open content

Yes, Stephen, but Who Cares?

Stephen comments on Stian’s post:

I don’t want to say “this is exactly what I meant,” but, this is exactly what I meant!. And it’s why I use the NC clause in Creative Commons. e-century reports: “One of the major reasons for this change was because some companies are trying to archive the articles published by us for pure commercial purpose – they will ‘lock up’ all those articles on their websites and ask readers to pay to access them. This is obviously not right, and against our intention to keep all articles openly accessible to all readers, no matter where they are archived.” So, don’t tell me any more that this won’t happen. It does.

Yes, Stephen, it happens. But who cares? There is still a free copy available, and anyone who wants to find it can. When I Google for one of the articles, Google will show me multiple results. I’ll click on one, and maybe it will be behind a paywall. So I’ll go back to Google and click on another result. Then I’ll read it for free. Or maybe the first one I click on will be free. Or maybe I’ll just quit using the default Google search and start making my queries through the advanced search interface so that I only find freely available CC licensed material in the first place.

What you’re describing seems to be an information literacy problem, not a licensing problem. It appears to be an extension of the “tax on uneducated people” argument. By that argument, we’d need to ban a variety things ranging from selling lotteries to selling cigarettes to selling printed copies of public domain books. And maybe we should, because we could argue that people who buy these things ought to know better, and that we have an obligation to protect the uninformed from their own poor choices (in this case by using the NC clause). Because there are a variety of other scenarios in which the NC clause precludes access, we can’t universally say that using NC promotes access better than not using NC. We can only universally say that it protects the unenlightened from themselves.

Maybe we should modify the old saying as follows: Fool me into paying for openly licensed content once, shame on you. Fool me into paying for openly licensed content twice, shame on me.

I guess I could bring myself to care if you said “I use NC because I want to prevent people from being exploited,” because I can also care about that. But I don’t think that’s your point. Am I wrong?