Thursday, June 23, 2016

Canada's draft new action plan on open government 2016 - 2018

Following are my comments on Canada's draft new action plan on open government 2016 - 2018

Canada’s Draft New Plan on Open Government 2016-2018

Individual Comments by Dr. Heather Morrison

Kudos are in order to Canada’s government for global leadership, commitment, and swift moves by our new government to action, notably in the areas of commitment to open access and open data to both academic and government information, commitment to creation of a Chief Science Officer position, restoring the mandatory long form census, forthcoming free and more timely access to Statistics Canada data, and initiating electoral reform (to mention a few moves!). Following are my comments as an expert in the area of information policy, notably open access, intended to help strengthen a solid, ambitious but realistic draft plan. In the spirit of openness and transparency, note that I am a professor at the University of Ottawa’s bilingual School of Information Studies and I see career opportunities for our graduates and research opportunities for me arising from this plan and some of my suggestions.
Summary of key points
·       Reconsider centralization or the “one-stop” approach. Sometimes this is a good idea (one stop search for grants and contributions, single point of access to all geospatial data). However, centralization can also be a bottleneck and even a muzzling device. Decentralization with website and open data development in the hands of departmental experts who understand the information they are working with and how people will want to use it is probably in many instances the most effective means of providing open government information and data. I want my weather information directly from Environment Canada and my tax data directly from Canada Revenue Agency, not indirectly from a central service where staff are not likely to be experts in these areas.
·       Consider expanding information services to include reference service (professional service by intermediaries with understanding of information seeking behavior as well as government information), both through government and indirectly through libraries of all types (through advocacy for this role with key partners). This has the potential to provide better service and sometimes reduce cost. For example, in the area of Access to Information, overly broad requests may reflect lack of knowledge of the specific documents or data most likely to address a need. Direct communication with requestors may be the best means to hone requests.
·       Beware what I characterize as a blind spot of completely unrestricted re-use which could lead to intended consequences (for example effectiveprivatization of currently free public services). Impose reasonable expectations of behaviour by re-users that is in the public interest, and encourage development along these lines at the global level.  
·       Remember the vulnerable. Sometimes the best approach to open government is in-person offices. Open data and data visualization are a boon for those of who can see but a challenge for the visually disabled. Proactively address this challenge rather than waiting for complaints. Consider and consult First Nations peoples before releasing data about resources on their lands or lands that they depend on that could be exploited to their detriment.
·       Build in protection against the inevitable temptations of power and the understandable human tendency to want to look good. Access to Information – an effective means to demand information that the government does not choose to make open – will always be needed for really open government. I also recommend an arms-length approach to developing data visualization services, because it is easy to develop services that help people to see what we want them to see; our truth rather than the truth.
·       Considerable research is needed on how to go about meaningfully engaging a whole population in open dialogue and policy-making. This particular potential of open government will take an extended period of time for full development. This should be factored into assessment of progress.
·       Immediately apply principles and best practices of open dialogue and policy-making in trade treaty negotiations, beginning with the Trans Pacific Partnership.
·       Expand on corporate accountability through a review of legislation on corporations and consultations with the private sector, academics and other stakeholders to understand barriers to triple bottom line accounting (finance, people and environment) and propose solutions.
Detailed comments
Detailed comments are presented below in two sections, Overarching comments and specific comments on the draft plan.
Overarching comments
To centralize or not to centralize?
The draft plan refers in several places to centralization (single portal, one-stop etc.). I recommend re-thinking of the benefits of centralization versus decentralization. Sometimes, centralization can result in streamlining of access for the citizen; commitment 11, one-stop access to data on grants and contributions is a good example of this.  However, centralization can also be a bottleneck or even a muzzling device. Weather information is both interesting and important to the public. To have the best information on whether a potentially dangerous storm is headed in my direction, I look to the experts at Environment Canada to post what they know as soon as they possibly can. Sending information to a central service would simply create delays and likely impede good decision-making by Canadians. Governments create different departments for good reasons. The type of information provided and how it is best structured to be understood by the public will vary with the type of information. When it’s time to reconcile my taxes I want a website that is under the control of the best experts in taxation and web development for this type of information. I note below particular sections of the plan where I see centralization as beneficial or problematic.
What’s missing?
Reference and information literacy services are needed (directly through government and indirectly through libraries) and would reduce in some cases reduce the workload.
As a professor in the area of information studies, former practicing professional librarian and researcher in the areas of open access, open government, and access to information, I have had many discussions with students, experts, and government staffers who provide services such as responding to ATI requests about the challenges and opportunities. In my professional opinion, the Government of Canada could provide better service, sometimes at lower cost through a kind of service akin to the tradition of library reference services. For example, one of the reasons ATI requests can seem to be “frivolous and vexatious” appears to be that people request very large amounts of information because they do not have sufficient understanding of government operations to know what to ask for. Having a professional serving in an intermediary role who understands both information seeking behaviour and the kind of information that is held by government would likely be more efficient in many cases.
Helping people find the information they need (reference services) and providing education on how to understand the need for information, find, evaluate and effectively use it (information literacy), is a traditional role of public, school, corporate and academic libraries.
Recommendation: work with Library and Archives Canada and open government representatives at all levels (municipal, provincial, global) to advocate for an emerging role for libraries of all types in the areas of open government and incorporate professional information services within government departments.
Openness and transparency in trade treaty negotiations
Moving towards openness and transparency in government while at the same time failing to engage with citizens on trade agreements that will impact our jobs, communities, and businesses, is moving in opposite directions at the same time. Recommendation: extend open dialogue to trade treaty negotiations, beginning with the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Open government and access to government services for people with disabilities
Open data and the potential for data visualization offer tremendous potential for the advancement of Canadian society and should be embraced. However, the formats also create new challenges for people with disabilities such as print disabilities. Recommendation: address these challenges proactively through working with groups representing disabled communities and show global leadership in advocating for technological solutions to facilitate equitable open government.
Consider restrictions on access to data to avoid harm to vulnerable groups
The plan appropriately recognizes the need to consider the protection of personal privacy in the release of open data. I recommend that potential harm to vulnerable groups be another consideration in deciding whether data should be released. For example, data about valuable exploitable resources on lands our First Nations peoples own or depend on should not be released without consultation with the peoples who would be affected.
Specific comments on the draft plan
Introduction – Towards an Open and Transparent Government
Re third bullet: “a review of the Access to Information Act, and efforts to accelerate and expand initiatives to help Canadians easily access and use open data, by the President of the Treasury Board working with the ministers of Justice and Democratic Institutions”
Suggestion: split into 2 bullet points to avoid confusion because Access to Information and open data initiatives are two very different types of activities.

