Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 19 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Risks of CC-BY and Republication 


Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 19 seconds

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


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