Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Risks of CC-BY and Republication 


Reading Time: 3 minutes

Here comes another blogpost where I expect people from the open ed community to either think I am crazy or I am backwards or something. But those who are really open will read it with an open mind 🙂 your choice, really.

The trigger for this particular post is an article I wrote for The Conversation in January, There is More Than One Story to Be Told about Trump’s America (their title not mine btw, but I approved it) which was afterwards republished in the Huffington Post (and therefore got the attention of my institution’s marketing folks and was sent around). My understanding from The Conversation from the beginning is that the work is republishable without my permission (basically CC-BY, if I remember correctly) and from my author dashboard I can see where it’s been republished. This is more info than I would get if I was publishing on my own blog CC-BY.

I had never bothered to read the Huff Post version of the article, assuming they had republished as is (I should not have made that assumption because it’s not ND). It didn’t occur to me they might use different photos (they didn’t) or modify the text without clarifying (they kinda did. And that’s what this is about). 

As an academic, it is VERY important for me to reference other people’s work properly. To say who said what and let the reader know (via link or reference section) where to find the original where those words/ideas come from. We teach this stuff and we need to model it. More importantly, I personally believe in its value and importance, not as a set of rules, but as courtesy and respect to other authors, to readers, and my own self.

The Huffington Post version of my article distorts the quotes I am making. In the Conversation piece, when I quote someone, the text is indented and italic and there is a link to the original. In the Huff Post version, none of this is there, so it looks like the entire article is my words…so basically they created a derivative of my work that has distorted citation. I only noticed this because someone quoted the article on Twitter and it was Chimamanda Ngozi Adeche’s words not mine. And I saw how the article formatting on Huff Post doesn’t at all show whose words they are.

Now, I could contact Huff Post about thus, because I know Huff Post republished it. But if I didn’t (CC-BY basically says reuse, remix, translate, without permission, even for commercial purposes) it’s possible other entities take my work and make those changes and I would be none the wiser.

Some of the arguments re monetization of CC-BY content annoy me. Along the lines of “it’s really unlikely commercial entities will take your free labor and profit from it”. Well, hello! This just happened. And could continue to happen. If Huff Post liked this article, they could follow my stuff elsewhere which is CC-BY (not my blog, it has NC) and keep republishing it without paying me (but continue to profit from having it on their site). Now I actually don’t mind having my article on Huff Post (and much of my other writing won’t interest them, but if it did…), but I do mind the incorrect citations. It affects my reputation as an academic. What if Chimamanda saw it, and thought i was not citing her work properly? What if people continue to quote these words as if they were mine? I guess this is how misattributed quotes are formed – poor journalism!

Look, when you publish in a peer-reviewed journal, anyone can take a quote from your article and use it out of context, interpret it incorrectly, or make mistakes in citation. It’s just hopefully that the latter is less likely because they’re academics too and hopefully know the proper way to cite. The misinterpretation or taking out of context is inevitable and you can’t do I that much about it.

There’s always also the risk of someone whose values you disagree with republishing your work, so that someone who doesn’t understand how these things work could misunderstand and assume you endorse that publication. 

I gotta go but had to get this off my chest. And it’s 7 months later but i should still contact Huff Post about those citations 


Check out this Twitter thread

Led me to 

  1. Email The Conversation and they said they would communicate w Huff Post on my behalf (turns out they moved to some new interface recently which might explain formatting issues?)
  2. Discover The Conversation license is CC-BY-ND – so actually it’s not CC-BY (thanks Kelsey Merkley). 

The modification on the message on this blogpost is that (as we all already know) licenses aren’t foolproof,  but yeah, being ND is a strong and clear case to take up w Huff Post. But also, Andy Nobes and Carrie Schroeder both think it is a violation even if it were a CC-BY licensed work.

So this has been an interesting Twitter day for me! Thanks Kelsey and all


  1. I am not totally sure I am understanding this. My impression is that with a CCBY, the new version appears under the name of the new author, with a link back to the original text and attribution to that original author. If they edited or changed it, that would be a derivative, and not your text any longer, so shouldn’t it be under their name, with you only getting credit for the original text that it is linked to? It doesn’t fully solve the problem you’re talking about, but I just want to see if I am following? I think republishing your work exactly as is would allow them to credit you as the author, but modifying it should make it a derivative (allowable under CCBY by not ND) and should free you up– at least technically–from getting blamed for what emerges from their shoddy edits. Seems like they made a derivative by changing how the quotes were handled, and then they just slapped your name on it– seems like a license foul to me… Interesting nuances…

    • Yeah. So i don’t know if you saw the update there, but it seems Huff Post moved to a new CMS that probably messed up the formatting. The original publication was probably an exact replica but something went wrong. Conversation are following up on it because their license is CC-BY-ND apparently (but in communication w me they used to say CC-BY).