The Open Government Partnership
Re: the fifth grand challenge, “Increasing corporate accountability”: measures that address corporate responsibility on issues such as the environment, anti-corruption, consumer protection, and community engagement.
Comment: addressing this challenge would be a golden opportunity to begin to address the limitations of the corporate sector’s single bottom line focus on profit, financially defined. This draft plan is weak in this sector and I would like to see expansion of commitments in this area. Some suggestions:
·       Review legislation on corporations and other businesses to recognize triple bottom line accounting (financial, social, environment)
·       Develop a consultation process with citizens, civil society organizations, academics and business to uncover challenges to corporate accountability and draft solutions

IV. A. Open by Default
Re: Third paragraph, “Being “open by default” also means allowing Canadians to more easily access government services through a single online window [emphasis added]”.
Recommendation: change this sentence to “Being “open by default” also means allowing Canadians to more easily access government services through effective access mechanisms designed to facilitate accountability on service delivery [emphasis added]”.
Comments: see “to centralize or not to centralize” above.

Commitment 1: Enhance Access to Information
It is good to see a commitment to updating the Access to Information Act. Open government will never replace the need for a mechanism for citizens to effectively demand access to information. Government by definition holds power, and power inevitably will attract those who wish to pursue personal gain through corruption. Also, mistakes and poor decisions or even good decisions that did not produce the expected results cannot always be avoided. There will always be a temptation for government staff as well as elected representatives to open or close, highlight or suppress information based on whether it makes the government look good. If you don’t want to release a piece of information it’s all too easy to perceive a request for the information as “frivolous and vexatious”. An important strength of the action plan is “giving the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of government information”.
Re first bullet: “Making government data and information open by default, in formats that are modern and easy to use;”
Suggestion: add a second and third bullet to address the ongoing need for ATI and to streamline the process through the provision of reference services:
·       Providing easy-to-use, cost-free mechanisms for requesting any information that is not open by default;
·       Develop professional intermediary services to help requestors identify with precision the information required
Comment: re the second suggested bullet, see the section “reference and information services” above.

