Every month, more and more life scientists are choosing to post a preprint. This decision can give scientists visibility in their field, establish priority of their work in progress, gain recognition by funding agencies, and elicit feedback to improve their manuscript.
But once the decision to preprint is made, authors posting to some servers are faced with another important choice: which license to pick—that is, what they will allow others to do with their work. The aggregate effect of such choices will expand or restrict the possible future benefits of preprinting.
Permissive licenses, such as CC-BY, remove barriers to the innovative reuse of content. Such reuse could include new display tools incorporating annotation (such as SciLite and SourceData), discovery tools that excerpt passages to create summaries, archives for preservation, or use of the figures in educational materials. Restrictive licenses, on the other hand, could create barriers for reuse scenarios, such as those that create modified versions of the work or that are commercially motivated. The choice of license has implications not only for potential uses, but also for the journal that ultimately publishes the papers.
The current state of preprint licensing
Some preprint servers (preprints.org and PeerJ Preprints) apply a CC-BY license by default, making all preprints full open access. Others (arXiv and bioRxiv) only require authors to grant the preprint server a license to post the article; in addition, they offer a range of creative commons licenses or the choice to retain all their rights.
Presented with choices, authors do not prefer permissive licenses at bioRxiv or arXiv. However, based on initial conversations, we find that licensing and the ramification of different licensing are issues that are very poorly understood by the scientific community.
Recently, some funders and journals have also entered the conversation. The NIH encourages the use of CC-BY licenses for preprints, while some journals have implemented policies that concern preprints posted under certain licenses, but not others.
ASAPbio’s Preprint Licensing Task Force
To stimulate informed conversation on the licensing of preprints, ASAPbio has established a Preprint Licensing Task Force.
The goals of the task force are to:
- Understand stakeholder (author, funder, publisher, and preprint server) attitudes toward these licenses
- Create resources to help inform stakeholder decisions
- Potentially recommend preprint licenses that will maximize scientific progress and social benefit
The Task Force began work in late May of 2017. It is chaired by Dick Wilder, Associate General Counsel at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and non-voting affiliate on the ASAPbio Board of Directors, and contains among its members researchers, lawyers, and representatives of funding agencies and journals.
If you would like to provide your perspective on preprint licensing to the Task Force, please contact Jessica Polka (firstname.lastname@example.org).