Tutorial 27: how to publish an open-access paper in a paywalled journal

January 22, 2014

I got in a conversation recently with a friend who is about to have his first paper published. It’s been through review and is now accepted at a well-respected old-school journal owned by a legacy publisher. It’s not an open-access journal, and he asked my advice on how he could make the paper open access.

We had a fruitful discussion, and we agreed that I’d write up the conclusions for this blog.

First, you can pay the publisher to open-access your paper. That’s a legitimate option at “hybrid OA” journals, which by this point is pretty much all paywalled journals. But even when the journal invites it, that’s not always possible. In this case, my friend has no institutional funds available, and really isn’t in a position to bung the publisher $3000 out of his own pocket.

The second option is to write to the journal saying that you select the OA option, but that since you have no institutional support you have to ask for a waiver. Will this work? It’s impossible to tell unless you try it. Some journals might have an absolutely-no-waiver policy; heck, some might have a “we always give waivers but don’t advertise the fact” policy. My guess is that most have no policy at all, but that editors (who are nearly all researchers themselves) will tend to be sympathetic, and support your case. Anyway, it can’t hurt to politely ask.

If that fails, the the third approach is to use the SPARC Author Addendum. Using this legal instrument (which is freely available), you do not transfer copyright to the publisher, as they usually request, but instead give them a non-exclusive right to publish — which of course is all they actually need. That leaves you legally free to post the accepted (peer-reviewed) version of the manuscript elsewhere: in an institutional repository, your own web-site or wherever. (I’ve never used this myself, but I hear it’s widely accepted.)

If the publisher is intransigent enough to reject the SPARC Addendum, the fourth approach is to dedicate your manuscript to the public domain (for example by posting it on arXiv with the CC Public Domain Declaration). Then return the copyright transfer form to the publisher, saying truthfully that there is no copyright to transfer. Publishers are used to dealing with submissions that have no copyright: for example, everything authored by U.S. federal employees is in the public domain. Their copyright forms usually already have a section for declaring public domain.

Finally if somehow all of the above tactics fail — if the journal flatly refuses to give an APC waiver, won’t accept the SPARC addendum, and rejects works that are in the public domain though not written by US Government employees — and if despite their evident hostility to science you still want to stick with the journal that accepted your paper — then you have one final option. You can just go ahead and give them the copyright, but then post the final PDF on your own web-site anyway. Of course, you are not technically allowed to do that, but historically it’s never been a problem. It’s very widely done — especially by old-school professors, because it would never even occur to them that sharing their own work could be a problem.

To be clear, I am not advocating the last of these. The four preceding approaches are better because they are fully in compliance with copyright law. But when dealing with a publisher that is simply determined to prevent your work from being read, then you have to weigh for yourself whether you’re more interested in respecting copyright, or doing what’s right.

This is the situation with several of my own old papers, which in my young and stupid days I signed over to publishers without giving it any thought at all. Having got myself into that situation, it seems to me that making those papers available anyway is the least bad of several bad options. But I would never choose that approach now, since I publish exclusively in open-access venues.


Option zero (not discussed here) is to use an open-access venue to start with: then none of these issues even arise. But failing that:

  1. If you have funds, use them to pay the publisher an APC to make the article open access.
  2. Ask the journal for an APC waiver.
  3. Use the SPARC Author Addendum to retain copyright and give the journal a licence to publish.
  4. Dedicate the manuscript to the public domain and tell the publisher there is no copyright to transfer.
  5. If all else fails, just post the paper publicly anyway.

19 Responses to “Tutorial 27: how to publish an open-access paper in a paywalled journal”

  1. Dan S Says:

    Great summary!

    (Typo in penultimate para: “interesting in” should be “interested in”)

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks — for both the kind words and the typo report (now fixed).

  3. Simple option that has been used in maths and physics for years, with no problems-
    Send to paywalled journal, sign their form.
    Put preprint on Arxiv or your own website.

  4. Charles Oppenheim Says:

    One further method for those dealing with intransigent publishers, called by some (including Stevan Harnad) the “Harnad-Oppenheim” solution: put the manuscript you submitted before refereeing onto an OA repository. It’s only the final accepted manuscript which the journal owns rights to. Assuming the paper has only had minor changes from peer review, that’s a reasonable solution and has the advantage of not breaking any law. If, however, there have been drastic changes, then it’s not recommended.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    “It’s only the final accepted manuscript which the journal owns rights to.”

    The publisher doesn’t own the rights to anything until you sign them over. So don’t do that. (All but the last of the strategies on the list above are ways to avoid giving the publisher a copyright that it neither needs nor deserves.)

  6. scurry1963 Says:

    On the SPARC addendum you say “I’ve never used this myself, but I hear it’s widely accepted.”

