CF and Creative Commons

Posted by – November 8, 2009

When we published CF 20, we decided to make all content published in the journal open access using the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. I’d like to provide a bit of background on open access, explain how the license we chose works, and offer some reasons for our adoption of it.

Contemporary difficulties in scholarly publishing are well documented. The costs of subscriptions to academic journals are rising while library budgets are falling. University presses are coming under terrific financial pressure, and many are cutting way back on their offerings or simply closing. Students are feeling the crunch as textbook costs soar. Open access publishing seeks to address these financial pressures by eliminating the licensing fees customarily charged for reprinting academic works. But money is only part of the issue. The broader argument is simpler: why should the redistribution of scholarship be unnecessarily restricted?

Composition Forum editors share this belief. We want to see the widest possible audience for scholarship published in our journal. The first part of that model is publishing on the web, using techniques which ensure CF is easy to find and access. The second is ensuring that authors and readers know that articles published in CF come with very few restrictions on redistribution. That’s where Creative Commons (CC) comes in. Using their model, we’ve added explicit permission to reuse to every article published in the journal. Broad support for Creative Commons, including endorsements by scholars in composition studies, as well as the fantastic educational materials they provide, make it a great choice for us.

We selected the Attribution-Share Alike license (commonly abbreviated CC-BY-SA) because it provides the best balance of restrictions and freedom for writers and readers. The “attribution“ component means that articles published in Composition Forum can be cited, quoted, reprinted, and otherwise redistributed, in whole or in part, as long as the authors are attributed. The “share alike” proviso echoes similar language in licenses used for free or open source software. It allows the creation and distribution of derivative works (we thought of course packs, but other forms are possible) as long as those derivative works use the same CC-BY-SA license, or one which similarly allows free use of works, given attribution. This condition prevents restrictions from being added to content published in Composition Forum if it is republished in another form.

This explicit permission to reuse and redistribute has several strong benefits:

  • Contributors to CF retain their copyrights. They know, up front, they will be able to reproduce or republish their own work in the future.
  • Teachers who find CF publications useful can reproduce them for courses immediately, electronically or in hard copy, as long as they maintain the attribution.
  • Inclusion of articles in course packs doesn’t require the hassle of obtaining permissions—or the license fees.
  • Electronic databases such as Google Scholar can index and provide content published in CF without restriction.

I have been asked why we didn’t add the “non-commercial” provision, which prevents copying and remixing by commercial entities. Again, we wanted the largest possible audience for the journal. Restricting commercial use could raise barriers for students and faculty at for-profit colleges. To put it another way, adjuncts teaching at the University of Phoenix and similar institutions don’t need their jobs made any more difficult. Students taking courses at those institutions need access to the high-quality peer-reviewed scholarship that we publish in Composition Forum just as much as those at traditional not-for-profit schools. Similar reasoning applies to the use of articles published in CF in course packs: is it commercial use if a local print shop puts together a course pack on behalf of an instructor? In both cases, not excluding commercial use ensures the most access to the work of our contributors.

If you’re thinking about submitting an article to Composition Forum and have questions about the CC-BY-SA license, we’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below or write to