[Introduction from Mike. I'm on the OKFN's open-access mailing list, where we're currently embroiled in a rather tedious reiteration of the debate about the merits of the various open-access licences. On Monday, veteran of the OA wars Jan Velterop posted a message so perfect that I immediately asked him for permission to re-publish it as a guest post here on SV-POW!. He kindly agreed, so over to Jan for the rest of this post. The only changes I've made are to highlight what I consider the key passages.]

I’ve been following this discussion with increasing bemusement. Frankly, it’s getting ridiculous, at least in my humble opinion. A discussion such as this one about licensing and copyright only serves to demonstrate that copyright, once conceived as a way to stimulate and enable science and the arts, has degenerated into a way to frustrate, derange and debilitate knowledge exchange.

I’m not the first one to point out that absolutely anything, under any copyright licence or none, could be abused for evil purposes or, in more mild circumstances, lead to misunderstandings and accidental abuse. I agree with all those who said it.

The issue here is what science and scientific results stand for. Their purpose is emphatically not “to be copyrightable items”. Copyright, invented to combat commercial abuse, has become a means of commercial abuse. The purpose of science and scientific results is to enrich the world’s knowledge. Any commercial advantage – appropriate for industrially funded research – can be had by 1) keeping results secret (i.e. not publishing them), or 2) getting a patent. Science, particularly modern science, is nothing without a liberal exchange of ideas and information.

Ideally, scientific publications are not copyrightable at all, and community standards take care of proper acknowledgement. We don’t live in an ideal world, so we have to get as close as we can to that ideal, and that is by ameliorating the insidious pernicious effects of copyright with CC-Zero and CC-BY licences.

The existence of the NC rider or stipulation for CC licences is unfortunate and quite damaging. Mainly because of the vagueness and ambiguity of what ‘commercial use’ means. Ideas in published articles can be freely used for commercial purposes of any kind, as ideas are not copyrightable. Only “the way the ideas have been formulated” is covered by copyright, and thus by the NC clause in copyright licences. In my interpretation that means that most usage of published material that is not a straightforward selling of text or images can be freely done. But that’s my interpretation. And that’s exactly where it rubs, because all the NC clause does is introduce hypothetical difficulties and liabilities. As a result of which, NC practically means: “stay away from using this material, because you never know with all those predatory legal eagles around”. In other words, it’s virtually useless for modern, sophisticated scientific knowledge discovery, which doesn’t just consist of reading papers any longer, but increasingly relies on the ability to machine-process large amounts of relevant information, as human ocular reading of even a fraction of the information is not possible anymore. At least not in most fast-moving areas of the sciences. Read this article, or similar ones, if you want to be convinced: On the impossibility of being expert, BMJ 2010; 341  (Published 14 December 2010 – unfortunately behind a paywall).

The taxpayer angle (“must be open because the taxpayer paid for it”), leading to Kent Andersonian notions of knowledge protectionism (“results of research paid by US taxpayers should not be available to non-US citizens unless they pay for it”), is a most unfortunate, visceral and primitive reaction and a complete red herring. For many reasons, not least because the taxpayer, or vicariously the taxman, isn’t the party that pockets any money payed for paywalled information. Besides, how far do you go? Americans not being allowed to stay alive due to a cure that was developed with public money in Switzerland unless they pay through the nose for it to the Swiss tax authorities? The “as-long-as-I-am-well-the-rest-of-you-can-go-to-hell” personality disorder. The whole idea is so against the ethos of science that those even thinking in that direction must be taken to be utterly and entirely unsuitable to any role in the scientific community.

Access control and restriction via copyright was at best a necessary evil in the print era; the ‘necessary’, though, has disappeared in the web environment.

Have a nice day!

Jan Velterop

My thanks to Steve Wang for pointing out that The Paleontological Society (in the USA, not to be confused the UK’s Palaeontological Association) has a new open access policy. The highlights are:

The Journal of Paleontology and Paleobiology now offer two options for Open Access publishing [...]

Gold Open Access: authors or their institution may purchase Gold OA for their article by paying an Article Processing Fee (APC) of $2,500 ($1,500 for Society members). [...] Gold Open Access articles will be published under the terms of the CC-BY-NC 3.0 license by default or CC-BY 3.0 license upon request.

Green Open Access: Authors of all articles published in the Journal of Paleontology or Paleobiology may freely post (e.g., to personal and institutional web sites) and distribute freely the final accepted manuscript file (not the pdf of the published article) under Green Open Access, 12 months after its publication.

Positives

It’s good to see this real step forwards, and a lot of people are going to be particularly pleased that both Gold and Green are on offer.

The Gold APC, especially for members, is noticeably cheaper than at most of the legacy publishers. (It’s $2500 for non-members, but they can join the society for $55 to take advantage of the lower price.) Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Taylor and Francis have all spontaneously arrived at APCs at or very close to $3000 (and I’m quite sure there was no illegal price-fixing involved.) Members pay half of that — which is in the same ball-park as PLOS ONE’s long-established benchmark of $1350.

It’s excellent that there is an option to make the Gold articles true, BOAI-compliant open access by using the CC By licence.

It’s good that the Green OA embargo is no longer than 12 months.

Negatives

While $1500 is half the price of legacy publishers’ OA offerings, it still feels like a previous-generation APC. PeerJ, Ubiquity and Magnolia Press among others have raised the bar (or do I mean lowered it?) by charging APCs an order of magnitude less. It’s a shame that the Paleontological Society haven’t opted to go with a next-gen publisher such as Ubiquity, who publish quite a few society journals at good prices.

