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Responding to the CCC

The Creator’s Copyright Coalition (CCC) has a post on its site relating to the Economist Article “Creative Destruction in the Library”. I wrote a comment in response to it before realising that this wasn’t a very good use of my time; while they accept comments they don’t post them. So I am posting it here.

The CCC is “an alliance of the national associations, unions and collectives representing individual artists working primarily in the English language media in Canada” who were formed “to address issues related to the reform of the Copyright Act and the rights of creators working as freelancers in the media marketplace”. Given that PLoS is determined that copyright should remain with the author/creator of scientific articles you would expect us to be on the same side, and I guess that broadly we are.

As so often happens though, disagreements emerge over money. Essentially in response to the fact that PLoS is raising its author fees, Christopher Moore wrote:

the old rule clearly holds. When you hear talk of creative work being “free,” the largest subsidy is always coming from the creators themselves. It is sad that the United States, which has done so much to innovate in online publication, is also the state in which collective licensing is weakest. Clearly PLoS’s solution is a collective licensing one. Universities, research agencies, and other institutions which make use of PLoS’s rich holdings should be licensed to do so and should be paying negotiated fees to do so.

In my head this showed a failure to appreciate how science works, especially how funding reaches both authors and publishers, who ultimately pays, and for what. I wrote a comment before noticing the CCC’s commenting policy.

While we don’t publish a comments section on our site directly, all mail is read by representatives of the CCC for possible response or incorporation into the op-ed section of the site, unless you ask us not to.

Who knows if they will post all or part of my comments but in case they don’t here is what I said:

    The collective licence model is in effect the ‘conventional’ model for scientific publishing which has been in existence for decades, if not longer. Universities, research agencies, institutions and even individuals pay for access to a publishers output in the form of journal subscriptions and ‘site licences’. But that money has never been passed on to creators in the form of the scientists.

    Indeed the creators often have to pay to have their work published in the form of ‘stealth charges’ for the inclusion of colour figures or page charges. Those same agencies that pay for subscriptions and licences also pay the scientists to perform the research that later may or may not get reported. The scientists is more journeyman for hire than independent artist. If anything scientific papers could be considered a form of advertisement for scientists, demonstrating the quality of their work to attract future commissions.

    The goal of Open Access publishers such as PLoS is not to change who pays for the dissemination of scientific discoveries but to change the route by which payment reaches the publisher and by so doing maximise the impact of those discoveries. The general public pays for the vast majority of scientific research, funding “universities, research agencies and other institutions” through taxes and charitable donations, they have a right to expect that the product of that work is used as effectively as possible.

    To achieve that, the scientific literature must be available to any interested party, not just those wealthy enough to afford a publisher’s licence.

Discussion
  1. Looks like I have got to eat a huge slice of humble pie. The CCC has posted my response to their post and taken the argument further. They even called me “thoughtful”. Twice! We aren’t really arguing from common ground and the norms they are dealing with may be more applicable to the humanities. Still, its a well argued response.

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