Commitment 2: Streamline Requests for Personal Information
Re: How it will be done – line 2: “a simple, central website [emphasis added] where Canadians can submit requests to any government institution”.
Suggest change to: “a simple, central website where Canadians can submit requests to any government institution to supplement requesting services that are most efficiently handled by the collecting department”.
Comment: see the section “to centralize or not to centralize?” above

Commitment 3: Expand and Improve Open Data
Re: 5th milestone: “Improve Canadians’ access to data and information proactively disclosed by departments and agencies through a single, common online search tool [emphasis added]”
Suggest change to “Improve Canadians’ access to data and information proactively disclosed by departments and agencies through departmental websites as well as a single, common online search tool”
Comment: see the section on “to centralize or not to centralize” above.

Commitment 4: Provide and Preserve Open Information
Re: Milestone 4: “Update Library and Archives Canada’s online archive of the Government of Canada’s web presence to ensure Canadians’ long-term access to federal web content”.
Recommendation – add a Milestone: consult with academic experts and Library and Archives Canada to develop a plan, recommendation and funding analysis to capture Canadian content on the web.
Comment: I applaud the addition of this milestone, but would note that we need to capture Canadian content on the web in general, not just federal web content. Currently, some of this content is voluntarily captured by Internet Archive, however I think Canadians have a duty to take this on ourselves, for profound social, legal and cultural reasons. Material that until recently was produced in print and often archived and preserved by libraries and archives is increasingly available only online and risks being lost, sometimes after only a short period of time.

Commitment 7: Embed Transparency Requirements in the Federal Service Strategy
Re first Milestone “Development a Government and Canada Clients-First Service Strategy that aims to create a single online window [emphasis added] for all government services”.
Suggest change to: Development a Government and Canada Clients-First Service Strategy that aims to create a efficient and effective online access [emphasis added] for all government services through a departmental or centralized online window, whichever is most effective for citizens”.
Comments: see to centralize or not to centralize above.

Commitment 8: Enhance Access to Culture & Heritage Collections
Re: “The Government of Canada will expand collaboration with its provincial, territorial, and municipal partners and key stakeholders to develop a searchable National Inventory of Cultural and Heritage Artefacts to improve access across museum collections”.
Comment / question: how does this relate to Library and Archives Canada’s Building a Canadian National Heritage Digitization Strategy?

B. Fiscal Transparency
Re: second paragraph, “…the government will provide Canadians [emphasis added] with the tools they need to visualize spending data and compare fiscal information across departments, between locations, and over time”.
Suggested change to “…the government will develop an arms-length service to provide Canadians with the tools they need to visualize spending data and compare fiscal information across departments, between locations, and over time and encourage all members of the open government partnership to do likewise”.
Comment: it is fairly easy for an interested party to set up visualization tools to “help” people see things like financial data from a particular perspective. This can be deliberate or reflect unconscious biases. For example, to help people understand tax data, one can choose from a number of different potential comparison points. The tax freedom date approach showing how long it takes an average Canadian to work to pay taxes before they get to keep money is a good choice for people ideologically opposed to taxation and seeking tax breaks. In contrast, those of us who think public health care is the right way to go both for social and financial reasons tend to see data demonstrating the lower per-capita health spending in Canada as compared to countries with private health care as an obvious and important way of demonstrating the truth. A government that has succeeded in lowering corporate taxes by two-thirds and does not want public critique creeping into public budget discussions might be tempted to present budget data showing how little is gained by a small to medium increase in the existing corporate tax rate and avoid historical comparisons. A government determined to reserve the corporate tax rate cuts would likely emphasize historical comparisons.

Commitment 10: Increase Transparency of Budget Data and Economic and Fiscal Analysis
Re: “The Government of Canada will provide access to the datasets used in the Federal Budget each year in near real time [emphasis added]”.
Suggested change (addition) to: “The Government of Canada will provide access to the datasets used in the Federal Budget each year in near real time starting with Budget 2017 and will explore the feasibility of providing as many of these datasets as possible in advance of the release of the budget.
Comment: near real time datasets to help Canadians understand the budget would be a major leap forward, however in the long term for Canadians to have meaningful input into the budget process and parliamentarians to have full information for decision-making purposes, we have to have access to the datasets before the Budget is developed. One thought is that after Budget 2017 the datasets identified for release could be prioritized for timely open data release after that point in time.

