The Inertia of Bad Behavior: Still Misunderstanding NC

Stephen provides an “I told you so” link to this post, A Troubling Result From Publishing Open Access Articles With CC-BY. He continues the claim he has been making for some time that these “problems” would not occur if authors published under a CC BY-NC-SA license instead of the CC BY license.

A careful reading of the post he links to, however, shows that this is completely wrong. The problems described in the post are the result of two issues:

  • Reusers of CC BY licensed research articles are not obeying the terms of the open license, and
  • There is some confusion regarding who should pursue legal action against those who are not obeying the terms of the license.

Tell me, now, how would choosing a different CC license solve either of these issues? How does adding the NC or SA clauses magically either (1) correct user behavior or (2) identify who should pursue legal remedies against those misbehaving users? Put simply: it doesn’t. Reusers of CC BY-NC-SA licensed articles would likely still violate the terms of the license, and individual rights holders still wouldn’t know where to turn for a legal remedy.

There’s a certain inertia to bad behavior. Unpunished, it does not tend to change. Applying additional rules which will also go unenforced (e.g., choosing a more restrictive license) will certainly not change behavior.

If it is true that, as Christina writes, “it’s too much to ask for individual authors to take legal action,” and if you believe that legal remedies are the only effective remedies, then those authors who are truly disturbed by the problems associated with misbehaving reusers need to turn over their copyrights to an organization big enough to pursue license violations. Using a more restrictive license certainly does not solve the fundamental problem.

However, there are a range of extra-legal actions that individuals could initiate that might also impact these bad behaviors. Social media campaigns against violators, for example, might go a long way toward improving the behavior of bad actors. Come on people – get creative. But whatever you do, don’t go placing additional restrictions on your research articles when those restrictions will only negatively impact the behavior of good actors and will not positively impact the behavior of bad actors. That’s a net loss for everyone.