In December, Nature introduced the Creative Commons “Attribution, Non-commercial, Share Alike” license for genome papers publishing first-time sequences. This builds on an existing open access policy for these papers, which will now not only be freely accessible but also re-usable. Creative Commons offers many different kinds of copyright licensing terms; this particular type allows users to freely reuse works as long as they properly cite authorship, don’t resell them, and make sure that if they build upon the work, they offer the new work with the same license.
“We’ve always made genome papers freely available, and we just wanted to formalize that situation, providing authors with increased clarity,” says David Hoole, head of content licensing at Nature.
Michael Eisen, co-founder of the Public Library of Science, says it’s a good thing, even though it’s more restrictive than the kind of open access licensing that PLoS offers, which lets users do anything they want with the content, subject only to the requirement that they cite the source. “It’s not really a change in a huge way from what they already were doing, except that now people will be able to reuse the content of the genome papers in various ways that they were unable to use them before,” Eisen says. “I think it allows them to say to authors, ‘Look, we’re an open access journal, too, you should send your papers here.’ But I think that it’s important to note that their definition of open access is not the common one — they’re not permitting unrestricted ability to reuse their content.”
The license Nature has chosen also includes the Share Alike provision, which means that if users wanted to re-bundle the Nature paper with their own content, they’d have to use the same license for that bundle. “You can understand why Nature would do that, but it significantly curtails the potential use of the content,” Eisen says. “It does make Nature look progressive. As far as non-open access publishers go, Nature has been very progressive in these matters.”