The increasing number of collective open access deals either on the national level (e.g., Dutch open access deals) or between publishers and research institutions (e.g., agreement of the Max Planck Society with Springer) has some very practical consequences for scientific publishing processes. On a macro level, these deals make research strong countries and institutions stronger: their papers are better accessible worldwide with respective consequences for reception and citation counts.

But there are also consequences on the micro level. For example, in co-authored papers, the question of who acts as “corresponding author” suddenly becomes of utmost importance. Only if the corresponding author is situated at an institution with such an open access deal then an article will be immediately accessible to anyone worldwide. And it is the corresponding author who has to sign copyright forms on behalf of all the authors to “seal the deal”.

Publishers pushing for Non-Commercial Clause

What I have learnt only very recently is that publishers try to retain as much rights a possible even in cases where researchers are eligible for open access publication. SAGE Publications, for instance, tries to convince – if not force – authors to opt for a Creative Commons license with the restrictive non-commercial (NC) clause (full form as a PDF):

This is troublesome for a whole bunch of reasons:

  • Why should only authors be allowed to opt for the less restrictive CC BY license “if required by funding institution”? And why should “all other funded authors […] select the CC BY NC 4.0 license”? At least, it should be the authors choice, given that open access clauses are remunerated in the respective deals.
  • The established standard for scientific open access publishing is CC BY because it fits best the widely shared definition of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access, which reads:

The author(s) and right holder(s) of such contributions grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship

  • A practical consequence of using a Creative Commons license with the NC clause for a scientific paper is that images and excerpts beyond quotation exceptions cannot be integrated into collaborative knowledge projects such as the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s license is compatible with CC BY or CC BY-SA but not with licenses with a NC module.
  • Also, integrating parts of research works into openly licensed teaching materials (Open Educational Resources) is hindered by the use of an NC clause.

Trying to get authors to agree to a NC license really goes against the spirit of open access. Of course, SAGE is not the only publisher endorsing very restrictive Creative Commons license under the open access label. Elsevier, for example, endorses the even more restrictive CC BY-NC-ND license for self-archiving (“green open access”); authors paying for open access to individual articles (“hybrid open access”) may choose between either CC BY or said CC BY-NC-ND licenses. SpringerNature’s Open Choice policy, in contrast, just recommends using CC BY as a license standard.

It would be interesting to know how widespread practices such as the one documented above are. (I have been thinking about launching a public repository for copyright forms of various publishers for a while now). In any case, future open access deals need to be much more specific regarding open access licensing conditions. Seemingly, even when being remunerated via open access deals, some publishers are only willing to concede as much ground as absolutely necessary.

A similar version of this post has been published in German at