Open Content Licensing: A Three-Step Guide for Academics

3 Jul 2015 - 11:45

Scholars today exchange a wide range of content in the course of their academic work. In some cases this occurs in the context of formal publication, but a large amount of content is also shared online in teaching and research contexts. As the amount of information available on the internet grows at an exponential rate, so too does the imperative for academics to share and promote their work online in order to boost visibility and attract citation. Within this context, engagement with copyright and content licensing is a key new academic proficiency.

In the formal publication realm, the rise of the open access movement has resulted in a change of approach where academics increasingly retain copyright rather than assigning it to publishers. Higher education institutions are also taking a stand on the issue of copyright transfer in order to protect their investment in knowledge creation and ensure that they have the rights to distribute and exploit the content they produce outside of formal publication channels. The University of Cape Town (UCT) Open Access Policy, for instance, recommends that authors avoid the transfer of copyright to publishers in cases where the publisher does not allow archiving, reuse or sharing of a submitted version of a scholarly publication.

In terms of the informal content exchange that takes place via websites, repositories and social media platforms, academics are being called upon to be more proactive in both protecting their work against unauthorized exploitation and ensuring that their work is legally available for reuse and adaptation. Open content licensing is an important mechanism to facilitate legitimate reuse and has significant benefit for the global user community (or ‘Commons’) in that it limits the bureaucracy associated with seeking permission for various applications of content. Within this framework, authors do not give up their copyright, but instead make the terms and conditions of reuse more explicit; essentially granting specified permissions in advance.

Navigating complex copyright arrangements and taking responsibility for the licensing of your work can be an intimidating and confusing process. The OpenUCT Initiative has recently published a guide in order to assist academics in this area. ‘Open Content Licensing: A Three-Step Guide for Academics’ by Michelle Willmers and Laura Czerniewicz is an introductory resource aimed at individual academics with no legal knowledge or experience in copyright management. The three simple steps outlined in the guide encourage academics to identify their intentions around the application of their work, engage actively with policy frameworks and publication arrangements, and apply open licensing solutions.

While various forms of open licensing exist, the guide focuses on Creative Commons (CC), a legally enforceable licensing solution that is increasingly viewed as a key open access indicator. Generic and suitable for most kinds of copyrighted work, CC licences have worldwide application, are machine-readable, and ensure attribution of the work to the original author.

Many people disregard licensing statements and utilise online content as they please, but the growing focus on open sharing and pressures around application of scholarly outputs outside of the academic sector mean that increased attention is being paid to legal sharing mechanisms. It is hoped that this guide will be a useful resource for academics who wish to educate themselves on this important topic. Although it is generated within the UCT context, the information contained therein is applicable to scholars anywhere in the world and can be adapted for local context. The guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) licence and is as such free for reuse and adaptation.

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