Commitment 11: Increase Transparency of Grants and Contributions Funding
Re: “one stop access”: in this instance centralized access makes a lot of sense!

C. Innovation, Prosperity, and Sustainable Development
Re: “Making government data and information openly available to Canadians without restrictions on reuse [emphasis added]”…
Suggested change to: “Making government data and information openly available with minimal restrictions on reuse and the expectation of reuse in the spirit of the public good…”
Comments: although the spirit of “no restrictions” is one that I agree with, a major positive change, and internationally embraced by open government advocates as consensus, this is an area where in my professional opinion too open an approach invites problems as well as benefits for the social good. For example, as contributors to the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN) recently discovered, their free sharing of their work in what they thought of as an open access archive enabled not only open access but also the sale of SSRN to the world’s largest commercial scholarly publisher, Elsevier, a corporation that benefits from a profit rate of about $1 billion US a year (39%) profit based primarily on toll access and that has incentive to create new locked-down services. I believe this is an early indication of a potential danger of open data that is too open. For example, in the case of government data, too open an approach to data release could result in effective privatization of public services. “Without restrictions on reuse” is so broad that it can include charging for services, paying Internet service providers to have for-pay services prioritized over free public services, making the latter less useful, and using profits to lobby against funding for free public services that profitable commercial re-users are likely to see as competition.
Open data should be open to anyone, not just Canadians. In order to have the full benefit of open access to government data we need to be able to use data from any jurisdiction and compare data across jurisdictions.

C. Innovation, Prosperity, and Sustainable Development
Re – second paragraph: “the Government of Canada will be building strategic partnerships with other governments at the provincial, territorial, and municipal level, to support the development of common standards and principles for open data”.
Comment: good idea, but add the global level; this will be necessary to create innovations that work across jurisdiction and allow cross-jurisdictional comparison.

Commitment 14: Increase Openness of Federal Science Activities (Open Science)
Comments: kudos, this is great to see!!! Note that the granting councils already have policies on open access to research outputs and digital data management strategies. With respect to open access to documents, it might be worth looking at the tri-agency policy. With respect to digital data management strategies, there are important differences between government data, collected by the government for purposes of public policy, typically collected by government staff in the course of their employment and originally owned and controlled by the government, and academic research data which frequently involves third parties such as research subjects and third party organizations (e.g. police data is important to criminologists, business data to business researchers). Here I see many more issues arising from opening of data and I recommend separate treatment of academic research and government data.

Commitment 15: Stimulate Innovation through Canada’s Open Data Exchange (ODX)
This is a great initiative, but this is where building in the concept of free reuse in the context of commitment to the public good (see C above) is important to avoid the potential privatization of free public services.

Commitment 20: Enable Open Dialogue and Open Policy Making
Re: Milestone 1 “Promote common principles for Open Dialogue and common practices across the Government of Canada to enable the use of new methods for consulting and engaging Canadians”.
Comments: I think that this is a great idea, but the potential of Web 2.0 to facilitate open dialogue and open policy making is in its infancy. Consider that we are still working towards universal basic literacy centuries after the invention of the printing press. I think that considerable research into how to use the web for open dialogue and policy making is needed, and how to engage citizens who may not have access to the web or are otherwise unlikely to use this means of participation. Perhaps this could be one of the upcoming challenge areas for the granting councils? (Disclosure: if this happens I might apply for such a grant). 

Commitment 22: Engage Canadians to Improve Key Canada Revenue Agency Services
Re: 3rd milestone: “Engage with indigenous Canadians to better understand the issues, root causes, and data gaps that may be preventing eligible individuals from accessing benefits.”
Recommendation: add a strong, specific commitment to increase the number of indigenous Canadians receiving benefits or perhaps a specific type of benefit to which they are entitled.
In conclusion, please consider these detailed comments as input intended to improve a solid plan ambitious plan by a new government that already deserves kudos for swift action in a number of important areas. Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments, and to be actively engaged in the preceding in-person and online consultation processes.
Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Heather Morrison
Assistant Professor
École des sciences de l'information / School of Information Studies
University of Ottawa
The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics
Sustaining the Knowledge Commons
Heather dot Morrison at

June 23, 2016

Monday, April 11, 2016

Dramatic Growth of Open Access March 31, 2016


Update April 12: congratulations to Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) - and all of the contributing repositories - now over 90 million documents.  On the Global Open Access List, BASE's Dirk Pieper estimates that 60% of the content is open access.

