Last week was Open Access Week, and the combined libraries of Leeuwarden (both the public ones and those of higher education) for the first time organised daily public presentations and discussion around Open Access. Thursday, I was the last person to provide a presentation in the week long program, and I was invited to talk about Creative Commons. It’s the first time I gave a talk in my role as a board member of Open Nederland, the Dutch supporting association behind the Dutch Creative Commons Chapter. It’s still a very personal take, and mostly only the Creative Commons related information is part of the Open Nederland role, the rest is my own experience and perspective from the field. Below is the transcript with the slides:

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about Creative Commons during Open Access Week. My contact details are down there, including twitter accounts, so if you have remarks or questions after we finished our conversation here today, you can use those. I’m here representing Open Nederland, which is the Dutch association of makers, and those interested in having a bigger pool of communal reusable creative output. Open Nederland powers the Dutch Chapter of the Creative Commons organisation.

First off all, I think it is fantastic that the Leeuwarder libraries are taking part in OA Week. Libraries are a fundamental building block of our socio-cultural resources, the commons of knowledge and re-usable artefacts, the creative commons. Open Access seeks to extend, or actually restore part of that commons, that over time has become less accessible, fenced off even. And Creative Commons licenses in turn are a building block of the Open Access effort.

Now a word of caution, I am not a lawyer. I am a pragmatist. So I am looking at all of the Open Access and Creative Commons licensing issues from a practical perspective, what it means in terms of the value to society, to all of us as the human collective. The expressed opinions are all mine, and the provided information is ‘as is’, and not legal advice.

I want to speak first about Open Access and scientific publishing, and what it means to me, my specific perspective on it. Then I will zoom in on the role of Creative Commons licenses, and your own role and individual responsibility in all of this. Let’s start with this, the Open Definition by Open Knowledge International.

Open means
anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose
(subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness).

Freely here means both gratis, and libre, free as in beer and as in freedom.

Now this includes both the words Open and Access, but Open Access is not merely a subset of the Open Definition.

Open Access in fact covers most if not all of the Open Definition. It is basically a different representation of the scientific method, where one builds on the knowledge gained by those before you.

In order to build on the work of others, you need to have acces to it, AND be able to use and modify it, and then share it to see it taken further by yet another. This is how all human knowledge has come to be.

Building knowledge increases our collective ability to act. It’s a lever to do bigger things., to jump higher. Increasing our agency. Striking power. Resilience to counteract negative things. Agility to build on opportunities. Agency, the ability to act, is the fundamental drive behind our curiosity, our science. Agency to me is the crux of it all.

To me that there is a notion of Open Access, right next to the scientific method itself of which communication and community is already part and parcel, is because we are in a transition. Where one of the elements in making science work, in increasing agency, has become problematic: scientific publishing.

From the 16th century, when e.g. Louis Elzevier published Galilei’s Discorsi in Leiden, scientific publication increased our agency by providing multiplication and distribution, and because of those two discoverability. However digitisation and internet have made those first two trivial to do. Almost everyone has that ability now, it’s no longer an agency bottle neck. It has been democratised. Discovery still remains a hard thing to do, is the one remaining potential value add, but there are others equally or better positioned to serve it.

Meanwhile the pricing model of scientific publishing has gone the other way, based on academia’s addiction to using publications as reputation indicator. To the point where large parts of the scientific world, mostly outside highly developed economies, are practically excluded. They are actively and unnecessarily disconnected. Cut off from our collective pool of knowledge. Can’t use it. Can’t contribute to it. The same is true for non-academics: my work has been the subject of at least three PhDs and all the papers resulting from them, but I have no easy way to built on those results in my own practice or work.

From solving a bottle neck for hundreds of years, one of access and availability, scientific publishing now is the bottle neck. This is why I personally think Sci-Hub is morally ok, even if it isn’t legal. Morally ok, because it is aligned and in support of the scientific method and community, seeking to circumvent an existing bottle-neck for the express purpose of democratisation.

Open Access is the less radical, gradual way of resolving that bottle neck. To strengthen free discourse about theories and findings. To regain the crucial access and ability to re-use that increases our agency. And do so for a much wider group of people. Researchers, non-academic researchers, and practitioners alike. By publishing scientific papers according to the open definition. In Europe it is becoming more and more mandatory for publicly funded research to be open access, until it becomes the new normal.

As I said earlier, what we are all after is to increase our ability to act, and having access to knowledge and being allowed to re-use it are key elements.

Openness is what allows that access and usage. And what enables agency, our ability to act.

For that it must be very clear, something is open, that you’re allowed to access, copy and re-use something, such as a scientific paper. A clear signal that individuals, researchers and academic institutions can easily give, and anyone can easily recognise. It takes a very clear license, that immediately conveys what the author allows. Otherwise you have to assume nothing is allowed.

That clear license is Creative Commons. Most if not all Open Access publications carry a Creative Commons license, or more precisely a few specific versions of a Creative Commons license.
It is an add-on to regular copyright, and also covers database rights. It’s a tool for an author or creator to manage their copyright conditions.

Let’s dive deeper into what Creative Commons is. And that dive starts with copyright.

Copyright is an automatic right that any creator gets upon creation of an artefact (not ideas, not mere data). ‘All rights reserved’ is the default. It provides a ‘temporary’ monopoly, where temporary means 70 years after you died, so not really temporary in any practical sense. If someone else wants to do something with it, it needs permission. You need to write to the author, negotiate the terms, and document the agreement. It’s a lot of work, for both author and re-user, that needs to happen for each and every use.

