[open-science] Should scientific text be put in the public domain rather than licensed with CC-BY?

Angus Whyte a.whyte at ed.ac.uk
Thu Jan 13 13:17:08 UTC 2011

On 12/01/2011 17:33, Michael Nielsen wrote:
> Note that giving up one's legal right to be attributed [*] is not the 
> same as giving up the right to be attributed, according to the norms 
> of the relevant community.
> [*] In fact, I'm not at all sure researchers currently have a legal 
> right to attribution.  Anyone know?
The US Government example cited yesterday by Michael sounds quite a 
convincing argument that putting research texts in the public domain 
should not lead to plagiarism. I'd be interested to know about how it 
affects US research collaborations with industry considering shared 
interests in commercialising results and the freeloading issue Cameron 
mentioned. Its an interesting question whether authors using a PD 
licence would make life easier for open-access institutional 
repositories, with no short term adverse effects on authors - and 
benefits down the line from wider access.

It is good to hear that OKFN is a broad church!  I support the principle 
of a legal public domain and that many research products should be in 
it. I don't understand why such a sharp distinction is made here between 
legal rights and those normatively enforced by a community. Granted it 
should be clear what is a legal obligation and what isn't. But surely in 
practice this boundary evolves  in line with a community's view on the 
need for sanctions to enforce what they believe is the right thing? As 
far as I know (I'm an information scientists not a lawyer) researchers 
have a legal right to attribution as copyright holders, but no legal 
right as researchers per se (I've learned something about variations 
across jurisdiction from this discussion). I know researchers have a 
normative right to be attributed. But 'norms' only have effect to the 
extent communities orient their practices around them, and have the 
means to apply sanctions when they are not adhered to.  I believe 'moral 
rights' are so widely legally enforceable because it is a widely assumed 
'norm' that attribution is a good thing, across many communities and on 
a large scale- a point I think John Wilbanks is acknowledging in the 
point below.  For sure a 'public domain for everything' position has 
benefits in terms of clarity - which I think all researchers want, and 
in terms of computability- which some researchers want.

The point I'm getting to is why is it a good thing to replace one 
absolute position (everything is legally protected) with another 
(nothing is legally protected), rather than define in machine readable 
terms the policies that those with a stake in the research agree are 
right for the purpose, and leave the law as a mechanism of last resort 
for resolving differences?  You might gather I see the value of PP as a 
kind of manifesto to use in an argument for culture change, but think 
researchers should be forced to give up rights through mandates only of 
there is a strong consensus in their own community.

On another point...

On 12/01/2011 17:44, john wilbanks wrote:
> ...The reality is that attribution - from a legal perspective - 
> emerged from the world of one author, one work (or perhaps two or 
> three, but not the sort of collective authorship made possible by the 
> network). I try to distinguish the legal obligation of attribution 
> from the normative concept of citation to help with this problem. But 
> there are some nice emergent technical solutions that may hold the 
> promise of squaring at least part of the circle.
Surely referencing practices embrace both attribution and citation, and 
generally work without a need for legal protection because they have 
been established by research communities that are cohesive enough to 
agree standards and work to them, rather than because attribution and 
citation have some essential property that puts them in separate spheres?

I'd like to better understand why citation standards are considered 
broken by the increasing numbers of authors on articles. Because they 
encroach on the page/screen space available for articles?  BTW I'm sure 
Galaxy zoo, which was mentioned as an example of collective authorship 
has an ethical code for citizen science that requires citizen 
contributions to be attributed, so it would be useful to know how big an 
issue it is there.

One final point of confusion for me - can anyone please explain why the 
need to cite research articles creates an attribution stacking problem?


Dr Angus Whyte
Curation Research Officer
Digital Curation Centre
University of Edinburgh
Crichton St, Edinburgh EH8 9LE

The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.

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