Criticism to Creative Commons: Why open access is not enough?

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Q – What has Open Access in common with Creative Commons, U2 or Radiohead?
A– All contents (either academic or artistic) are affected by CopyRight laws obsolete in the digital world.

At least within the academic world (as in many others probably) to embrace the principles promoted by Creative Commons it is something increasingly accepted, which just to be a radical idea but today it is increasingly accepted. That can be considered as a clear evidence that in a digital world new forms and frameworks for more open knowledge dissemination are needed.

For instance, UNESCO (2012), synthesized a summary of the benefits from Open Access:

Open Access improves the speed, efficiency and efficacy of research
Open Access is an enabling factor in interdisciplinary research
Open Access enables computation upon the research literature
Open Access increases the visibility, usage and impact of research
Open Access allows the professional, practitioner and business communities, and the interested public, to benefit from research.

However, as Kaja Scheliga, Sascha Friesike (2014) showed, there is an interesting tension between the rhetoric about open access and the implementation of it:

For instance, as indicated in a global survey about OER analyzed by Stockwell (2012) there is a variety of barriers that need to be overcomed (institutional, practices, regulations, technicals, economical and even technological berrier) in order to significantly implement the principles of openness in the academic (and educational) world. Screen shot 2014-10-15 at 11.57.57    

Despite that we’ve promoted the importance of Creative Commons for years (yes me too!) I consider very interesting the arguments provided by van Schijndel and Joost (2005) who argue against CopyRight and the need of a ‘world free of CopyRight but they also provide some criticisms to Creative Commons as ‘the’ solution (their analysis is mainly focus on art although it is consider relevant for the academic environment):

Copyright has become a mechanism for a few cultural conglomerates to control the broad terrain of cultural communication. The system is substantially more beneficial for cultural conglomerates than for the average artist.  

There is a need for alternative ways to protect the public domain of knowledge and creativity, and to assure many artists and other cultural entrepreneurs a fair income for their labours.

Criticism to Creative Commons.

van Schijndel and Joost (2005) emphasized three critics to the CC licences:

  • Creative Commons-like approaches is that they do not fundamentally question and challenge the copyright system.
  • The Creative Commons appears to be a useful solution that may even serve as an exemplar. But there are some strings attached. The Creative Commons does not paint a clear picture of how a diverse set of artists from all over the world, as well as their producers and patrons, might generate an income.
  • The idea behind this approach is that “A”’s work must be available for use by others, without them being obstructed by prevailing copyright. In turn, the other cannot appropriate the work. Why not? The Creative Commons entails that “A” supplies some kind of public license for his or her work: go ahead, do with the work as you please, as long as you do not bring the work under a regime of private ownership.

The same authors concluded saying, ‘Under the present system of copyright, creative adaptation is at risk of being interpreted as a wrong and of being fined by the courts, so the scope and duration of the protection are immensely important. In our approach, creative adaptation is instead applauded and encouraged‘.

Final thoughts:

I still think that the elephant in the room of Open Access is how to make it sustainable (see previous post with 30 explorations in that respect). I argue that if authors are not sponsored by any organizations (i.e. national or international agencies) they would be subject to the same challenges that van Schijndel and Joost (2005) described: no clear/sustainable sources of income. Therefore, open access or Creative Commons yes, but that doesn’t necessarily address the how to make costly effective for those who lack of any support to generate, adapt or disseminate their knowledge, creativity or art production.

Otherwise, the main risk is to turning this open access or Creative Commons debate only for the elite/privilege/sponsored sectors of the society (i.e. see U2 and their new album launched from iTunes). In a similar arena, I would like to (in)conclude this post with a quote from Yorke from Radiohead criticising the poor economic model that Spotify provides to artist:

More in The Guardian.


UNESCO. (2012). Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access. UNESCO.

Stockwell, G. (2012). Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Diversity in Research and Practice. Cambridge University Press.

van Schijndel, Marieke, and Joost Smiers. “Imagining a world without copyright: The market and temporary protection a better alternative for artists and the public domain. An essay.” Cut-Up: The Art of Living in a Mediatised Landscape 20 (2005).