Perspectives from Another Angle: Publishing Advisors

by | Nov 30, 2021 | 0 comments


Against the Grain Vol. 33#5

By: Nancy Sims  (Copyright Program Librarian, University of Minnesota Libraries) 

Contributors:  Jennifer Chan  (Scholarly Communications Librarian, University of California – Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA)

and Emily Finch  (Scholarly Communication and Copyright Librarian, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS)

and Dr. Danny Kingsley  (Associate Librarian, Content & Digital Library Strategy, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia)

and Melanie Kowalski  (Copyright & Scholarly Communications Librarian, Emory University, Atlanta, GA)

and Jody Bailey  (Head of Scholarly Communications Office, Emory University, Atlanta, GA)

and Charles Oppenheim  (Visiting Professor, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland)

Each of these contributors has significant experience advising scholars about publishing options in multiple disciplines and at various stages in their careers.  Although these advisory roles are often tangential to standard processes of scholarship and publishing, individuals working in these roles often encounter similar issues repeatedly from slightly different angles, which develops insights that complement and expand on those of people in more traditional publishing roles.

Each contributor replied to a set of written questions/prompts.  These have been compiled and edited below, with specific quotes pulled to highlight interesting observations, areas of agreement, or points of departure. 

All of the respondents agreed that Creative Commons licenses are generally a good choice for academic authors — especially those interested in enabling sharing and reuse of their work. 

Kingsley:  […] in the authors’ perspective, the commodity [in the publishing “market”] is not financial, it is reputational.  Authors want their work to be read and reused in the form of citations which collectively contribute to various measures in academia.

All of the respondents also agreed that Creative Commons licenses are not universally applicable.  Chan pointed out that some authors are only interested in sharing their work with limited audiences, and Kowalski & Bailey highlighted that some academic authors do want to monetize their work.

Respondents reflected on general advantages that CC licenses offer for authors.  Kingsley highlighted the ease of reuse for authors that goes along with retaining copyright ownership, such as when reusing images or graphs in later publications, or for sharing with colleagues.  Chan emphasized the “net effect of streamlining permissions and encouraging remix/reuse culture.”  Kowalski & Bailey discussed the citation advantage for open access work,1 and Finch explained that the predictability of CC licenses ease burdens on researchers by creating certainty around reuse. 

But they also offered some thoughts about ways CC licenses disadvantage authors.  Chan pointed out that CC licenses can “hide” some reuses from authors, by removing the need for permissions correspondence.  Kingsley discussed the potential for reputational harm to authors whose works are reused in poor adaptations or translations.  Kowalski & Bailey commented on the potential reputational harm of the “misperception that CC-licensed works lack quality and rigor, even though there are thousands of high-quality, peer-reviewed, CC licensed, open access journals and other publications.”

I asked whether there is one (or more) specific Creative Commons license that is particularly good for academic work, or any that are particularly bad.  Here, responses ranged widely.  Finch and Oppenheim preferred CC Attribution-Noncommercial (which requires attribution and limits reuse to noncommercial users), explaining that, “I recognise of course there are costs associated with some forms of redissemination but favour an open science approach rather than a profit making motivation.” (Oppenheim) and “the NC adds something significant in a realm where labor can be and is exploited.” (Finch) 

By contrast, Chan did not recommend NC licenses due to the limits they place on reuse (noting they prevent use in Wikipedia).  These divergent perspectives on NC clauses among respondents reflect a point of principled divergence in the Creative Commons community in general on limiting commercial reuse versus enabling all reuse.  This point of principled divergence also exists to some extent in the broader universe of open licensing beyond Creative Commons.

Chan instead emphasized ShareAlike (SA) licenses, “since we wish to encourage further sharing of content.”  But in yet another contrast, Kowalski & Bailey said they generally do not recommend SA licenses because “they force downstream users to apply a license that may be impractical or completely unworkable for their use case, and they also make remixing more complicated.”  They instead preferred the simple Attribution-only (BY) license — and noted “Any CC license is better than traditional all-rights-reserved copyright that the creator transfers to a publisher.  We cannot think of an instance where the creator losing control of their own intellectual property is better than CC licensing it.”