There are now 150 publishers of peer-reviewed open access books listed in the Directory of Open Access Books, publishing more than 4,400 open access books. 620 books were published in this quarter alone, a 16% increase in just this quarter. The Directory of Open Access Journals has been adding titles at a net rate of 6 titles per day, 540 journals added this quarter for a total of over 11,000 journals. This is the highest DOAJ growth rate since this series started!

Bielefeld Academic Search Engine repositories collectively added more than 4.7 million documents this quarter for a total of just under 89 million documents.

SCOAP3 nearly doubled in size this past year (87% annual growth) for a total of 4,690 documents. arXiv grew by over 107,000 documents to over 1.1 million documents during the same time frame.

Internet Archive is likely to be featured in the next issue as it is currently edging towards a milestone of 10 million free texts.

The number of journals actively participating in PubMedCentral, making all content immediately freely accessible, and making all content open access, continues to grow. Meanwhile at PubMed a transition in indexing practice (from manual to automatic) means that a search for NIH-funded articles in the last 90 days significantly underreports results (1,402 NIH funded articles in the past 90 days compared with a range of 7,846 - 19,790 with a 90-day search limit for NIH funded article since 2008). Without the indexing, it is not possible to determine the percentage of full text. Here's hoping the automated indexing process results in a catch-up soon; it doesn't matter very much if the statistics for this series fall a bit behind, but people rely on this indexing to search for medical information.

The Electronic Journals Library added 3,612 journals that can be read free-of-charge in the past year, for a total of 52,000 journals, a 7% growth rate.

This post is part of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access series. Open data can be downloaded from the Dramatic Growth of Open Access dataverse.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Editorial: open access, copyright and licensing: basics for open access publishers.

Just published (February 2016) in the open access Journal of Orthopaedic Case Reports at the invitation of Editor-In-Chief Dr. Ashok Shyam: Editorial: open access, copyright and licensing: basics for open access publishers. Journal of Orthopaedic Case Reports 6:1 p. 1-2. DOI: 10.13107/jocr.2250-0685.360

This post is part of the Open Access and Creative Commons critique series. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dramatic Growth of Open Access December 2015


After a year or so of slower growth at DOAJ to accommodate back-end technical work and a new get-tough policy on journal inclusion, robust DOAJ growth is back on track. In the last quarter of 2015, DOAJ added a total of 384 titles or more than 4 titles per day for a year-end total of 10,963 journals. The number of articles searchable at the article level grew by over 300,000 in 2015 for a year-end total of over 2.1 million. The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine figures demonstrate the overall growth of (mostly) open access repositories, adding more than 15 million documents in 2015 for a total of more than 84 million and adding 671 content providers for a total of just under 4 thousand content providers. Both document growth and content provider growth at BASE reflects greater than 20% growth for 2015, a particularly impressive number given that percentage growth tends to favour newer, smaller initiatives such as the SCOAP3 repository which had the highest growth by percentage in 2015, more than doubling to over 8,000 articles in 2015. Although not all the documents available via a BASE search are open access, the more than 3.7 million items now available for free from PubMedCentral alone is just one indication of robust growth in open access repositories. The Internet Archive now has more than 8.8 million texts. Perhaps even more impressive is that over 8 million of the texts made available by the Internet Archive and Open Library are fully accessible and in the public domain! Following are a few charts to illustrate the ongoing amazing growth of open access. To sum up, only one resolution is recommended for all the people behind the thousands of open access journals, repositories and other services for 2016: keep up the good work!

Open data is available through the Dramatic Growth of Open Access dataverse. For previous posts see the Dramatic Growth of Open Access series.

Top 10 by percentage growth

2014 2015 Annual growth (numeric) Annual growth (percentage)
SCOAP3 articles 4,329 8,934 4,605 106%
DOAB publishers 79 134 55 70%
DOAB books 2,482 3,789 1,307 53%
Highwire Completely Free Sites 113 160 47 42%
PMC journals some articles OA 338 423 85 25%
BASE documents 68,575,068 84,250,153 15,675,085 23%
Internet Archive Audio Recordings 2,224,696 2,712,703 488,007 22%
PMC journals selected articles OA 2,897 3,499 602 21%
BASE content providers 3,294 3,965 671 20%
Internet Archive Texts 7,320,065 8,756,735 1,436,670 20%

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dramatic Growth of Open Access June 30, 2015

This issue of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access highlights and celebrates samples of the many small milestones illustrating the slow and steady increase in open access (dramatic does not necessarily mean fast!).

