Medicine : medical humanities : creativity : coffee

Part 2: Creative Commons: the best medicine?

Part 2: Creative Commons: the best medicine?

In Part 1: A rising tide floats all boats, I took my position on the side of Us v Them – free open access sharing v the old established order. Naive you may think but that’s led me to more discussions (and ranting) about Copyright and Creative Commons (which is healthy isn’t it?).


As a former commercial photographer I took part in numerous debates around copyright and protecting our work from the thieves who would use us to make their own money. I didn’t ever really flatter myself to be honest, but I have seen others being taken advantage of by big and small businesses. I would get grumpy when clients used their phones to shoot my printed proofs in order to stick them on Facebook. One day though, I had a call from a client’s friend who had seen such posted pictures and wanted their own. It led to work, directly to work, passing Go and collecting way more than two hundred pounds. That’s what happens when, as a creative, you share.


Medical research though, is not a photograph. Yes, OK, let’s get dreamy eyed for a second: a picture can say a thousand words, we all love a good image but photographs are not medical research. Dare I say it, they aren’t quite as important (in this context of course). Preventing access to important research by making it inaccessible to those who can’t pay should not be the future of healthcare in any economy.

The far reaching consequences of keeping research behind paywalls, using scarcity and inaccessibility in order to profit, is I would say, questionable.


Sure, photographers, creatives, medics, publishers, we all have to put food on the table. I understand that. Be that as it may, I want my work to be seen and shared as far and wide as possible, shared and discussed…that’s what leads to new work and in medicine, that is what could lead to better outcomes. If you want the best of both worlds, of sharing and protection, you could always turn to a Creative Commons license.


Creative Commons was the brainchild of Lawrence Lessig – a prof at Harvard Law School. The idea was actually to protect the laws of copyright. You can use Creative Commons licenses for your work and set conditions of your choosing. You could say…Sure, I am happy for you to use my work, just say where you got it from, make sure you acknowledge the source. Seems reasonable. Again, does this accessibility make it less worthy? Not solely on the grounds of being free it doesn’t. Does a CC license then infer some credibility? Maybe not.



If you are splashing the creative commons logo on everything and feeling good about it, well done. Forgive me a second for getting all idealistic but you are still slapping rules and caveats on it that are there solely to protect yourself…if you’re a photographer that is. If you are a researcher, I would disagree. It seems a good start in a move towards open access and I suppose it does make everything feel a bit more legit, for now. It’s a start.

Having been shared and having been acknowledged, that’s when your discussions, your collaborations, the joining forces, the arguments, the further sharing can get going. That’s when the magic can start to happen that leads to better outcomes for patients. That is after all, why you did the research isn’t it?  Mmmm?

Copyright laws are about the protection of original material for the creator, to keep on feeding their family and that’s fair enough. Copyright and access though are different things. I’m not talking about profiteering from the hard work of others. I’m talking about access for decision making directly for treating patients. If that material is incorporated into education resources which are sold as courses then yes, we have a different problem, whatever your intentions.


It’s a tricky one.


We all might agree that it is all kinds of moral badness to deny treatment to people (or whole countries of people) on the grounds that they can’t afford it. Yet we are happy for this to continue in medical research and education. I would argue that it is just as unjust.

Keeping information behind paywalls is leading directly to the pirates, the copyright rule breakers, the ones who think it is right they should have all the information to make decisions for their patients. It is making criminals of those wanting to do right by their patients. Is it worse to be the one breaking copyright or to be the one denying access to people who could potentially benefit – and easily so in this new economy of easy sharing? Simon Carley answered my comment in his recent post about pirate platforms by saying you are distinguishing only between two evils. I strongly believe which one is the greater of those two evils and it is not the one breaking somebody else’s copyright rules in an age of world wide access and new economy publishing.

We need to put an end to journals who use scarcity in order to increase their own wealth – to the detriment of those who can’t join in. I haven’t yet quite figured out how (believe me, I’m working on it) but creative commons licenses and copyleft ideas might be a good place to start. A compromise on the way to Open Season.


So we should choose wisely how our research is shared and what can be done with it…or question why we did it in the first place.




I have just been challenged on all this though and here’s a new question I have been asked…

If you are so outspoken about free/open access to everything, what about your medical data? Should that be freely accessible?

Now there’s a question…and one for part three.


Some linked interesting-ness…


Creative Commons

Open Educational Resources Commons

EMJ Blog: What’s the future of medical journals?

Richard Smith: What will the post journal world look like?

Link tax is a thing? Seriously?


Please add your thoughts to the comments section below….





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