Attribution Confusion

Open Up Resources posted a short article yesterday expressing their frustration that people are violating the terms of the CC BY license under which they make their work available. From the post:

Our grant of the CC-BY License is conditioned upon the simple requirement that every copy shared with the public by a licensee includes on each physical page of any printed material, and every format page view of digital material, the attribution statement “Download for free at”

This attribution is a necessary part of our mission to ensure that everyone using the curriculum understands they can access the curriculum for free from its source, as it ensures all educators can access the curriculum regardless of their budget.

The post references their licensing page, which states:

Any reuse of the contents herein must provide attribution as follows:

    • If you redistribute this content in a print format, you must include the following attribution on every physical page: “Download for free at”
    • If you redistribute this content in a digital format, you must retain the following attribution in every digital format page view (including but not limited to EPUB, PDF, and HTML): “Download for free at”

OUR is clearly following OpenStax’s attribution example, as you can see at the bottom of any page in their online materals, like this one:

    • If you redistribute this textbook in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
      Download for free at[email protected].
    • If you redistribute part of this textbook, then you must retain in every digital format page view (including but not limited to EPUB, PDF, and HTML) and on every physical printed page the following attribution:
      Download for free at[email protected].

The problem with this approach to attribution is that the CC licenses don’t allow it. From the Creative Commons FAQ:

Can I insist on the exact placement of the attribution credit?

No. CC licenses allow for flexibility in the way credit is provided depending on the medium, means, and context in which a licensee is redistributing licensed material. For example, providing attribution to the creator when using licensed material in a blog post may be different than doing so in a video remix. This flexibility facilitates compliance by licensees and reduces uncertainty about different types of reuse—minimizing the risk that overly onerous and inflexible attribution requirements are simply disregarded.

You can’t require people to place an attribution statement at the bottom of each page – or require them to put it in any other specific location. Consequently, a reuser of CC BY-licensed content is not violating that attribution condition of the CC BY license if they choose to put their attribution statement somewhere else.

It’s too bad this misunderstanding blew up publicly before some basic questions could be asked and answered. Unfortunately, the open education community loves the “evil for-profit villain” storyline, and this post was apparently too good an opportunity to amplify that story on social media – whether it was true or not.

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