I asked respondents if they think most authors are aware of the various benefits and drawbacks of different CC licenses.  While Finch offered that “very few authors are completely unfamiliar with them,” others had less sanguine takes.  Chan pointed out that even for authors who know about CC licenses, “further explanation is often still necessary.”  Kowalski & Bailey noted that in their first encounters with CC licenses, authors tend to choose more restrictive licenses, imagining worst-case scenarios; they address this through discussion to “help them understand that highly restrictive CC licenses will hobble users and prevent their work from gaining a wide audience.  It’s also helpful to remind them that even if they don’t openly license their work, bad actors still might copy their work without attributing them and sell it on the Internet.”  Kingsley pointed out that even “[u]nderstanding of copyright in general is patchy, with many authors still not realising that their work is no longer theirs on signing a copyright transfer agreement”, and hence some authors may not fully understand the ramifications even after they have selected a CC license. 

Respondents raised many considerations that vary among academic disciplines, especially for early-career scholars.  One common set of complications arise when a thesis or dissertation is composed of pre-existing works (common in some disciplines.) Kowalski & Bailey stated that they “have seen students limited in their ability to attach a CC license to their dissertation or thesis as a result of complex authorship [… or] because portions were previously published and copyright in them has transferred to the publisher already.”  Kingsley observed that “[t]his is where management of the thesis process needs to begin early,” so that the writing process takes into account existing rights elsewhere, as well as the student-author’s goals for sharing the dissertation. 

Several respondents discussed concerns that arise in disciplines where theses and dissertations are usually turned into academic monographs.  Kowalski & Bailey said they “have found in the humanities that graduate students’ faculty advisors and committee members often discourage open licensing or even open sharing,” but all respondents agreed that most or at least many presses are not discouraged by open dissertations — as Kingsley observed, “after all, a thesis is not a book and they should be different documents.”  Chan observed that “seeking clarification with the series editor at the prospective Press can help clarify the publisher’s position on this issue,” and several respondents suggested that embargoes are good tools for authors concerned about monograph acquisition.  Kowalski & Bailey also pointed out that “none have raised concerns with the availability of the dissertation in ProQuest’s subscription-based Dissertations and Theses database” as a barrier to monograph acquisitions.  Kingsley also used the monograph discussion to highlight a tension inherent in academic reward structures: “Unfortunately, monographs are considered successful if 200 copies are sold.  Openly accessible theses, on the other hand, are very highly used.  So the author has to effectively make a choice between securing an academic position or having their work actually read.” 

Embargoes were also offered as tools to address potentially patentable material that may appear in some theses & dissertations, and in the fairly rare “circumstances where a student has done such a good piece of work that it could be commercially exploited, with income to the student as well as to a publisher.” (Oppenheim).  Chan commented on debates about appropriate lengths of embargoes, observing that two year embargoes suffice to address patent concerns, and that although some disciplines advocate for longer embargoes — up to indefinite lengths — “such embargoes […] fail to fulfil the original purpose of a thesis or dissertation, which is to serve as an open academic record of the candidate and the program itself.” 

Few respondents had many observations that reached beyond author experiences.  Oppenheim suggested CC BY licenses for journal referee reports, as a solution for reports being too strictly confidential.  Kingsley wondered “how much discussion of this type of issue actually occurs in [journal] editorial teams,” since among many editors Kingsley has spoken with, “their training as an editor usually extended to how the submission system worked rather than in depth discussion about licensing, copyright and open access issues.”  Despite journal editorial teams’ perhaps limited background on the issues, Finch observed that “journal editorial teams have more agency and power to help support a larger and more robust OA ecosystem [than individual authors], and there is and should be greater pressure on them because of this.”

Across all responses to these questions, publishing advisors had some strong areas of overlapping perspectives:  all agreed Creative Commons licenses are good options for academic publishing, but that there can be some drawbacks as well.  Perspectives varied widely on the specific drawbacks perceived, and on how well authors at various stages of their careers and in various disciplines may understand the decision-making landscape.  Despite these specific points of divergence, Creative Commons licenses clearly have a large and increasing role to play in academic publishing.  


1. Piwowar, H., et al.  (2018).  The state of OA: A large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of open access articles.  PeerJ, 6, e4375. 


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