Really EBSCO??

A while back I posted a rant about doing a lit search and coming across an EBSCO page that failed to explicitly point to a journal’s wide open CC license.  I was a bit uncomfortable doing so since I felt like maybe I was missing a piece of the copyright/open access puzzle, but it generated a favourable action-oriented response from EBSCO and a few librarians chimed in as well encouraging me that I wasn’t completely crazy with my expectations.  

To recap – in case you don’t want to click on the link above – EBSCO’s initial response to my rant was this:

Per your request, I have submitted an Enhancement Request with our Content Team to have the CC License display within the Copyright information.

About a week ago, I received this response from EBSCO:

I hope you are having a lovely day.

In regards to your inquiry to have the Copyright Information display the Creative Commons License.

EBSCO holds a license for the content with the publisher, Governors of Athabasca University. We followed the publisher’s lead as to how they wanted to handle the copyright statement. Any change would have to be requested by the publisher. 

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

My first reaction to this was “Huh??…”.  But I let it go, because how am I to know the politics that may have lead the Governors of Athabasca to basically lock down their open journal by EBSCO proxy if that is indeed the case.  

But here I am again, searching around on Google Scholar and clicking on this link that that takes me to an EBSCO page that denies me entry to yet another IRRODL article.  There is no way to get to the article that I should have access to as a CC BY licensed journal. In fact clicking on the Login link does nothing to indicate that I should even have access unless I have the privilege of belonging to an institution that subscribes to this esteemed service.

I get that EBSCO probably lawyered up and is doing what was agreed to by the parties involved.  I get that Athabasca no doubt agreed to whatever terms and legalese within a CC BY license.  But I’m disappointed as a user and academic that the spirit of CC BY and open access journals isn’t being respected and I think that matters. 



  • Rory McGreal

    Perhaps people need to be better informed on the meaning of openness and the restrictions imposed by the different CC licences. IRRODL uses the CC- BY (Attribution) licence, which is completely open. Anyone can use the content, which by the way is copyrighted to the authors not to IRRODL. Our agreement with EBSCO allows them to place their content in their closed database and charge for it. For this we receive some funding. Without this agreement, they could simply copy our files and put them in their database without permission as long as they attributed the authors, which they do. Anyone else could do the same.
    The whole meaning of openness to me is that you allow people to do what they want with the content. If we wanted to restrict use further, which would also be ok we could have availed of the SA (Share Alike). Then EBSO would not be legally allowed to close down the content. Or, we could have used the NC (Non-Commercial) licence, which of course with an agreement with us they could use to restrict the content on their database (but not ours).

    Steven Downes’ and I (and others) have had many discussions about this. In fact, I would guess that when they lock down our content, it drives more people to our open site directly. If they opened it they would be more in competition with the IRRODL site. I don’t understand why anyone would be concerned about their having a closed site. A google search on our articles normally puts us ahead of these other commercial sites and anyone can access the document for free. Few people (as in – almost no one) pays the exorbitant article fees charged by EBSCO and other commercial databases. Those who access them do so through their institutional licences.

    EBSCO, by informing people of the CC-BY licence is being rather upfront about this. Is there a specific problem? Perhaps the problem is that people are not aware of open licensing and we need to continue in our efforts to educate people as to the meaning of the different licences, and to insist that the databases advise people of the licence as you have prompted EBSCO to do.

    All the best.

    Rory McGreal
    Co-Editor IRRODL

  • T Morgan

    Hi Rory, It’s Tannis here (we’ve been in touch about 2 of Athabasca’s OER HR courses which we now run at our institution thanks to your open licensing of those courses). Thanks for your comment and I hope that my response helps the discussion.

    It might help if I recreate the workflow of how I landed on those pages and why I see it as a problem, since I’m actually not disputing that I could benefit more from knowing about the nuances of the CC licenses,especially as someone who routinely publishes with them.

    1. I do a search in Google Scholar.
    2. I see an article listed that interests me. I click on it.
    3. Clicking on it takes me to the EBSCO page. (c.f. )

    4. On the EBSCO page there is no mention that IRRODL is an open journal. EBSCO, isn’t, as you suggest, informing me at all that IRRODL has a CC BY license (see page above), and therefore is not being upfront at all. In fact, I am lead to believe that I can only access this article if I go through EBSCO’s service. So if I have no idea that IRRODL is open, and I have no access to EBCSO, the journey stops there (unless I do a secondary search to see if IRRODL is open).

    Why should I care since EBSCO, as you point out, could simply copy IRRODL articles and do whatever with them anyways? Because as an author, I have a number of reasons why I chose to publish in an open journal. A CC license gives me a means to communicate that. If EBSCO wants to bundle my CC licensed articles into a package for commercial purpose, I want the fact that my articles themselves exist as an open artifact to be communicated, and I feel like the bundlers have the responsibility to communicate that.

    On a related note, I understand NISO is aware of this problem and until recently had a document open for public comment, to which I was directed following my initial rant.