The default to the CC By-NC licence is unfortunate, as it will prevent legitimate scholarly uses including re-use of figures in commercial journals, uses in teaching at universities that charge tuition, and use in Wikipedia. We can hope that most authors will choose CC By, which suffers from none of these drawbacks; but experience shows that most authors’s immediate reaction, before they’ve thought it through in detail, is to err towards imposing more rather than less restrictions. The Society could have set expectations differently by using CC By except where authors request CC By-NC.

It’s odd that the policy stipulates that version 3.0 of the CC licences is used, when the current version is 4.0, but it’s not a big deal.

The imposition of the Green OA embargo is unfortunate (All Green-OA embargoes are iniquitous). Not only that, but 12 months exceeds the 6 months suggested by the better, earlier version of the RCUK policy and some others.

Nothing at all is said about the licence under which Green OA manuscripts should be made available. This is a missed opportunity, since in the absence of a clear statement of what is allowed, potential users will err on the side of safety — so, for example, PaleoSoc Green papers are likely to be omitted from content-mining projects.

Summary

This policy represents a valuable step forward for the Society; but it’s not all it could have been.

Some of the limitations have been imposed by the Society for its own benefit, which one can understand: the highish APC, the embargo (though of course there is no evidence that embargo-less Green affects subscription revenue).

But other limitations could easily be fixed at no cost to the Society. In particular, I would like to see them reverse the CC By/By-NC option, so that the more open option is the default; and I’d like them to make it clear that Green OA papers may be (and should preferentially be) provided under CC By, too.

The progressive RCUK policy on open access has recently come under fire, particularly from humanities scholars, for favouring Gold OA over Green. For various reasons — and I won’t, for now, go into the question of which of these reasons are and aren’t sound — they favour an approach to open access where publishers keep final versions of their papers behind paywalls, but drafts are deposited in institutional repositories (IRs) and people who want to read the paper can have access to the drafts.

It’s appealing to think that this relatively lightweight way of solving the access problem can work. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced it can, for several reasons. I’ll discuss these below, not so much with the intention of persuading people that Gold is a better approach, but with the hope that those of you who are Green advocates have seen things that I’ve missed and you’ll be able to explain why it can work after all.

two-classes

1. Two-class system

Most fundamentally, I worry that Green OA creates a two-class system which I can’t approve of. It does this in two ways.

First, it necessarily creates two classes of papers: author’s draft and publishers’ final versions. These will differ in some respects, and it’s hard in general to know what those respects are. Of course pagination will differ — which means you can’t cite page-numbers reliably. But other changes are possible as well. For example, Matt and I have a paper in press now for which a whole additional figure — an important one — was added at the proofing stage. In our case, the paper will be OA anyway, but if it were not then the authors’ manuscript would be a poor substitute.

And by implication, Green OA creates two classes of researchers — a potentially harmful division between those privileged few who have the “proper” papers and an underclass who have only manuscripts. (It doesn’t help that for stupid historical reasons, our manuscripts are often butt-ugly: double-spaced, line-numbered, all the figures at the end instead of where they’re needed, etc.)

Admittedly, the two-classes-of-researcher problem is not created by Green OA: it already exists, in a worse form where the underclass doesn’t have access to any version of the paper. But whereas Gold OA solves this problem (everyone has exactly the same access to PLOS and PeerJ papers), Green doesn’t.

(To me, it’s obvious that democratising access is a good thing. But now that I’ve made the notion explicit, I can’t help the uncharitable thought that there may be those out there who want to maintain a two-class system — to retain a notion that they are “in” while others are “out”. I hope I’m wrong, and I’m certainly not accusing Green OA advocates of having this motivation. It just seems like it might be implicit in some of the broader struggles over access. Anyway, let’s not confuse this separate potential problem with access with the actual problems with Green OA I’m addressing in this post.)

money-up-in-flames

2. Expense of continuing subscriptions

I find it baffling that people keep talking as though Green OA is cheaper than Gold. It isn’t, at all. As I’ve shown previously, the cost to the world of a paywalled paper (aggregated across all subscriptions) is about $5333. There is no reason to think that will change under the Green model, in which we continue to give the final and best version of our work to publishers.

By contrast, even the publisher-influenced Finch estimates typical Gold APCs as £1500-£2000 (about $2270-$3030), which amounts to 43%-57% as much. (Conveniently, the midpoint of the Finch range, £1750, is about $2650, which is almost exactly half of what we pay by the subscription model.

But the true cost of Gold OA is much, much less. Follow the link for the detail, but one credible banner figure starts with the observation that half of all Gold OA articles are published at no cost to the author and that the average APC of the other half is $906, to arrive at a true average APC of $453 — about one twelfth of the cost for a paywalled article.

So for purely pragmatic financial reasons, Green seems like a silly path. There’s a very short-term saving, sure, as we avoid paying APCs. But we have to look further ahead than the next five years.

delayed-lock

3. Embargoes

Now there is nothing intrinsic to Green OA that means embargoes must be in place. It’s perfectly possible, and manifestly desirable, that no-embargo Green-OA mandate should be enacted, requiring that authors’ final manuscripts become available immediately on publication. But for whatever historical reasons (and I admit I find this baffling) there are few or no Green-OA mandates that do this. Even the best of them seem to allow a six-month delay; twelve months is not uncommon (and Michael Eisen worries that the new White House policy with further establish twelve months as the norm.