There are now more than 2,000 journals actively participating in PubMedCentral. Over the past year, this number grew by 178 - that's close to one more new entire journal actively contributing content to PMC every business day.

PMC now has over 3.5 million items. This means that about 15% of all the 24 million items cited in PMC (regardless of date of publication) have free fulltext available linked from PubMed.

In the last 7 years, the number of NIH funded articles indexed in PubMed (again regardless of date of publication) available for free grew from 86 thousand to over 600 thousand or from 34% to 71%.

Other small milestones: there are now over 100 publishers of open access scholarly books listed in the Directory of Open Access Books; the Social Sciences Research Network now includes over half a million full text papers; the Registry of Open Access Repositories now lists over 4,000 repositories; and the Bielefeld Academic Search Engine now has more than 75 million documents. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who is doing all the behind-the-scenes work that results in this dramatic increase in access to our knowledge (whether your initiative is highlighted this particular issue or not). To download the data go to the DGOA dataverse.

Selected data

Directory of Open Access Journals is going through a clean-up project; the number of journals listed decreased by 45 this semester (over the past year growth of 471 titles). Journals and articles searchable by article both grew this quarter.

The Directory of Open Access Books lists 3,197 titles from 107 publishers; over 50% annual growth for both numbers.

The Electronic Journals Library added 801 journals that can be read free-of-charge for a total approaching 50,000 titles.

The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine added more than 3.6 million documents for a total over over 75 million documents.

This quarter PubMedCentral added the following (journal rather than article data). A key point is that increases are happening consistently in every category.

  • 33 journals actively participating in PMC (total over 2,000)
  • 23 journals with immediate free access (total 1,468)
  • 24 journals with all articles open access (total 1,260)
  • 46 journals that deposit ALL content in PMC (total 1,683)
  • 9 more journals that deposit NIH-funded content only (total 310)
  • 268 journals that deposit selected content in PMC (total 3,246)
arXiv added over 25,000 publications and now has more than a million. 

RePEC added over 64 thousand downloadable items for a total of over 1.6 million. The Logec service has lots of great stats (downloads, content by type and by date); highly recommended for anyone looking for more detail in this area.

Social Sciences Research Network added close to 13 thousand fulltextpapers for a total of more than half a million.

Internet Archive added:
  • 100,000 movies for a total of over 2 million
  • 4,000 concerts for a total of 153 thousand
  • 100,000 audio recordings for a total of over 2.5 million
  • 300,000 texts for a total of over 8 millio
This post is part of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access series. Note that the dataverse has been cleaned up a little to make it easier to find the current file.

♡2015 by Heather Morrison. Copying is an act of love. Please copy. (from Copyheart).

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

New terms and conditions for IJPE, or farewell to Creative Commons

As of June 2, 2015, these are the terms and conditions for this blog:
All Rights Reserved except as indicated otherwise. Open sharing is something that I strongly believe in, and so I would like to encourage others to use my own work in noncommercial ways. Please note that when I have copied the works of other people, the copyright belongs to them, not me; I have no rights to grant to you. If you would like to copy my work, please go ahead and do so, but be sure to indicate that the portion of my work you have copied is under my copyright and attribute me and this blog:

© Heather Morrison, The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics [insert URL to post]. All Rights Reserved.

I request that you let me know what you have done (a comment on this post is fine if you don't have my e-mail; if you're doing this just to communicate and don't want your comment made public, just let me know). You don't have to ask my permission first, but I would like to know if people are interested in re-using my work, and if so how (this is topic I am interested in), so I appreciate it if people do ask.

Note that you may have rights under fair dealing or fair use that go beyond the permissions I grant here. I encourage you to make full use of your fair dealing / fair use rights. Canada has a good fair dealing regime at the moment thanks to a series of 2012 Supreme Court decisions in favour of fair dealings. I strongly support the fair dealing rights as outlined by the Canadian Association of University Teachers.  If your country does not have fair use / fair dealing, advocacy for these rights would be a good idea. Note that when I have used the works of others in this blog, this is almost always making use of my fair dealing rights, e.g. to copy the portions of works of others in order to critique.