  • Terry Andersopn

    Hi Tanis
    I am quite sure I agree with your reasoning . When I recreate a search for this article in Google scholar (searching by title) – I do get first one of the many commercial services that provide access. But there is also a link to 11 other copies stored on the Net. When I click on this link, it is quite easy to see which provide access free to me.

    I think our authors appreciate the exposure of these commercial vendors. However, i think the consumer has a duty to decide what is best for them- to access by a service they or their institution is paying for, to pay for it, or to sleuth until they find it for free. The second source returned in this example is the original from IRRODL which is free.

    I am sure it is reasonable to expect the commercial supplier to go pout of their way to tell consumers all the other options for the product – Would you expect the Sears store to tell the customer that the product is cheaper (or free) at WallMart?
    Terry Anderson

    • T Morgan

      Hi Terry

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure where we agree but you’ve given me some good food for thought.

      Personally, I don’t think the commercial vendors provide much exposure since their services are unaffordable for many institutions, which is why I opt for an open license as an author. In fact, if I publish something in an open journal, I DO expect that Sears or Walmart communicate the original intention of producer*. Happily we have Google Scholar to address that gap for the moment.

      My takeaway from this discussion is that – in this case at least – I’m more philosophically aligned with a CC BY NC SA license.

      *Sidenote: We spend a lot of institutional effort and resources in making sure we aren’t ‘violating’ copyright when it comes to course materials, articles,etc, including, as I recall, linking to commercial vendor articles appropriately in our online courses. Is it too much to ask commercial vendors to take the extra effort to acknowledge the open source of what they are including in their databases?

  • Brian

    Really valuable post, sorry for the delay in commenting.

    One point of clarification (not sure if I am making it, or requesting it). Rory comments above that if the articles in question were licensed with the Share-Alike clause then “EBSO [sic] would not be legally allowed to close down the content”. But my reading of BY-SA ( indicates anyone is free to “copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format …for any purpose, even commercially”. SA stipulates “you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original…” but ONLY “If you remix, transform, or build upon the material”. In other words, straight-out copying and posting is not restricted by SA. In addition, the language of the license says nothing about technological enclosure, just changes to the license itself. Maybe I’ve got it wrong, I find the lack of clarity around SA disturbing.

    I just came across this other thread showing rather blatant rip-offs along these lines by Elsevier:

    I remain puzzled why advocates of open access, who frequently malign academic publishers in their writings and presentations, are so blase about these abuses. Or, as in the case of this thread even seem to think that academia is benefiting from them. And is Creative Commons itself interested in preserving the integrity of its licenses? They seem oddly passive in all this. I wonder if they fear how a legal challenge would go against a better-funded foe. In any event, it seems that all EBSCO and Elsevier have to fear from abusing the spirit (and probably the letter) of CC licenses is the occasional blog post complaining about it.

    I remain puzzled why advocates of NC clauses continue to be derided as less than open because they object to such exploitation. There can be little doubt that there are people spending money on CC-BY scholarship unnecessarily. Posts like this one show that. Publishers are collecting this money, and using it for marketing, technical “innovations” and political advocacy that undermines open access, and public education in general. Seems like a big price to pay for the “exposure” they provide.

    • T Morgan

      Thanks, Brian, for adding your very informed perspective on this topic, (which was also helpful in checking some of own assumptions that I had about SA as well). The link you provided to the other blog post is a much better echo of some of my sentiments.

      I feel like I’m the lowest common denominator both in terms of publishing with an open license and searching for openly published articles, but I think it’s a helpful perspective to bring to the conversation. Creative Commons licenses have, to some degree, made it easier to do both thanks to simple language and terms that empower the producers, and a means to participate in a certain spirit of open. Unfortunately, it feels like we are now back to the time we need experts to help us interpret the legalese and debate the can do’s and can’ts of these terms, and are shamed for our lack of understanding of what they mean and their nuances. Who does that benefit, as you have also alluded to in your comment?

      This whole discussion has been very eye-opening, both in terms of assumptions I make when I publish in an open journal, the initial EBSCO response and subsequent backtracking, and the varying perspectives on the sentiment of ‘open’ that I thought were much more homogenous in our Canadian academic scene at least.

  • Rory McGreal

    Travis, Brian, Terry
    Isn’t an institution that takes a CC-BY course and puts it behind their firewall or prints it out for their students also closing off access to their copy of the content doing the same as EBSCO? That is if they do not acknowledge the licence in their exemplars of the content.
    I think that we should discuss amending the CC-BY licence to include a statement that the content is open. I agree that users should acknowledge the licence, whether they be EBSCO or an institution, whether they close off their copy or not. I have many closed off copies of CC content on my computer but I would not release it without the licence.
    All the best.

    • T Morgan

      Hi Rory, Tannis here again.

      In the case of the 2 OER courses that we use from Athabasca in our Blackboard LMS, we actually put the CC license as a footer on every html page and point to Athabasca as the original source. This is how we’ve interpreted the Attribution part of the license. So while the LMS closes it off to some degree, it still communicates a message to both students, faculty and staff that is different than “copyright JIBC”, and respects the sentiment of open from which it originated. I definitely expect the same from EBSCO.

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