I will have more to say about embargoes in a subsequent post. (SPOILER: it’s not going to be pretty.) But for now it suffices to say that any system that makes research freely available only a year after it’s published is wholly inadequate. Not to mention stupid. Stupid and inadequate.

So if Green OA is going to be the solution we need, it has to break free from embargoes.

by-nc

4. Non-open licences

Similarly, there is no intrinsic reason why Green OA should mean non-open licences and Gold OA should mean truly open (BOAI-compliant) open access. And yet history has brought us to a point where is often how things are. For example, the RCUK policy (even before its progressive erosion got properly under way) says of its Gold arm that “The CC-BY license should be used in this case”, but contains weasel words in its Green arm:

the journal must allow deposit of Accepted Manuscripts that include all changes resulting from peer review (but not necessarily incorporating the publisher’s formatting) in other repositories, without restrictions on non-commercial re-use.

This just won’t do. It’s not open access. To quote Heather Piwowar’s pithy statement once more, “We do basic research not only to know more, but to do more”. Non-commercial licences impede the use of research, and that’s not to the benefit of wider society. (I won’t labour this point now, because I’ll have more to say on non-commercial clauses in a subsequent post.)

So as with embargoes, if Green OA is going to be the solution we need, it has to break free to its habitual acceptance of non-commercial clauses.

teapot choc3

5. Practical failings

On top of the fundamental problems already discussion (two-class system, expense of continuing subscriptions, embargoes and non-open licences), the repository system as it exists today suffers from a suite of practical problems that render it pretty inadequate.

  • Many institutions don’t even have an IR; or if they do it doesn’t work.
  • Many scholars aren’t associated with an institution and so don’t know where they should reposit their manuscripts. (That this is overlooked is a symptom of an unfortunate elitist tendency among academics.) [UPDATE 4th March: thanks to Neil Stewart, whose comment below points out Open Depot as a solution to this.]
  • The use of IRs involves an institution-by-institution fragmentation, with different user interfaces, policies, etc.
  • For whatever reasons, many scholars do not bother to reposit their manuscripts in institution repositories.
  • Even when mandates are in place, compliance is often miserable, to the point where Peter Suber considers the 80% NIH compliance rate as “respectable”. It really isn’t. 100% is acceptable; 99% is respectable.
  • Many IRs have abject search facilities, often for example lacking the ability to restrict searches to papers that are actually available.
  • Many IRs impose unnecessary restrictions on the use of the materials they contain: for example, Bath’s repo prohibits further redistribution.
  • There is no central point for searching all IRs (at least not one that is half-decent; I know about OAIster).
  • The quality of metadata within most IRs variable at best
  • Use of metadata across IRs is inconsistent — hence many of the problems that render OAIster near-useless.

… and, I am sure, many more that I’ve not thought of right now.

Could these issues be addressed? Yes, probably; but ten years have unfortunately not done much to resolve them, so I don’t feel all that confident that the next ten will.

Do the IR advocates have a plan for solving these problems? Because they are much more political/sociological than technical, and those always seem to be the hardest ones to solve.

Here’s a timeline of what’s happened with the RCUK’s open access policy (with thanks to Richard Van Noorden for helping to elucidate it).

March 2012: draft policy released for comment. As I noted in my submission, it was excellent. It did not accept non-commercial clauses (on either Gold or Green OA), and allowed Green-OA embagoes of no more that six months (with a twelve-month exception for two humanities councils). “It is anticipated that the revised policy will be adopted in summer 2012″

July 2012: actual policy released. Weakened to allow publishers to impose non-commercial clauses on Green OA. (They didn’t tell anyone they’d made this change, as far as I ever saw. I discovered it for myself.) “The policy applies to all research papers whose work was funded by RCUK being submitted for publication from 1 April 2013″

November 2012: RCUK announce that they will only fund APCs for 45% of articles as Gold OA.

January 2013: RCUK announce that they “will not enforce” embargo periods.

February 2013: In response to House of Lords enquiry, RCUK clarifes “that it will gradually phase in its open access policy over a five year implementation phase”. BIS and RCUK both endorse embargo-period “decision tree” that allows embargoes of up to two years.

vomit

At every single step of the way, the RCUK policy has been weakened. From being the best and most progressive in the world, it’s now considerably weaker than policies already in action elsewhere in the world, and hardly represents an increment on their 2006 policy. Crucially, all three of the key differences discussed in March’s draft policy have now been eliminated:

  • “Specifically stating that Open Access includes unrestricted use of manual and automated text and data mining tools; and unrestricted reuse of content with proper attribution.” — not if you use Green OA.
  • “Requiring publication in journals that meet Research Council ‘standards’ for Open Access.” — this will not be enforced.
  • “No support for publisher embargoes of longer than six months from the date of publication (12 months for research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)).” — no, embargoes of up to 24 months allowed even in the sciences.

Can anyone doubt that the nobbling of a truly progressive policy was the result of lobbying by a truly regressive publishing industry? It’s been a tragedy to watch this policy erode away from something dramatic to almost nothing. Once more, it’s publishers versus everyone else.

Again, I have to ask this very simple question: why do we tolerate the obvious conflict of interest in allowing publishers to have any say at all in deciding how our government spends public money on publication services?

