Case Studies/University of Michigan Library
We promote open access publishing models, we have a strong history of digitizing public domain works and making them available online, and we partnered with Google to scan all of the books in our collection, even the works under copyright. Adopting a Creative Commons license for our own content - things like study guides, bibliographies, and technology tutorials - seemed like a logical next step. — Molly Kleinman
Over the past year, the University of Michigan Library has shown itself to be particularly sensible in regards to open content licensing, the public domain, and issues of copyright in the digital age. The U-M Library has integrated public domain book machines, adopted CC licensing for their content, and independently had their Copyright Specialist, Molly Kleinman, articulate the importance of proper attribution in using CC licenses. We recently caught up with Molly to learn more about these efforts - primarily how they came to be and the results they have yielded - as well as discuss CC’s place in educational institutions at large and how CC and Fair Use interact in the academic sphere.
Attribution is tremendously important in academic research. Without properly cited sources, it is impossible for future scholars to follow the line of thinking that led to a given conclusion. Attribution is the trail of breadcrumbs that gets us back to the beginning. There is something of a plagiarism panic on college campuses, and while I think some of it is overblown, citation and attribution remain some of the first skills we teach undergraduates.
Attribution is also important from the perspective of scholars who are trying to build their careers. Young scholars want credit for their work so they can get tenure-track jobs and eventually tenure. Tenured faculty want credit so they can get more research funding. I see this as one of the selling points for Creative Commons in academic settings. U.S. law doesn’t have the framework of moral rights that exist in the U.K. and elsewhere requiring that an author always be given proper credit for a work even if she has signed away all the other rights. The attribution requirement that is the baseline in all CC licenses provides some reassurance to academic authors who may not expect to profit financially from their work but for whom credit is very important.
There were few motivating factors behind the decision to use Creative Commons licenses for Library-created content. The biggest was that it aligned well with our overall commitment to openness and access. Part of the Library’s mission is “to contribute to the common good by collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge.” We promote open access publishing models, we have a strong history of digitizing public domain works and making them available online, and we partnered with Google to scan all of the books in our collection, even the works under copyright. Adopting a Creative Commons license for our own content - things like study guides, bibliographies, and technology tutorials - seemed like a logical next step. In part we were inspired by the story of Otago Polytechnic University, which was a Featured Commoner a while ago for making all of its open educational resources available under the CC-BY license. We don’t produce as much content, but what we do produce we wanted to make freely available for reuse.
There was also a more practical consideration: we receive permission requests to use Library-produced content with some regularity, and those requests often go to people who have no idea what to do with them. They get bounced around until someone finally just says yes, and these requests can take a lot of time to handle. Creative Commons licenses were made to help reduce transaction costs, and we saw that as a potential benefit for the Library. It turns out that we still sometimes receive permission requests, but now it’s very easy to point the requester to the CC license. It can even be a teaching moment, a chance to introduce a person to Creative Commons for the first time.
We have only had the licenses up for a few months, but I am aware of a couple of instances of reuse so far. There is a liberal arts college that is building a website of copyright and publishing resources based on the U-M Library’s copyright website. I also heard recently about a scholar who is publishing a paper on digital libraries and plans to use screenshots of our digital collections. That’s the kind of use that would probably be considered fair, but publishers sometimes ask authors to clear the permissions anyway. Now she can just point to the CC license instead.