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Editorial: Open for Business – Why In the Library with the Lead Pipe is Moving to CC-BY Licensing

Blown Away, CC-BY felixtsao (Flickr).

Blown Away, photo by Flickr user felixtsao (CC BY 2.0)

In brief: Lead Pipe is changing our licensing from CC-BY-NC to CC-BY. Here, we explain why.

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In the Library with the Lead Pipe has, since we began publishing in 2008, been run by volunteers with a desire to spread ideas for positive change as widely as possible.

For this reason, we have required that all articles are published under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial (CC BY-NC 3.0 US) license.

Publishing under a CC BY-NC license has always been viewed by Lead Pipe as a way of balancing our commitment to authors (by ensuring they retain their own copyrights and are protected from unrecompensed commercial exploitation of their work) with our commitment to our readers (by ensuring our articles can be openly and freely accessed on our own site and distributed elsewhere for non-commercial purposes).

In the first half of 2014, however, as we took time to reflect on what had changed in over five years of publishing, we began to debate the merits of moving to a more permissive license.

Why change?

The central tension for any publisher is that of distribution versus control. The more effectively reading and publishing can be controlled, the less widely an article will be distributed and read. Alternatively, if wide distribution is given preference, we must relinquish control over how and to whom it is distributed. There are all sorts of solutions to this problem, depending on the goals of the author and the publisher.

As the Lead Pipe Editorial Board worked through our new documentation, we re-assessed our own mission. Our About page states that:

Lead Pipe intends to help improve communities, libraries, and professional organizations. Our goal is to explore new ideas and start conversations, to document our concerns and argue for solutions.

The question we began to discuss is whether our licensing matched this mission. Implied in this mission is that the conversations we start include as many people as possible. That is, we should privilege wide distribution over control. The definition of ‘non commercial’ in CC BY-NC licenses, however, is vague, and a recent court case indicates it may be much more narrowly applied than we anticipated. In this case, it was found that use of a CC-BY-NC licensed photo on the website of the German national broadcaster breached copyright. The Court found that ‘non-commercial’ use means ‘personal’ use, so use by a non-profit organisation on its advertising-free website still infringed. This case, and other legal opinions in Germany and other countries, potentially make Lead Pipe articles unusable even by the people and organizations we hope to support, such as educators and public broadcasters.

The discussion really kicked off in February when Micah (then a member of the Board) proposed an article co-authored by Chealsye Bowley, and suggested that (based on his research) we may need to re-assess our licensing. In March, Hugh was contacted by McGraw-Hill, which sought to negotiate terms to republish one of his (CC-BY-NC licensed) blog posts for use in school assessment software. Both Micah’s research and Hugh’s experience resulted in a proposal to the Lead Pipe Editorial Board regarding a change to CC-BY licensing. With Open Access mandates creeping closer to requiring CC-BY, (especially in the UK, – for example the Wellcome Trust and RCUK), and all our authors writing for love rather than money, we reached consensus relatively easily.

Back to the future

The aim of relicensing previously published articles is primarily to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, our readers are able to understand what rights and obligations they have when re-using or re-publishing Lead Pipe articles. Whilst we suspected it was unattainable when we began this process, our ultimate goal has been to ensure all articles published by Lead Pipe are licensed the same way to ensure clarity regarding license terms.

Since Lead Pipe does not hold the copyright in the articles we publish, we needed to ask each of our authors to change the licensing on their articles. Not including (then) current Editorial Board members, this required us to contact 65 authors by email with an explanation of what we were asking, and why (the text of our initial email is included in the appendix below). We first did so on 13 July, and after a second nudge we gained agreement from 52 of our authors, with two authors declining to change their licensing. We have so far been unable to contact the remaining eleven authors, but continue our efforts to do so. Where an author (including any co-author) has not clearly stated that they agree to re-license, the existing license is retained.

it is important to note that this is a request we have made of our authors, but it is they who hold the copyright in, and decide how to license, their articles.  As we wrote in our initial email to authors:

We recognize that if Lead Pipe required CC-BY licensing at the time you wrote your article, you may have chosen another publication with which to publish, or chosen not to write it at all.

Essentially, we wrote to our authors stating that we had changed our minds about the most appropriate form of licensing for their articles. Many were happy to change, some requested more information before making a decision, and some made an informed decision not to change their licensing. One of the lessons here is the value of retaining your own copyright as an author, and therefore retaining control over who can re-publish it and under what circumstances.