A while back, I submitted evidence to the House of Lords’ inquiry into Open Access — pointlessly, as it turns out, since they were too busy listening to the whining of publishers, and of misinformed traditionalist academics who hadn’t taken the trouble to learn about OA before making public statements about it.

Today the Lords’ report [PDF version] is out, summarised here. And it’s a crushing disappointment. As I’d feared, this inquiry didn’t represent an opportunity to forge ahead, but a retreat. The RCUK’s excellent OA policy is to be emasculated by a more gradual implementation, the acceptance of longer embargoes and a toning down of the preference for Gold over Green. (While there is case for Green in the abstract, the form of Green required by the RCUK policy is much weaker that its form of Gold, in that it doesn’t require a liberal licence such as would enable text-mining, use in education, etc.)

On top of that, RCUK have been criticised for “lack of clarity”: quite unfair since their policy is pretty explicit and in any case has twice been clarified on their blog. This is not a hard resource to find: anyone honestly concerned about a perceived lack of clarity could find it in ten seconds of googling. RCUK also caught criticism for lack of consultation — also unfairly, as they made a call for comments which I also responded to.

RCUK has responded apologetically to all this — “Lessons have been learned and we will continue to actively engage with the academic and publishing sectors” as though the publishing sector has any right to a say. I would much rather RCUK had shown the balls to stick with the leadership they initially provided, but I assume they’re under political pressures and were left with no choice. Instead, venality from publishers, ignorance from certain academics and cowardice from the Lords has conspired to strip the UK of its leadership in OA, and reduce it to being a follower.

As Nature News editor Richard Van Noorden said, “In other words, RCUK in response promises nothing it wasn’t doing already”. And the reason was rather diplomatically stated by ICL researcher Stephen Curry:  “Not 100% convinced their lordships have mastered topic”. You can say that again.

Taking a step back — and a deep breath — the weakened RCUK policy is still A Good Thing — just a much less good thing than it could have been, and was on track to be. At a time when radical new journals like eLife and PeerJ are showing just how much better our publishing ecosystem can be, it’s desperately disappointing to see the Lords backing an approach to OA that will mean we

What I would like to see from RCUK now is a statement that, if the public that funds our research is to face yet longer embargoes before it can see that work, it must at least be allowed to use it when it gets it. RCUK must insist on CC BY for the Green arm of its policy.

What is a viral licence?

February 8, 2013

Earlier today, Richard Van Noorden pointed out on Twitter that in this video, at about 5:40, the speaker says that “CC BY is essentially a viral licence”. I was surprised to say the least that the speaker – Sue Joshua, Director of Legal Affairs at John Wiley & Sons — would make such a basic mistake. I’d have expected a copyright lawyer to know what the term “viral licence” means.

Hence this post.

A viral licence is one that imposes the same terms on derived works. If you don’t believe me, here’s the Wikipedia entry, and if you don’t believe that here’s Princeton University’s definition.

This is the meaning of the term “viral licence”. It doesn’t mean “a licence that has suddenly become popular, i.e. ‘gone viral’”. It refers specifically to a licence that (by design) infects numerous works by transmitting itself to from one work to others.

The classic example of a viral licence is the GNU General Public Licence, which is used for much of the world’s most important free software including the Linux kernel. [Disclosure: in my day-job, some of the software we release is under the GPL: YAZ Proxy, Metaproxy, pazpar2, Zebra, IRSpy, MKDru.]

The other best-known viral licence is Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA). Specifically, this is differentiated from the more common non-viral CC BY licence by the addition of the ShareAlike clause, which says:

Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

The reason that CC BY is the most widely used licence for open-access publications is precisely that it is not viral — its non-viral nature means that work licenced using it can be deployed in the widest possible range of circumstances, which is generally what funders want in exchange for their money.

Why am I making such a big deal about this? Because we need to communicate! The term “viral licence” has one meaning, which makes it very easy and unambiguous to talk about. But if we allow Sue Joshua’s confusion to spread, the term will soon become debased just as “open access” has. I was surprised to see in today’s Twitter stream that a couple of people who I expected to know this term seemed unclear on it, so it’s worth clearing up.

[In this post I am not interested in arguing about whether viral licences are a good or a bad thing; just in establishing what they are.]

Hot on the heels of the UK House of Lords’ inquiry into Open Access, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee of the House of Commons has begun its own inquiry. This morning I submitted my own evidence. Here it is.

[It's not too late to make your own submission. It doesn't have to be as long as this: just let the government know your attitude regarding the parts of the question that concern you most. Again, details are here. Get writing!]

Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

Inquiry into the Government’s Open Access Policy

Dr. Michael P. Taylor

7th February 2013

I am an honorary research associate in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. A computer programmer by profession, I completed a Ph.D in my spare time in 2009, and continue to publish research in vertebrate palaeontology. Although my Bristol affiliation gives me reasonable access to paywalled literature, the mechanics of access are cumbersome as I work exclusively off-campus. My unusual circumstances give me a perspective from both inside and outside academia.

I speak only for myself, not for the University of Bristol.

