Redactor: automatically find CC material for your documents

, May 24th, 2014

The following is an interview with Will Fyson, PhD researcher at the University of Southampton, and creator of the Redactor, a tool which helps researchers share their work more easily using Creative Commons licensed content.

What is the Redact-O-Matic?

To “redact” is the process of censoring or obscuring a document so that it may be published. The Redactor tool is an online service ( which facilitates such a process, but offers an alternative to merely censoring, by helping users find a Creative Commons licensed works that may act as a suitable replacement for any copyright infringing or sensitive materials, the presence of which may be preventing a document from being published in its entirety.

The redactor tool offers users the ability to either redact sections of text from a document or choose from a number of different options to redact images. Approaches to redacting images include:

Replace the image in the document with a Creative Commons licensed alternative (sourced from either Google Images or Flickr). This option is useful when the author does not possess the right to distribute the image, but should be able to find a suitable alternative online. The user can specify if they need to create derivatives of the replacement or use it commercially, and when a suitable replacement has been found this new image is embedded within the document, along with an attribution including the title of the image, the original owner and the licence under which it has been made available.

Add a Creative Commons licence to the image. If the author is in a position where they are free to distribute the image, then they can add a CC licence of their choosing to the image’s metadata along with an attribute within the document.

CC Licences can be added to image metadata

Figure – CC Licences can be added to image metadata

Obfuscate the image, making the original content unavailable to the reader. This option may be ideal if a suitable replacement for the image cannot be found (for example there may not be a useful substitute for a detailed diagram), and the author does not have the right to redistribute the image.

An image obscured via pixelation

Paragraphs within documents can be redacted too; an option that may be especially useful if the document contains some content which may be commercially sensitive for example, alongside other content which would otherwise be available to distribute without consequence.

Who are the primary users?

The redactor tool has been designed to be used within a scholarly context, allowing researchers to publish some of their work whilst not jeopardising their claims to future publications and research areas. I suspect the redactor may also find use in a wider educational context, helping to make teaching materials available online. However the redactor is of course open for anyone to use who is aware of CC licences and wishes to ensure their works can be made available in an open fashion.

What motivated you to create it?

The original idea behind the redactor was to create a tool that eliminates some of the barriers that may dissuade researchers from making some of their work available to the rest of the academic community. At present a lot of scholarly output remains in desk drawers or on computer hard drives, often as a result of concerns held by researchers that they may be gazumped (that is to say another researcher may use a researcher’s results to make a discovery before the original author is able to) or because of confusion over the legal issues of disseminating their work.

It is hoped that the redactor can help alleviate researchers’ concerns by letting them address the problem. Whilst an author (or perhaps their supervisor) may not wish for the entirety of the work to be made available to the wider community, through the redactor aspects of it which may still be publishable can ultimately see the light of the day and thus be of benefit to the wider academic community.

Doing this kind of thing manually could be very time-consuming – do you think this is a major factor preventing the use of appropriately licensed material?

I agree that the time-consuming nature is likely to result in authors not always using appropriately licensed material. It really is very convenient to just grab any image from the Web and not worry about rights issues (and many will likely think that there are few, if any implications for doing so). Ultimately researchers tend to want to spend their time actually doing research and generating new findings rather than worrying about how they are going to present them.

I suspect also that there many may be unsure as to how Creative Commons licences could be applied to their work or that such a wealth of CC licensed material is already available online to be taken advantage of.

Do you have plans to extend the functionality?

I’m currently working on incorporating a version of the redactor into the popular institutional repository software EPrints. The plan is for users to be able to simply click a button for their deposit in EPrints which takes the user to the redactor, in which they can commit some redactions and deposit a new, ready to publish edition of the document back into the EPrints repository.

Another interesting area for development is the notion of transforming the redactor into a “Disaggregator” – a tool that takes a large body of work and assists the user in pulling out smaller, self-contained items of work within that original collection so they can go on to be published elsewhere on their own merit. This notion of disaggregation, taking a large aggregated body of work and from it producing lots of smaller chunks with which the original author could expand their portfolio and demonstrate their skills and experiences, is a running theme of my PhD research and thus an interesting direction to take the redactor.

I do also think that the redactor tool could be of great use to those working in education and I’d be intrigued to see if it could be set up as not only a place for redacting educational materials, but also sharing them. For example any images which the uploading author has the rights to and so can apply a CC licence could perhaps then be indexed so that future users may use them too, resulting in a new CC image library building over time.

 And naturally it would be nice in future to allow the Redactor to handle a wider range of file types and use more CC search engines!

The online Redactor tool can be found here:

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