Creative Commons is a tool for an author or creator to give up front permission for specific conditions of re-use. No need to ask for permission, no need for negotiations, no need for contracts. From all rights reserved to some rights reserved. This allows for nuance, and to create conditions that foster knowledge sharing, stimulates creativity and equal access to all.

The principles behind CC licenses are that it’s 1 to everyone. Unlike a copyright agreement, you can’t revoke it for existing users. It’s based on 4 building blocks.

The 4 building blocks are: Attribution, Share Alike, Non-Commercial, No Derivative Works.
Creative Commons licenses allow you to create nuance with these four building blocks.

With those blocks you can create 7 different licenses, based on which and how many building blocks you use. Some are more open, some are less open.

Open Access is only those three green ones, because only they align with the open definition of free acces, use, modification, sharing, with at most mentioning the source, or sharing openly again.

These CC licenses can be applied to anything you create, where you have copyright, or where you have database rights. By doing so, especially with an open license, you are enriching our common cultural pool of artefacts and knowledge. The core principle is if you allow others to build on it, you create agency for others. There’s an enormous amount of artefacts out there already, the CC website claims over 1.6 billion.

Some of those 1.6 billion and more works with a CC license, are by me. My weblog has had a Creative Commons license for 17 years. Attribution, Share Alike. It’s an open license, because I want my blog to create conversations about my professional interests by thinking out loud. That needs openness.

I also share my photos on Flickr with a CC license, attribution, share alike and non-commercial. This is not an open license, as I think it is only fair if someone makes money with my photos, I get some share of it. Non-commercial newspapers however have used my images, as have NGOs and e.g. schools.

I don’t want to show all 1.6 billion examples but just a few to give you a sense of the diverse angles.
Dutch government publishes all their open data with creative commons licenses. This is not strictly needed from a copyright view, as Dutch government only needs to give permission if they claim copyright on their artefact, otherwise you can assume you can use it. However, they do want to give a very clear signal, to those who don’t know of the specific quirks of Dutch copyright law, such as people outside the Netherlands.

This site, for instance has freely re-usable music.
And if you search for CC license photos you can use sites like Flickr which I just mentioned, where there are 4500 open licensed photos of Leeuwarden. Some of which are from the Leeuwarden city archive.

This type of sharing allows for collective action, not just individual agency. I have a sensor kit in my garden. It shares data online, many other people and their sensors do too. And together we build knowledge about how my city deals with heat and micro climates. This citizen science project collaborates with government and academic institutions, and leads to publications. Because all parts in the chain use open licenses, that works smoothly.

I’d like to put it to you that CC is useful for everything you make and create, scientific or not, to allow yourself and others more agency.

Raise your hand if,
You have ever written a scientific paper,
Have ever designed something,
Made something (like a 3d print, or a laser cut object),
Made a song,
Wrote song lyrics,
Made a recording of yourself making music or singing,
Made a video,
Made a photo,
Wrote a poem, a thesis, a novel, a story,
Ever made a drawing, came up with a joke, a magic act,
Wrote a blogpost, a Tweet?

You all are makers. You all are copyright holders, whether you realised it or actively used that right or not. And if you ever share(d) anything of what you make, you could add to the common pool of our cultural heritage, our creative commons, by using a CC license. Let’s not wait until we all have been dead for 70 years and copyright expires, because that means for something you create today it will take another 100 to 150 years for it to become generally available.
Use open resources, and share back to our creative commons from your own creative output. So you allow others to do more too.

As a student, a teacher, a researcher, a maker, a citizen, be the change you want to see when it comes to Open Access.
Use and apply open licenses.
Copyright gives you a monopoly, and CC allows you to easily put that monopoly to communal use.

CC licenses are not what makes our creative commons, our collective space for culture and progress. People, you and me, make that commons. But using a Creative Commons license, is a clear signal you want to be part of that, part of “team human”.

And if you want to help spread that mission, you’re very welcome to join the Open Nederland association, that powers the Dutch Creative Commons chapter. We’re open. And it’s free.

Thank you for your time and attention.

A full decade ago I heard a very interesting talk by an Elsevier employee who had thought long and hard about ways in which a scientific publisher can be relevant again, since their original function of multiplication and distribution has become completely obsolete. It was a very good talk diving into what a scientist needs from the start till the end of her career, and what type of services Elsevier could offer.

A year later that person didn’t work there anymore and in subsequent years in meetings with e.g. the European Commission all I heard from them was delaying tactics to please let them go on a bit longer without changing, before making open access publishing completely mandatory as well as free availability of any and all publicly funded research.

Since then the Elseviers of this world, and even ‘innovations’ like JSTOR, have betrayed their original purpose of multiplication and distribution exchanging it for an extortionist business model, that not only is a huge financial drag on many universities that have tax money to spend but also completely exclude all scientists around the world that cannot afford the rent-seeking practices of these publishers. They need to go.

Read Elsevier: “It’s illegal to Sci-Hub.” Also Elsevier: “We link to Sci-Hub all the time.” (Boing Boing)

Elsevier: “It’s illegal to Sci-Hub.” Also Elsevier: “We link to Sci-Hub all the time.”