Executive summary

  1. The UK currently leads the world in Open Access, and as a result enjoys a significant citation advantage; the rest of the world is following.
  2. The purpose of funding research is to benefit society as a whole. When publishers’ interests conflict with those of broader society, the government must serve society.
  3. The inclusion of publishers on the Finch Committee represents a conflict of interest. Some recommendations of the Finch Report were compromised by this conflict of interest.
  4. Gold OA has a real advantages over Green OA in that it presents a single Version Of Record. But the Finch Report does not give proper weight to Green OA.
  5. The form of Green OA mandated by the RCUK policy is badly compromised in allowing restrictive licences and delayed access that reduce the value of the research.
  6. There is no evidence that Green OA negatively affects subscription revenue.
  7. CC BY allows commercial re-use by design, in order to obtain the best return on research investment. It explicitly prohibits plagiarism. It does not infringe author’s rights, in fact allowing authors to retain more rights than the prevailing copyright-transfer regime.
  8. The use of CC BY means that research does not merely allow us to know more, but to do more. It is not anti-commercial, it is anti-monopoly (and so facilitates an efficient market).
  9. Gold OA APCs vary greatly between publishers: traditional publishers are far more expensive than new OA-only publishers. Much lower APCs than the £1500–£2000 quoted by the Finch Report are achievable with no loss of publication quality. Government funding should cover only a base APC of perhaps £1000 to encourage downward pressure on prices.
  10. The government must make decisions on the basis of what benefits the UK as a whole, not what benefits any single industry. The government should allow both Gold and Green OA; should require the CC BY licence, whichever route is taken; should tolerate no embargo on Green OA; and should not fully fund exploitatively high APCs.

Principles

1. First, I enthusiastically welcome the government’s clearly stated commitment to Open Access (OA). There is no question that the free availability of research outputs will have a significant positive effect – not only by accelerating further research, but also in the form of practical improvements in health, education and industry.

2. I am also delighted to see the UK leading the world in Open Access. RCUK’s pre-Finch OA policy was one of the world’s earliest and most significant; the Finch Report established a clarity of vision not previously seen in any national OA policy; and BIS’s public commitment to OA in all government-funded work was a world first. As noted below, there are strong pragmatic reasons for the UK to maintain a position of leadership. But even leaving these aside, the symbolic value of leadership in open access can hardly be overstated.

3. Equally, it has been hugely encouraging to see the world following the UK’s lead. In the days after the announcement of the UK policy, similar declarations followed from several European countries; and most importantly, the €80M “Horizon 2020” programme of the European Commission also announced an Open Access policy. Global research is not a zero-sum game: the UK’s gain is not other countries’ loss or vice versa. As more countries open up their research outputs, the whole world benefits.

4. Against this backdrop, implementation issues must be discussed with a simple but important principle in mind: who is publicly-funded research for? When the question is stated explicitly, the answer is immediately obvious: it is for the public that funds it – for the citizens whose health, education and economic prospects are all improved by Open Access.

5. Unfortunately, the implementation strategies recommended by the Finch Report are not those that would most benefit the public, but are slanted towards the interests of academic publishers. This is because, as noted on page 113 of the Finch Report, three of the fourteen working members of the group represent publishers. The involvement of publishers in deciding the UK’s publishing policy is mystifying, as it represents a clear conflict of interest.

6. There is no question that in the process of research, publishers provide important services; but so do the providers of IT infrastructure and manufacturers of laboratory equipment, and their input was not sought in formulating policy. Neither should publishers have been consulted. The proper approach would have been for researchers, librarians, university administrators, funders, medics, educators and businesses to have worked out what policy and what strategy would best serve them in their goal of performing, disseminating and exploiting research; and then to negotiate with publishers (as with IT service providers and lab-equipment manufacturers) to obtain the necessary services at the best prices.

7. It is because of publisher involvement in the Finch Committee that the recommendations of the Report are skewed towards the interests of that one small group at the expense of citizens. All of the flaws in the recommendations in the report are directly attributable to this.

Specific issues

The Government’s acceptance of the recommendations of the Finch Group Report ‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications’, including its preference for the ‘gold’ over the ‘green’ open access model

8. There are good and legitimate reasons to prefer Gold over Green. Most importantly, there is no possibility of confusion over which is the version of record under the Gold model. However, the Finch Report goes much further than expressing a preference for Gold, by almost entirely omitting Green from its discussion. (The word “green” appears only three times in the 140 pages of the report and one of these is a reference to the HM Treasury Green Book.)

9. Perhaps as a result of this, the Green OA provisions of the revised RCUK policy are much weaker than its Gold OA provisions. In particular, while RCUK-funded work that is published as Gold OA must use the very permissive Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY), whereas work published as Green OA may have restrictive non-commercial clauses inserted. The inclusion of non-commercial clauses greatly diminishes the value of work, as discussed in the next section.

10. The Finch Report also allows embargoes – i.e. delays in availability – when research is published as Green OA, and the RCUK policy follows this (although it shortens the delays). Allowing such delays necessarily entails delaying all the benefits of Open Access, and thereby retards the progress of research, medicine, education and industry. There is no justification for these delays: even if they benefit publishers by enabling them to avoid subscription cancellations, the interests of publishers must be outweighed by those of all the other stakeholders.

11. In any case, counter-intuitively there is no evidence that Green OA hurts subscription revenue at all. The JISC/European-funded PEER project1, after nearly four years’ work, concluded that “there is no evidence that self-archiving has harmful effects on journal viability”. This is the only large-scale analysis of this issue to have been undertaken, and the only solid data we have to go on: publishers’ statements about effects of Green OA on subscription revenue are guesses, not informed by data.