More open, more access

Lead Pipe has always aimed to be open, progressive, and a force for positive change. This requires us to go further than simply publishing provocative articles. We must be open to changing our own behaviour and procedures when evidence suggests they inhibit our goals. We have come to the view that changing the licensing of Lead Pipe articles will better align our practice with our goals.

From today, all new articles, and most existing articles, will be published under a Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 (CC-BY 4.0) license.

Where previously-published authors have requested that the existing license remain, or we have been unable to ascertain their wishes, we have noted the non-commercial licensing terms at the end of their articles.

Lead Pipe would like to thank all of our authors for their positive and gracious responses to our relicensing process. We look forward to working with other amazing authors to explore new ideas and start conversations, and to helping spread those ideas even more widely.

Thanks to Katrina McAlpine for editing and advice on this editorial.

References and further reading

Daught, G, 25 March 2014. ‘I dropped the “NC” from my Creative Commons license’, Alpha Omega | Open Access.

Moody, G, 27 March 2014. ‘German Court Says Creative Commons ‘Non-Commercial’ Licenses Must Be Purely For Personal Use’, Techdirt.

Nowviskie, B, 11 May 2011. ‘Why Oh Why, CC-BY?’ nowviskie.org

Research Councils UK,  8 April 2013. RCUK Policy on Open Access and Supporting Guidance,  http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/

Rundle, H., 23 March 2014. ‘Creative Commons, Open Access, and hypocrisy’, www.hughrundle.net.

Rundle, H, 2 January 2013. ‘Mission Creep – a 3D printer will not save your library’, www.hughrundle.net.

Vandegrift, M & Bowley, C, 23 April 2014. ‘Librarian, Heal Thyself: A Scholarly Communications Analysis of LIS Journals’, In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Wellcome Trust, une 2014,. Open access: CC-BY licence required for all articles which incur an open access publication fee – FAQ, Jhttp://www.wellcome.ac.uk/

Appendix: text of email to authors

Note: any publication wishing to use this text for your own re-licensing process is encouraged to do so.

Dear [author]

Since 2008, In the Library with the Lead Pipe has been publishing posts and articles that inspire, challenge and provoke librarians around the world. We are honoured to have had you as one of our authors. When Lead Pipe launched, we were determined not only to be inspiring and challenging to the profession, but also to be open. As a Lead Pipe author, we asked you to provide us with ‘first publisher’ attribution, and assign a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial (CC-BY-NC) license to your article.

After more than five years of publishing, we have recently taken time to consider our position as a publisher. Lead Pipe started as a peer-reviewed group blog, but we have now repositioned ourselves as an open access, open peer reviewed journal. As part of this process we have reconsidered our licensing, and will be moving to a more permissive Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. In making this decision, we have recognized that CC-BY-NC licenses are surrounded by confusion and controversy. The definition of ‘non commercial’ is vague, and a recent court case indicates it may be applied much more narrowly than we anticipated, potentially making Lead Pipe articles unusable even by the people and organizations we hope to support, such as educators and public broadcasters.

As an Editorial Board, we aim for all the work published in Lead Pipe to find a wide audience and for it to help change library practice for the better. By removing the ‘non commercial’ license provisions we feel that this aim will more easily be achieved. We would therefore like not only to license all future works CC-BY, but also relicense all previously published articles from CC-BY-NC to CC-BY.

As one of our existing authors, we ask that you agree to relicense your article to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Our goal in relicensing all previously published articles is to provide clarity for our readers by ensuring our licensing is consistent throughout our website.

If you would like to read more about CC-BY versus CC-BY-NC licensing, we recommend the following:

If you are willing to agree to relicense your article, please reply to this email with the words:  “I agree to re-license all work published under my name in In the Library with the Lead Pipe, to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License”.

Whilst we would prefer for all authors to re-license their articles, we understand that you may prefer not to do so. We recognize that if Lead Pipe required CC-BY licensing at the time you wrote your article, you may have chosen another publication with which to publish, or chosen not to write it at all. If you would prefer your article to remain CC-BY-NC, we will ensure that its licensing is clearly indicated as such.

If you are sure that you would prefer to keep the existing CC-BY-NC license, please reply to this email with the words “Please keep the licensing of my article as CC-BY-NC”.

If you have any questions about re-licensing your work, or would like more information, please let us know by emailing [email].


Brett Bonfield
Ellie Collier
Erin Dorney
Emily Ford
Gretchen Kolderup
Hugh Rundle
Coral Sheldon-Hess
Micah Vandegrift