Copyright and Copyleft in Publications

Creative Commons, an Alternative to Traditional Copyright, Promotes Wider Access to Knowledge





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Course readers are pushing $200 due to excessive copyright permission fees. Libraries are crippled by the high cost of proprietary databases and restricted access journals. Access to knowledge has increasingly become the turf of corporations seeking to monetize scholarship by restricting informational access.

At UC Berkeley, many students do not think about intellectual property or copyright ownership. Although student work such as a thesis or a dissertation is owned by the student, until recently the boilerplate copyright on a dissertation would default to "all rights reserved." While this practice does not increase the cost of education directly, a student choosing an alternative to traditional copyright is one small act that could serve as a catalyst to reduce many of the existing costs of education.

Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig created Creative Commons with the goal of allowing copyright owners to permit new uses of their artistic and academic work. The copyright owner can choose a "some rights reserved" license that encourages other community members to adapt and reuse their work without having to seek permission or pay royalties. This license opens up many possibilities in the academic world such as free online course readers, zero cost educational multimedia, gratis online tutorials-even the price of paper textbooks could be drastically reduced. Perhaps more important than cost, however, by using Creative Commons you are essentially "paying it forward" by sharing your intellectual output with the academic community because future generations of scholars will have greater access to your work.

Two recent Berkeley students to file their dissertations using a Creative Commons license are Joseph Lorenzo Hall and danah boyd. Hall navigated through much bureaucratic red tape, but found that most of his difficulty came from simple formatting issues, not any ideological disagreement by the university. Another School of Information graduate, danah boyd, also filed her dissertation under Creative Commons shortly thereafter.

On Jan. 28, the Dean of the Graduate Division committed to make Creative Commons licensing available to future students. All students interested in contributing to the effort to make education more affordable and accessible should consider using Creative Commons instead of traditional copyright.

Participating in this movement is as simple as making two modifications to a dissertation or thesis. First, the author writes, "Some Rights Reserved" instead of "All Rights Reserved" on the copyright page. Second, they include the full legal text of a Creative Commons license in an appendix. For those who want to liberate their scholarly publications, an example can be viewed on the website of Joseph Lorenzo Hall and the website of danah boyd.


Ian Elwood is an Oakland resident. Reply at [email protected]



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