12. In conclusion, the full benefit of Green OA will be realised only if Green articles are licenced using CC BY and if they are made available from the date of publication rather than after an embargo. If these changes have a negative effect on publishers (which all the evidence says they will not), then that is regrettable; but it would not be a reason to delay access to, and reduce the utility of, publicly funded research.

Rights of use and re-use in relation to open access research publications, including the implications of Creative Commons ‘CC-BY’ licences

13. The CC BY licence embodies the original definition of the term “Open Access” by the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI)2, and has been widely adopted as the open-access licence of choice by respected OA publishers such as BioMed Central (BMC) and the Public Library of Science (PLOS). It ensures that the published works can be used by the widest spectrum of organisations – not only to facilitate further pure research, but also to be used in education and to catalyse innovation in industry

14. Recently some regrettable misunderstandings of the CC BY licence have been promulgated, notably in an anti-Finch letter from editors of 21 history journals3. This claimed that the use of CC BY “means that commercial re-use, plagiarism, and republication of an author’s work will be possible, subject to the author being ‘credited’ (but it is not clear in what way they would be credited). We believe that this is a serious infringement of intellectual property rights and we do not want our authors to have to sign away their rights in order to publish with us.” I will address these misunderstandings in turn.

15. commercial re-use: yes, by design the CC BY licence makes this possible. Contrary to the assumption of the history-journal editors, this is not a bug but a feature. The goal of the UK government policy is to benefit the UK in general, including its many commercial concerns.

16. plagiarism: it is flatly wrong to say that CC BY encourages plagiarism. Plagiarism is the use of another person’s work without acknowledgement; but the CC BY licence explicitly does require acknowledgement. It is not possible to plagiarise and be within the terms of this licence.

17. republication of an author’s work: yes, the CC BY licence does allow this. So do the agreements currently in use by most publishers, which allow the publisher to anthologise and otherwise reuse author’s works with or without their consent. Again, this is a good thing: it enables the full value of the work to be realised, whether in an educational or commercial setting.

18. it is not clear in what way they would be credited: on the contrary, the text of the CC BY licence4 plainly states “You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work)”.

19. serious infringement of intellectual property rights: quite the reverse: the CC BY licence codifies the standard scholarly practice whereby authors’ works are used in various ways with full attribution but without further financial compensation. (After all, scholars have already been paid for their work.)

20. we do not want our authors to have to sign away their rights in order to publish with us: this statement betrays a surprising ignorance of standard journal requirements, including those of many of the journals whose editors signed the letter. These journals require the author to sign copyright over to the publisher, a far greater violation of intellectual property rights than in the open-access model.

21. The goal of the CC BY licence is to allow the full value of a work to be realised. By contrast, the non-commercial (NC) clause that the current RCUK policy allows in the case of Green OA outright prohibits use of the work in many important situations – e.g. in health, education and commercial enterprises. Worse still, the uncertainty introduced by a non-commercial clause has a chilling effect, stifling uses that might be allowed but which the innovator does not want to risk having to defend in court. There is no justification for a ban on commercial use of research publications. We fund research not only in order to know more, but in order to do more.

22. A particularly important application of Open Access articles is that massive numbers of articles can be “mined” by computer programs far more efficiently than any human can read them. Such techniques are already in use in a limited way and proving their value: for example, in discovering and synthesising new chemical formulae5. However, such work is greatly impeded by the difficulty of obtaining permission from publishers, and assurances that they will not claim ownership of the results. The use of a permissive licence such as CC BY disposes of such concerns and encourages innovative uses of research data that we cannot yet envisage.

23. Eric Kansa, of the University of California at Berkeley, summed up the misunderstandings and realities of fully open licences such as CC BY very efficiently: “While Open Access is not anti-commercial, it is anti-monopoly”. Monopolies lead to inefficient markets and poor economic utilisation. Permissive licences on publicly-funded work fix that.

24. In conclusion: for the benefit of the country as a whole, the government should renew its commitment to the use of the CC BY licence on all the Gold OA research that it funds, and extend this to Green OA publications as well.

The costs of article processing charges (APCs) and the implications for research funding and for the taxpayer

25. Simple calculations6 conservatively estimate the overall cost to the worldwide academic community of an average paywalled article at £3307 (£4.96 billion total paywall revenue each year for 1.5 million articles). Naively, an APC needs only be cheaper than this to achieve a net economic improvement. In practice, APCs need to be significantly cheaper because of the difficulty of making a transition to Gold OA while subscriptions are still being paid.

26. At present, APCs for Gold OA are under strong price pressure. I will review some key data points as they were one year ago, then consider recent developments.

  • Typical APCs from traditional publishers (Elsevier “sponsored article”, Springer Open Choice) are in the region of $3000 (about £1950)
  • The open-access megajournal PLOS ONE charges $1350 (about £862)
  • The broad survey of Solomon and Björk (2012) found an average Gold OA fee of $906 (about £579).

27. In the last year, significant developments have changed the landscape. In roughly chronological order:

  • The new high-impact journal eLife, sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust, is initially waiving all APCs.
  • The new for-profit open-access megajournal PeerJ introduces a new model where each author pays $99 (about £63) for a lifetime membership, which covers one publication each year at no further charge. (A $299 (~£189) lifetime membership covers unlimited publications.)
  • The new Forum of Mathematics journals will waive all APCs for the first three years, after which they may charge £500 or may find a different revenue stream and retain a zero APC.
  • The open-access humanities megajournal SAGE Open recently dropped its APC to $99.

