Open Access Promotes Scientific Discovery by Overcoming the Copyright Limitations of Conventional Publishing

Reflections at Art Science Museum, Art Science Museum, Marina Bay, Singapore, November 17, 2012 | © Courtesy of Erwin Soo/Flickr.
Reflections at Art Science Museum, Art Science Museum, Marina Bay, Singapore, November 17, 2012 | © Courtesy of Erwin Soo/Flickr.

In the year 2018, Open Access has experienced rising support levels in Europe and elsewhere, due to its positive impact on scientific and knowledge discovery internationally. This is starkly illustrated by its licensing terms in contrast to the public domain restrictions of copyright-protected works.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

As European science-related institutions, such as the European Research Council, have shown their growing preference for Open Access, e.g., via the Plan S, the primary rationale for this is the positive effect on the discovery of new knowledge that various models of Open Access can be expected to have. Whereas the business models behind Open Access continue to be discussed, the implications of Open Access for specialized research fields can illustrate the reasons for expanding Open Access adoption by scholarly institutions.

In the domain of paleontology, the year 2018 has seen 56% of dinosaur type discoveries being published in Open Access journals, while over 75% of the corresponding articles were published using a Creative Commons (CC-BY) licensing. In this scientific field, even the more visible Open Access journals, such as Nature and Global Geology, in terms of knowledge generation hail from a relatively wide variety of countries, such as United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China, Japan, and Brazil, in reflection of its increasing globalization.

At the same time, as concerns its licensing terms, Open Access is distinct form the public domain that in the United States is regulated by the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which determines copyright terms in that countries, provides copyright protection for lifetime duration and 50 years beyond that and recognizes corporate authorship rights for 75 years. The implications this has comprise not only paid access to copyright protected works, but also jurisdiction-based differences in the timing at which particular publications enter the public domain, while becoming freely accessible.

Since copyright is governed by national laws and international agreements, this can create legal uncertainties and retroactively effective restrictions for gratis access to notable works, such as in Canada, where the prolongation of copyright terms by another 20 years in 2018 has led to the reduction in the number of works in the public domain and the possibility of legal action against the free reproductions of copyright-protected works that have already appeared.

Though copyright primarily applies to works of art and fiction, it also applies to scientific publications, unless they have been published under the Creative Commons licenses that allow for their unrestricted distribution, such as via downloading. This holds, for instance, for the Attribution (CC BY) license that only requite the attribution of the original material, as a more basic Creative Commons license.

Publishing houses may, however, also deploy the more restrictive Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) licensing that disallows the commercial use of scientific works and articles, while largely permitting their downloading and sharing around the world, provided these are properly credited. While being a flexible elaboration on copyright, Creative Commons allows for overcoming the limitations of copyright laws.

This licensing also furthers knowledge access and discovery.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Reflections at Art Science Museum, Art Science Museum, Marina Bay, Singapore, November 17, 2012 | © Courtesy of Erwin Soo/Flickr.

This post is based on an article that originally appeared in OpenScience, 4/1/2019,

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