This year PubMed Central (PMC) has started to use the <dc:rights> element to inform aggregators about the type of CC license (if available) used by the Open Access (OA) articles included in the PMC OAI-PMH Repository. While this initiative points in the right direction (helping OAI aggregators to identify Open Access rights at the article level), it is not convincing that PMC has used the correct metadata element to identify the type of licence granted by the copyright holder.
Example of use of <dc:rights> in a PMC OAI-PMH Record:
Copyright ©2013 Brianti et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
PMC uses three times <dc:rights> to define the article’s copyright and licence. The first one is a valid use of <dc:rights> because it uses a valid copyright notice to indicate the copyright holder (e.g. the word “copyright” followed by the copyright symbol, the year in which the article was published and, the identification of the copyright owner.) However using the second and the third <dc:rights> elements to include a link to the CC-BY site and to describe the CC type, is less convincing. This is where CC should really come into play. Using a CC element seems to really be a more suitable alternative to using <dc:rights> to state who has access rights to the article’s content and the type of rights granted to the end-user once the article has been accessed.
The main purpose of the <dc:rights> element is to inform about the rights held in and over an article. Although copyright can be ‘licensed’, this doesn’t make copyright strictly the same as licence. In this context, probably it is not necessary to use the <dc:rights> element as a placeholder of Open Access Licensing when we already have a well defined CC element to describe possible licensing options.
When an OA author licences his/her copyright, she/he is simply granting permission to the licensee to use the article in a specific way and for a specific purpose, typically as described by one of the CC type of licenses. The author always retains the copyright on the OA article. Over time, the author or the publisher can change the type of CC licensing of a published OA article at any time. Thus, a publisher may want to reverse a CC-BY-NC-ND licence to CC-BY to be compliant with new guidelines produced by OA funders. However, as the copyright doesn’t change with those licence changes, it doesn’t make sense altering the value of <dc:rights> when in fact what is changing is the type of licence of the article.
There are other arguments against using <dc:rights> instead <cc:license>. For example, having licensing and rights different meanings, it is not clear why we should use <dc:rights> to represent the value of <cc:license>. Licensing is a universal concept with the same meaning in any country. However, copyright laws are not the same throughout the world. On the other hand, when PMC uses three times the same <dc:rights> element to identify three different things (copyright holder, CC Licence’s URL and the CC licence type), it is creating an extra barrier for aggregators, because they would need to deal with three instances of the same metadata element that is being used for different purposes without having a pre-agreed standard vocabulary to help aggregators to unambiguously interpret the content from those metadata elements.
JEMO’s proposal recognises the importance of using the <dc:rights> element in the article metadata. However it restricts its use to the identification of the copyright holders and the date range of the copyright, which is in agreement with the DC specifications for <dc:rights>. It supports the use of the <cc:license> element to indicate who has access rights to the article’s content as well as the restrictions and type of access licensed to the end-user. The proposal suggests using the <dc:rights> and <cc:license> elements by following this pattern:
For Non-OA articles:
<dc:rights>Copyright © Publication_Year Publisher_Name</dc:rights>
For OA articles:
Copyright © Publication_Year First Author_Surname, First_Author_Initial [et al]
<cc:license rdf:resource=”Selected_CC_License“ />
Thus, the above PMC example could be rewritten as:
<cc:license rdf:resource=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0“ />
These elements should be included in the journal RSS feeds and in any metadata exposed by publishers for aggregators and discovery services. Consequently any A&I, aggregator and discovery service will be able to identify an item as an OA article by checking that the <cc:license> element is pointing to a specific CC license. If the <cc:license> element is absent or without a value, no assumptions is made about the access rights with respect to the article. With the collaboration of its publisher partners, JEMO is testing and prototyping the implementation, use and feasibility of this proposal. This blog will be reporting on the partial results and findings obtained with the prototype.