28. Other new open-access ventures continue to emerge, including the Episciences initiative to create overlay journals for arXiv, and the Open Library of Humanities.

29. As low as these prices are, a surprising finding by Stuart Shieber of Harvard is that 70% of all open-access journals charge no APC at all7. Others have independently found similar results.

30. In the light of all this, it is surprising that the Finch Report suggests a typical APC of “£1500-£2000”. The only explanation for this is that the bulk of the APCs in the sample that this range was calculated from was biased by many high-priced papers in traditional publishers’ journals. If this is so, then a cultural change is required in researchers. There is no reason why the majority of papers should not be published in outlets with much lower APCs. (In most cases the new journals also offer other benefits, such as unlimited colour figures and supplementary information, and the ability to include audio and video in the published work.)

31. A shift away from traditional journals to newer “born open-access” journals is likely to be accelerated if there is some pressure on researchers to overcome their innate conservatism and choose venues accordingly. Researchers may find it more convenient to keep submitting to the same journals they have used previously, publishing their work as Gold OA with the APCs covered by funders. But this convenience, while attractive in the short term, will inhibit long-term change.

32. For this reason, I would support a cap on the APCs that will be paid by funders: for example, RCUK could elect to fund the first £1000 of each APC, leaving authors who insist on using more expensive journals to top up the fee from their own grants. The resulting downward pressure on prices would ensure that a true market in Gold OA provision emerges.

33. In some quarters, such a scheme might be described as a curtailment of academic freedom. It is not. The phrase “academic freedom” refers to the freedom to choose what to study and what opinions to express – not what venues to publish the results in. A researcher who freely elects what to work on is just as free, whatever journal his paper appears in.

34. In conclusion, government funding should cover the costs of modest APCs; but there is no need for them to continue to support very expensive journals as far cheaper alternatives are now becoming available at no loss of quality.

The level of ‘gold’ open access uptake in the rest of the world versus the UK, and the ability of UK higher education institutions to remain competitive.

35. Some critics of the Finch Report and RCUK’s updated OA policy have complained that by making British-funded research outputs Open Access, these policies will put the UK’s researchers at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world, because our research grants will have to bear the cost of APCs while those of others do not.

36. This complaint is true, but misleading. In the first place, all the signs are that the world as a whole is moving towards universal Open Access, so any period of Britain alone paying APCs will likely be short.

37. But more importantly, by making their work Open Access, British researchers place themselves at a huge advantage in terms of the visibility of their work. Numerous studies have now been performed on the Open-Access Citation Advantage. A good summary is found in the meta-analysis of Swan (2010)8. Swan surveyed 31 studies of the OACA, showing that 27 of them found an advantage of between 45% and 600%. I analysed the final table of that report, averaging the citation advantages given for each of ten academic fields (using the midpoints of ranges when given), and found that on average open-access articles are cited 2.76 times as often as non-open.

38. In conclusion, having made a bold beginning, the UK government should push vigorously on with its open-access plans, yielding benefits for medicine, education and industry, and giving its academics a competitive advantage over the rest of the world.

Conclusions

39. We must remember that what is best for the country as a whole will not necessarily be best for each group that is affected. In this case, it is clear that the UK will benefit from Open Access that is immediate and uses permissive licences, whether achieved by the Gold or Green route. It is likely that publishers will (rightly or wrongly) fear some damage to their business as this change is made. But the interests of one small group – publishers – must not be allowed to compromise decisions made on behalf of all other stakeholders. In particular, the government of the UK is beholden to its citizens, not to the publishing industry. The government must make decisions that promote the welfare of citizens rather than decisions that suit any one business.

40. Note that publishers who find the revised Green-OA terms unacceptable will be at liberty to decline offers of manuscripts resulting from Government-funded research. (In practice, this is unlikely to happen: rather than forego the opportunity to publish publicly funded research, publishers will simply accept the loss of their government-granted monopoly on the commercial exploitation of this research.)

41. It is not the job of government to concern itself with challenges faced by the publishing community at the expense of other stakeholders. This assertion does not arise from hostility to publishers, but from a simple recognition of who the government serves.

Footnotes

1. PEER Project: http://www.peerproject.eu/

3. Statement on position in relation to open access: http://www.history.ac.uk/news/2012-12-10/statement-position-relation-open-access

4. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

6. What does it cost to publish a paywalled paper with anyone?: http://svpow.com/2012/07/18/what-does-it-cost-to-publish-a-paywalled-paper-with-anyone/

8. Swan, Alma (2010) The Open Access citation advantage: Studies and results to date. http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/268516/2/Citation_advantage_paper.pdf

Other response to this call:

[Originally written as a comment on Martin Coward's blog, but I thought the point was worth making as its own post.]

Here’s my take on the widely used Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY) in contrast to more restrictive CC licences such as the Non-Commercial variant (CC BY-NC).

It may be true, as Martin suggests, that CC BY-NC is better for the author than CC BY. But authors are part of a community, and it’s unquestionably better for the broader community that CC BY be used. It’s better for society that commercial applications of the author’s research be allowed and encouraged.

research-to-money

So long as researchers are funded by that broader community, it’s fair that funders should be able to mandate the more permissive licence, which is better for society. If we kick back against that — if we say it’s not enough to be paid to do research, we also want a slice of the commercial uses of our work — we only perpetuate society’s ivory-tower stereotype of academics who think the world owes them a living.

