominent legal issue recently. In an age where everyone posts their academic research or creative work on social media websites -- especially, YouTube -- a debate is starting about what belongs in the public domain and what is, or what should be, or what remains protected by strict copyright laws that many people argue have become obsolete in the 21st century. This debate will apply to you. Maybe not now, but in time it will. Remember: your thesis/dissertation represents a significant contribution to academia and some day someone may want to build on your original research.  

As this debate in creative commons continues to receive significant news coverage, our office will try to keep you updated with links to articles on the issue.

Please feel free to share any questions or comments about open access and creative commons licensing on our blog or our office Facebook group. 

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