If you use CC licenses, you should note that when using the works of others you should check for license compatibility, and alert readers to the rights of third parties. Even when one CC licensed works is included in a second work with what appears to be exactly the same license, the Licensor (generally the copyright holder) for the upstream work is different and hence there are actually two different licenses (for example, the attribution and moral rights of the copied work remain with the original Licensor).

This is important to understand to minimize your legal risk in copying the work of others. More than 99% of my work has never been licensed for blanket downstream commercial uses, for example. If people use my work in their own works that are CC licensed without the NC element, they risk giving the impression that the copied work is available to others for commercial use. If someone downstream takes advantage of this commercial downstream use that I did not authorize and I decide to take legal action, the downstream user will probably drag the person or organization using an inappropriate CC license into court. This is appropriate because if your site or work is telling others that a work is available for commercial use downstream, then the downstream commercial user is acting in good faith and it is in fact you who are at fault.  I think the odds are very remote that I'd ever take anyone to court over a copyright claim; rather, I want to alert well-intentioned people to the risks that they are taking when including third party works in other works with broad liberal licenses.

Update June 3: in response to an anonymous question, in case this is relevant for anyone else:  if you are preparing a court case and believe that anything in this blog can be useful to support your case, of course you can do so. I appreciate your letting me know, but you don't have to ask permission. This is the kind of use that either is, or ought to be, covered by fair use / fair dealing. You have a right to whatever information can help you in a court case. You should indicate the copyright and where you got the information from.  This is more important in terms of presenting your case in the best possible light than protecting my copyright. If you present this work as expert evidence, you need to document where you got the information from, and why you think the author is an expert in this field. It might be helpful to refer to my work web page in this context. Whether your court case is intended to support a commercial argument for you is not relevant. The primary meaning of commercial rights with respect to copyright is selling the work. Ideas are not covered by copyright; for this reason, using the ideas in a copyrighted work does require commercial rights permissions.

From 2004 until June 1, 2015, this blog, or to be more accurate, my own work on this blog was licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License. If you copied work during this time frame, this license cannot be revoked, however from June 2, 2015 on this blog is no longer licensed under CC. This includes works published previously if you are reading or copying after June 2nd. For those who did copy before this date, I have copied the human readable terms below for your convenience.

Why the change?

Here are my experiences with more than a decade of encouraging blanket re-use:

  • one instance of plagiarism (a chart copied from my blog without permission), obviously not intentional and corrected through education
  • one instance of a work copied from my blog to a venue that I want nothing to do with, with inaccurate and insulting attribution (modified somewhat with education)
  • one instance of friendly re-use of a work by a friend, technically illegal since it was a different license and I'm pretty sure my friend was just making a point about re-use. Nice, but not a good use of the time of my friend who is a brilliant scholar and has better things to do.
  • one person wanted to use one of my charts in a powerpoint, but the web version is not sufficient so had to request a higher quality image anyways
  • if there have been uses that would have convinced me this was a good idea, I don't know about them; that's a problem with blanket downstream rights for whoever
As a junior scholar, it is helpful to me to be able to prove that others consider my work worthwhile. That's why I would like you to tell me if you re-use my work; this is for my tenure dossier. 
 Creative Commons licensing now includes instructions on what is and isn't a free culture license. Apparently my choices are not free culture. This is technique some call deprecation (intended to push people towards the free culture licenses) that I think is more accurately called bullying or insulting.  This is one of the reasons I stopped voluntarily using CC licenses for new works some time ago.

Creative Commons has done some awesome work, and I still think it's great to have an option to indicate we want to share rather than automatic copyright. However, I am concerned that this approach actually encourages permissions culture, asking people to think about everything that we do as IP. My current thinking is that it would be better to advocate for strong fair use / fair dealing rights everywhere, push for shorter not longer copyright terms and eliminate automatic copyright. I might be back someday CC if I sense an atmosphere a bit more tolerant of the different choices about licensing people choose to make.

CC-BY-NC-SA terms for people who copied portions of my own works on or before June 1, 2105 follow. Note that where I have copied the works of others, the copyright remains theirs, not mine.

You are free to:

  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material
  • The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.

Under the following terms:

  • AttributionYou must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
  • Non-Commercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
  • ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.
  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.


  • You do not have to comply with the license for elements of the material in the public domain or where your use is permitted by an applicable exception or limitation.
  • No warranties are given. The license may not give you all of the permissions necessary for your intended use. For example, other rights such as publicity, privacy, or moral rights may limit how you use the material.