So while there is certainly an argument to be made that CC BY is also better for the researcher, I think that whether that’s true or not, simple justice requires that no additional restrictions be placed on such work.

We know that most academic journals and edited volumes ask authors to sign a copyright transfer agreement before proceeding with publication. When this is done, the publisher becomes the owner of the paper; the author may retain some rights according to the grace or otherwise of the publisher.

Plenty of authors have rightly railed against this land-grab, which publishers have been quite unable to justify. On occasion we’ve found ways to avoid the transfer, including the excellent structured approach that is the SPARC Author Addendum and my tactic of transferring copyright to my wife.

Works produced by the U.S. Federal Government are not protected by copyright. For example, papers written by Bill Parker as part of his work at Petrified Forest National Park are in the public domain.

Journals know this, and have clauses in their copyright transfer agreements to deal with it. For example, Elsevier’s template agreement has a box to check that says “I am a US Government employee and there is no copyright to transfer”, and the publishing agreement itself reads as follows (emphasis added):

Assignment of publishing rights
I hereby assign to <Copyright owner> the copyright in the manuscript identified above (government authors not electing to transfer agree to assign a non-exclusive licence) and any supplemental tables, illustrations or other information submitted therewith that are intended for publication as part of or as a supplement to the manuscript (the “Article”) in all forms and media (whether now known or hereafter developed), throughout the world, in all languages, for the full term of copyright, effective when and if the article is accepted for publication.

So journals and publishers are already set up to deal with public domain works that have no copyright. And that made me wonder why this option should be restricted to U.S. Federal employees.

What would happen if I just unilaterally place my manuscript in the public domain before submitting it? (This is easy to do: you can use the Creative Commons CC0 tool.)

Once I’d done that, I would be unable to sign a copyright transfer agreement. Not merely unwilling — I wouldn’t need to argue with publishers, “Oh, I don’t want to sign that”. It would be simpler than this. It’s would just be “There is no copyright to transfer”.

What would publishers say?

What could they say?

“We only publish public-domain works if they were written by U.S. federal employees”?

The best open-access publishers make their articles open from the get-go, and leave them that way forever. (That’s part of what makes them best.) But it’s not unusual to find articles which either start out free to access, then go behind a paywall; or that start out paywalled but are later released; or that live behind a paywall but peek out for a limited period.

Let’s talk about these.

Initial “open access”

You’ll sometimes come across journals where articles are free to read for some initial period after their publication. For example, the announcement of the Journal of Photonics for Energy says “The journal will be available as open access for the first year”; and the 2008/9 progress report for the Journal of Nutrition says “We will continue to restrict open access for one year, as per current procedure”.

Despite the good intentions of the journals, these articles are not open access in any useful sense. The point of an open-access article is that it’s there when you need it. If it’s there this week, but I need to read and cite it next week when I can’t get it any more, then that’s no good.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that publishers have a mandate to keep articles up on their web-sites forever (although we would prefer that they do). What it means is that, if they want to be open access, they can’t prohibit others from mirroring and archiving those papers, and continuing to make them available after they’ve disappeared from the publisher’s site.

Note that any article published with a Creative Commons licence — even the most restrictive of those licences — is safe from this kind of disappearance. Those licences guarantee third parties’ rights to archive, replicate and redistribute the articles.

Delayed open access

it’s probably more common to take the opposite approach. Some journals, including Science and Proceedings B, make articles free to read, and so “gratis open access”, after an embargo period during which they are available only to subscribers.  This period is one year in the case of both these journals; that seems to be typical.

Are such journals open access? I would say that the journals themselves are not open access, but that the articles become open access once they cross the release line. So for example, Raichlen and Polk’s new neurobiology paper in Proc B. is not open access, but Anderson et al.’s seed-dispersal paper (which is a year older) is. On that basis you might choose to refer to Proc B. as a “delayed open access” journal.

[Unfortunately, Science is not truly open access even for older articles such as Stevens and Parrish's DinoMorph. That's because it requires registration/login before you can get to the papers. The BOAI FAQ does not accept registration-required content as open access, specifying "without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself".]

Transitory “open access”

And then you have the worst of both worlds. Every now an then a journal or a publisher has a special offer where they open up access to their articles for a limited period — for example, this one where the Royal Society opened up all their content for two weeks, or this where an issue of European Physical Journal D was opened for a week.

It seems churlish to criticise a generous action like this, but I find it close to useless, and I think most other researchers will, too. When I am working on a paper, I don’t choose what to cite based on which journal or publisher the papers are from: I would never think, “Oh, let’s see, European Physical Journal D is open at the moment, I’ll cite something from there”. I cite what’s relevant and appropriate, irrespective of its source; and if I can’t get the papers I need at that time there’s a problem.

I sometimes wonder what publishers think will be the result of this kind of limited-time-only offer. One obvious outcome is that people will batch-download the transitorily available content — either to store up for themselves in case they even happen to need it (which is wasteful of both bandwidth and storage); or to post openly elsewhere for permanence (which is usually a violation of copyright).

To summarise: I think that making articles open access after a delay is a good thing (though obviously not as good as making them open access immediately!). But that making them free to read for a limited time — either when first published or as part of some special event later — is of very limited value, and can’t really be described as open access.

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