Pay to download Elsevier’s “open access” articles
March 21, 2012
Well, I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog trying to determine what the terms are for Elsevier’s elective open-access articles — what they term “Sponsored Articles“. [For anyone who needs to catch up: part 1, part 2, part 3, unofficial part 3-and-a-bit, part 4.]
We are as far as ever from getting a good, clear, explicit statement like the one Springer provide on their “Open Choice” page (“all Open Choice articles are published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license”. There — that wasn’t so hard, was it?) But we do have an important new nugget of information, thanks to a pair of tweets from Erin McKiernan (@emckiernan13).
We start at this page, the table of contents for Neuron 73(5). Neuron is published by Cell Press, which is an imprint of Elsevier. As you can see, a couple of the articles are marked as “Free Featured Article”:
Clicking through to the full text, we see that the Imaging Calcium in Neurons primer is indeed open to read:
So that’s good. (I don’t know whether this availability is because the authors paid the $3000 to promote the work to Sponsored Article status, or for some other reason. All I know for sure is that it’s a “Free Featured Article”.)
“Well”, I think to myself. “This primer on imaging calcium in neurons will be useful reading for my students. I’ll email them copies and tell them to read it.”
But wait! What’s this on the Summary page?
It’s not just the “Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc.” at the top — after all, we already knew that was going to be there. It’s not the passive-aggressive “All rights reserved” boilerplate. It’s that suspicious-looking “Permissions” link.
Permissions? But isn’t this open access? What more permission do I need?
Better click on it and find out.
Eh, what?! I need copyright clearance to reuse free content?
Just to see what happened, I went through filling in their form. (It reloads four or five times as you make selections from the dropdowns, so don’t expect a smooth ride. But that’s not important right now.) I told them that I want to give one electronic copy — marginal cost $0.001) to a student who I am teaching at the University of Bristol. I hit the QUICK PRICE button. Here we go:
And there is the quote, at the bottom. £10.88. Which is about $17.25. To download a single copy of a “free” article.
I am not making this up.
Just for fun, I clicked through one of the non-”free” articles in the same issue, to see how much it would cost to buy access to the PDF. It’s $31.50. So the cost of the “free” article is more than half that of the non-”free” one.
So let’s get this straight. “Free” means “we take the author’s copyright, all rights are reserved, but you can buy downloads at a 45% discount from what they would otherwise cost.”
Well, I am all out of shocked-,-shocked-I-tell-you. @FakeElsevier could hardly have made up something more far-fetched.