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Picture the scene, a publisher is giving a presentation on new approaches to journals at a large conference. He touches on content innovation, linking to datasets, enhancement of peer review and open access. There is a question from the audience: “Are you using Creative Commons licenses on your open access journal?” The publisher replies: “No, we offer a range of licensing options,” to which the audience member responds: “Then it’s not really an open access journal is it?”

There is a common perception that a journal cannot be open access unless it utilizes a Creative Commons License, but is this really the case?

Creative Commons – the lowdown

Creative Commons licenses are designed to allow authors to permit others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work — and if applicable to indicate whether this can be used in a commercial environment. Creative Commons licenses also try to ensure that authors get the credit for their work. There are multiple versions of these licenses – in total there are four major condition modules, which form six major license options - which can sometimes complicate their use.

The Creative Commons licenses and the icons for them are widely used for open access publishing and so there are benefits to using them. There are some challenges too. From a legal perspective, it is not entirely clear how the Creative Commons licenses would be interpreted in all countries. They are also generic and so do not explicitly address all the issues that matter to our customers, authors and readers. This is a challenge because Elsevier needs to communicate very clearly with these users as each group has its own specific needs. We really like the machine readable versions of the Creative Commons licenses, but wish they could be conveyed in a more accepted communication standard.

Our approach to licensing

In addition to the journal publishing agreement, at Elsevier we are experimenting with a wide array of approaches.  Sometimes we use a Creative Commons license, other times we use a straightforward publishing license we have developed that enables the various groups to use the open access articles.

One key element to consider is that there are many perspectives when thinking about licensing: for example, the author perspective, where agreement between author and publisher is enabled through copyright transfer or license to publish; and the user perspective, where a license or statement is needed to clearly convey what can be done with the article in question and ensure that credit, authority and commercial use are correctly assigned and the moral rights of the author are protected. There is often a blurring of these elements and, indeed, a journal can be open access using copyright transfer for an author agreement and a suitable user license to determine usage – this does not need to be Creative Commons. There are many facets to consider when developing responsible, adequate and protective publishing models to ensure the use of the journal articles by the various groups, the validity of the journal article and to protect the intellectual property of the author.

Author Biography

Jan bij de Weg

Jan bij de Weg

Jan bij de Weg
Jan studied law at the universities of Groningen and Stockholm and oversees the team of attorneys responsible for all aspects of Elsevier's legal affairs in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. This includes putting the right legal tools and guidelines in place for the appropriate Elsevier staff, editors and authors to use. Jan started his career at a law firm in France and worked for four years as a legal advisor at Akzo Nobel before joining Elsevier. Before taking on his current role, he was an Associate General Counsel based in New York. He is a member of the copyright committee at the Dutch Publishers Association and is a member of the International Publishers Rights Organization (IPRO) board.