Low-Quality Scholarly Publishers Don’t Understand Copyright


See the contradiction ?  Click image to enlarge.

I am increasingly seeing contradictory licensing statements on the websites of low-quality, questionable, and predatory publishers.

Typically, these publishers include the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY Logo) along with a copyright symbol © accompanied by the statement, “All rights reserved.” The image at the top is one example, and here are two more.


Click image to enlarge.


Garnished with logos.

These statements are contradictory. You can’t have it both ways, because the “all rights reserved” contradicts the CC license which allows unrestricted copying and distribution (provided you attribute the author).

I think the publishers do not understand the function of Creative Commons licenses and mistakenly think they are a license to publish, that is, an imprimatur. They see these logos on the websites of other publishers and copy them onto their own, hoping to look legitimate.

Predatory publishers often lift content — such as author guidelines — from other publishers. In this case they reveal their incompetence by presenting contradictory licensing statements.


14 Responses to Low-Quality Scholarly Publishers Don’t Understand Copyright

  1. Charles Oppenheim says:

    Well spotted, Jeffrey! Your suggestion for why the publishers do this is plausible, too.

  2. wkdawson says:

    Hmm, maybe this is so they can change their mind on a whim. Today it is CC, tomorrow they charge? If everything is vague, then they can say what they like.

  3. The post and the comments misunderstand the law and the the term license: A copyright is a right, including the right to allow (i.e., “to license”) everyone to copy as much as they want with attribution. The licensor is the one owning the copyright, the licensee the one licensed to copy freely.

  4. Dan Riley says:

    I think it’s a little more complicated (but I’m not a lawyer).

    CC is a license, not a waiver of rights. The copyright owner retains all rights, but grants a license for use under certain conditions. That the copyright holder retains all rights is actually a necessary condition for any legal enforcement of the license terms. So “all rights reserved” and a CC license are not necessarily incompatible. If they were incompatible, then “all rights reserved” would be incompatible with any form of licensed publication!

    However, it isn’t clear that “all rights reserved” has a well defined legal meaning anymore. It used to be a formal requirement for copyright, but since the general adoption of the Berne convention, copyright is implicit without any formal requirements. So using the phrase “all rights reserved” at all demonstrates a cargo culting of copyright law.

    As for changing their minds, CC licenses are irrevocable, but the copyright holder can always issue additional licenses–so, for example, a work could be distributed with a CC BY-NC-ND (noncommercial no derivatives) license but also sold for commercial or derivative works under a different license.

  5. When one owns copyright, one has a “bundle of rights”. These include: the right to be identified as the author; the right to refuse permission to copy the work; the right to refuse permission to adapt the work; and so on. By granting a CC licence, the owner has given up most of those rights, e.g., the right to refuse permission to copy, but has retained one, i.e., the right to be identified as the author. Therefore, “All rights reserved” and a CC licence on the same object are fundamentally incompatible, as Jeffrey rightly pointed out. The correct term to use in conjunction with a CC licence is “Some rights reserved”, or, to be really pedantic in the case of CC BY, “One right reserved”!

    • Can rights be reasserted, or is the licensing permanent?

    • Dan Riley says:

      “All rights reserved” is not a normal English phrase, it is a “term of art” that used to be a formal requirement for establishing copyright (in some countries). According to your interpretation, any kind of license would have been incompatible with establishing copyright, which is clearly nonsense.

      Under CC BY, the copyright holder gives up the right to change the terms of copying, but retains the right to determine those terms–otherwise, the copyright holder would be giving up the right to enforce the license terms.

      While “some rights reserved” is a cute phrase, it has no legal meaning. As the CC licenses page says, the CC licenses operate ‘inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates’.

  6. coppenheim says:

    CC licences are irrevocable, so the rights cannot be retrieved once they have been given away.

  7. coppenheim says:

    Many licences do not lose the owner rights because, for example, the licence is for a particular organisation, for a particular country, for particular purposes or for a certain period of time. With CC, all those restrictions vanish. “Some rights reserved” is used a lot in association with CC licences. You are right that it has no legal meaning. But there is no point in using “all rights reserved” which is incompatible with the licence being granted as it just causes confusion. You are of course correct that even with a CC licence, the copyright owner retains some rights that are enforceable in law. I made exactly the same point!

  8. John Rodriguez says:

    Please read the contents in the following link before any judgments:

    one of our mistakes as a human is that we think knowing all things.

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