Moving Forward: BioMed Central’s open access license is being updated to CC-BY 4.0

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Back in August we announced that all data published in BioMed Central articles would be published under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain waiver for data. At that time, we also announced our intention to upgrade the attribution component of BioMed Central’s license agreement from CC-BY 2.0, which we introduced as our standard license in 2004, to the latest  license version, CC-BY 4.0. This improved and updated version of the CC-BY license was released on 25 November 2013. We are now able to confirm that all BioMed Central, Chemistry Central, and SpringerOpen articles submitted on or after 3 February 2014 will be published, if and when editorially accepted, under the updated CC-BY 4.0 Creative Commons Attribution license. This also applies to open access articles published in the majority of Springer’s subscription-based journals using the Open Choice option. For BioMed Central and Chemistry Central, this will mean works will be published under a combined Creative Commons Attribution license for published articles (papers) and Creative Commons CC0 waiver for published data (such as tables and data in bibliographies or supplementary material).

What does this licensing change mean? The CC-BY license is a license designed  to allow the benefits of open access to be fully realized in a digital world. With version 4.0, we now have the most up-to-date version of that license, so the work we publish can benefit from more than a decade of community input and improvement that has gone into the CC-BY license.

CC-BY 4.0 is the most universal and legally robust license produced by Creative Commons to date, and it includes many subtle improvements. One such improvement is a simplified attribution requirement. A core principle of the Attribution license is that the person reusing a work (the licensee) must identify the author, the URL or unique identifier for where the work can be accessed, and point to the license that was used. With version 4.0, it has been clarified that licensees can do this “in any reasonable manner based on the medium, means, and context” in which the work is used. This reflects the fact that CC licenses need to be able to adapt to a digital age where, for example, a webpage might contain more than what is visible at first glance (e.g., by hovering over an image to reveal more).  Technology advances ever more rapidly, and we need a license that is flexible enough to accommodate this evolution.

Version 4.0 also demands that those who reuse a work indicate whether they have modified the material from its original version, and “retain an indication of previous modifications”. This is particularly relevant to work such as code and software, and is in line with other organizations, such as GitHub and the Software Sustainability Institute, recognizing the importance of versioning to show the often complex provenance of a derivative work.

Another change of particular relevance to the content published by large organizations  is the no endorsement clause. The 4.0 license  makes clear that licensees must not imply or assert that their use of the licensed work under the CC-BY license is connected to or endorsed by the licensor. Public sector bodies can also add additional notices, warranties, or disclaimers to their work. This version also makes clear that users of a licensed work are responsible for complying with laws outside copyright, such as fraud, data protection, and so on. These changes should help to break down any obstacles to CC adoption based on concerns about possible misuse.

A final improvement worth calling attention to is the addition of sui generis database rights, an improvement which overcomes a significant barrier to the use of CC licenses by governments and others to cover collections  of public data. “Database” rights do not exist in all jurisdictions, but where they do exist, such as in Europe, CC-BY now expressly includes these rights as well. You can read more about sui generis rights here.

More detail about the new CC-BY 4.0 license can be found in a guest blog from Puneet Kishor, Manager, Science and Policy Data at Creative Commons. As always, we welcome your comments.