      I’m unsure how u would use CC-BY if the person republishing isn’t adding anything new…but making minor changes. What do they do? It’s still all my words but e.g. they remove a paragraph (which of course could change meaning entirely)

  2. Glad to see some action was taken on this- an alteration of the article that changes its meaning seems shady if done by an individual and more questionable done by a publishing org.

    But to me it draws a large question than letters of licenses. What is the meaning/use of a license on a larger body of work (book/article/film) to me is quite different from component media (photo, image, sound clip). What are the ways people might and you are willing to share under to remix or reuse such work?

    And that goes back to a previous comment here, is for you as author, what is your intent when you decide to put a CC license on an article? My guess is you are interested in seeing it more widely read or maybe republished in entirety; but do you really want it changed and reused? I license is not needed to quote (if attributed with citation/credit).

    If anything, as you suggest, a CC BY-ND is more appropriate – I struggle to understand what a CC BY even means on an article unless you really want people to change meaning.

    Even at that I wonder what the use is for a CC license on published papers. If you want it to be read and shared as a whole, but not changed, frankly to me, and what I might do is copyright it. Copyright is not a bad thing; it establishes ownership of the work and does not prevent distribution- and it allows republication with permission from the author. That is reasonable to me and does not make your work any less shareable.

    • Though CCBY or CCBYND (etc) works are ALSO copyrighted, yes? And I do think, practically speaking, that something with just a copyright and no CC license is indeed less shareable, practically speaking (it takes time and resources to track down permissions, which may or may not be given of course). I will say that I am so appreciative when people CC-license their articles, since I often republish them in course-specific open textbooks that I produce for and with students. I think fair use protects a lot of excerpting/quoting, but when I use longer chunks, I am grateful especially for a CCBY that would let me remix significant excerpts with other texts. But mostly I depending on the open license to make simple republishing easier for course materials. But I have thought about what the ND actually does for text– not as clear as with photos, for example. Can I take a 100-page CCBYND text and republish 50 consecutive pages of it without edits or revisions? Is that excerpting a derivative? I generally have been leaning toward yes, and only reprinting ND stuff in their entirety, unless I am just using a small snippet covered under fair use quoting… Would love to learn more about this from legal minds who work with open licenses…so interesting to me.

      • My understanding is u cannot excerpt large portions (beyond fair use) of an ND work . So e.g. u can’t republish a chapter from my PhD thesis (which is CC-BY-NC-ND) but u can republish the entire thing for free. If it were CC-BY only…you could take any parts of it and use them in an open textbook or print and distribute as many parts as u like, not the entire thing.
        I assume ND for photos means u can’t edit the photo, right? but small changes like resizing – that isn’t clear to me

        I think it does matter what kind of work we’re talking about. I find training materials available to online really helpful if offered CC-BY so one can reuse selected parts in one’s own training without seeking permission… But it doesn’t make sense to me for larger bodies of work. It gets complicated (incl w Conversation articles) if an article is written CC-BY-ND but photos in it are copyrighted and taken w permission. Do u copy them w/o the photos or what?

        • If I use a CC license on something, I always make sure everything I use IN that work is covered by the same license (or something more open). For example, I wouldn’t use CCBYND or non-openly-licensed photos in a blog post that I was licensing CCBY. Though I would use a CCBY photo in a post I was licensing CCBYSA (for example). Not sure if that is the going standard? I think I just assumed that’s how it would work…

          • I don’t think it’s necessary. Depends on the license. I think SA is quite restrictive that way, NC is highly interpretable (as in what counts as commercial use is really unclear and my understanding is it’s intended to be) – i don’t see a problem using an ND photo in a CC-BY work, though…

            In any case, i think the main issue here wasn’t w the license per se, but the misuse of it, and the issue w CC-BY or any CC license is that the original author isn’t necessarily notified so they could fix it

        • You raise a very relevant issue, one I’d been wondering about for a long time. For an adaptation to be considered a different work (the word “derivative”, being closely related to US law, is not part of CC license code since version 4.0), a minimal amount of “originality” is required. The originality threshold varies among jurisdictions, but I don’t think reproducing verbatim a specific part (a whole section, for instance) would qualify; same for simple basic reformatting. On the other hand, multiple excerpts carefully chosen to form a kind of summary could.

          The derivative-or-not issue notwithstanding, before version 4.0, the licence code of NC licenses was ambiguous, in my opinion, as to the requirement of reproducing the work in its entirety. Curiously, I’ve not seen much discussion on this issue, in contrast to, say, the NC condition.

          Now I believe things are much clearer: the code of NC 4.0 licenses sates: “… a worldwide, royalty-free, non-sublicensable, non-exclusive, irrevocable license to exercise the Licensed Rights in the Licensed Material to … A. reproduce and Share the Licensed Material, in whole or *in part*” (my emphasis). Previous versions spoke only of “Reproducing the Work”.

  3. With CC-BY if you make *any* changes (including correcting a typo) you are *required* to explicitly say that you’ve made changes, and make it clear what you changed. So if they pass it off as the original, but it’s actually been changed, then that’s a license violation.

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