    Can you give specifics? I asked about the addendum yesterday on Twitter but didn’t find a single case where it had been tried, whether successfully or unsuccessfully. I think if there were some real data on successful uses, that might encourage more people to try it.

  7. telescoper Says:

    Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    Some tips on how to get your paper published open-access despite a publisher’s paywall. Personally, I think you should go direct to Step 5…

  8. Charles Oppenheim Says:

    Scurry 1963: I have used the SPARC addendum, or similar wording, several times with a range of large scholarly publishers, without any problem

    Mike Taylor: I DID say to use the Harnad-Oppenheim solution in the case of intransigent publishers, i.e., those that insist on a copyright transfer.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Note that dedicating a paper to the public domain is legally irreversible, and well-known publishers might actually refuse to publish it afterwards. (See, for example, http://r6.ca/blog/20110930T012533Z.html.) So definitely do not try this unless you are willing to accept the consequences.

    As for posting the paper in violation of copyright, that can be an effective way of making it available now. However, it doesn’t guarantee availability in the future (e.g., if you retire and shut down your web site, or if the publisher convinces your hosting service to take down the paper), so it’s inferior to some of the other solutions even aside from illegality.

  10. Andy Farke Says:

    I have used a SPARC-like addendum on two occasions, with success (Elsevier–a manuscript submitted before the boycott began and for which it would not be fair to the student co-author to yank at an advanced stage; and Wiley). I say “SPARC-like” because it was an agreement that the publisher had on hand that was (for me) functionally close enough to the SPARC addendum to be acceptable. However, no publisher advertises the fact that you can do this…in fact, some make it seem to be an impossibility. In one recent case (a Wiley journal), they had an electronic form to click through/type your name in rather than one to physically sign and scan…I had to email a few times to get some movement, but was able to prevail in the end. Also, be sure to read CAREFULLY on any revised agreements…I was accidentally sent an agreement identical to the “standard” one (no, I do not think this was intentional). Also, at least some journals only allow you to archive the pre-review version as a default; you may have to negotiate ability to post the final reviewed version.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks for that link, Anonymous. What a very depressing story. The moral seems to be a tediously predictable one: that was long as the author was dealing with editors and other human beings, all was well; but as soon as he had to deal with automatic processes and lawyers, it all went Pete Tong. One thing I have learned is that lawyers will always always skew in the direction that minimises their own personal exposure, which in practice means they will always advise you that, to be safe, you should do nothing at all. It behoves us all to avoid dealing with them at all whenever possible. Their goals are not our goals. (Nor are they even the goals of the publisher.)

    It’s funny to think I used to hold the ACM in such high regard back in the late 80s and early 90s. I still have my copy of Communications of the ACM for December 1990 (the Unix issue) featuring the eye-opening Miller at al. paper on testing Unix utilities with streams of noise. I suppose back then before the Web it was much easier for them to look like a scholarly society rather than a corporation.

  12. Peter Suber Says:

    Hi Mike. Don’t forget that most non-OA publishers give standing permission for authors to provide green OA to some version of their papers. To learn the policy of a given publisher or journal, check the publishing contract or the Sherpa/Romeo database. If authors have this kind of green OA permission from the publisher, then they don’t need an author addendum. I’d also recommend that authors deposit in a disciplinary repository (like arXiv, SSRN, or PubMed Central) or an institutional repository before posting the paper to a personal home page. Repositories use persistent URLs and will not take down the paper when you change jobs or die. For more details, see my own version of similar advice, “How to make your own work OA” [ http://bit.ly/how-oa ].

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Peter. All good advice, except that when non-OA publishers give permission to do some level of green archiving without an addendum, they typically still demand copyright, which limits what you and others can do with respect to text-mining, figure repurposing, and other forms of re-use. Except when I am dealing with a publisher that uses CC By (which is always, now) I prefer to retain copyright and specify generous licence terms.

    My experience has been the universities and other large organisations tend to be much less good at keeping old URLs working than one would hope or expect. I trust arXiv or PMC much more than any individual university. And, truth to tell, I am more confident that http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/pubs/ will be around in twenty years than I am that http://research-information.bristol.ac.uk/en/persons/michael-p-taylor(f5e5eca5-a7be-4991-bd74-b35d48584d30)/publications.html will be. (Also, it’s a much nicer URL.)

  14. RodAG_ Says:

    I did a little twitter dig looking for the SPARC use and succes-rate with it. Turns out that some journals (such as Cell) will accept it but “have to” delay the publication for up to 2 months (https://plus.google.com/+KevinBonham/posts/bGcGafY5psk)
    though there are positive experiences with SPARC on other journals: https://twitter.com/SarahRoseCav/status/398130828846571520

    So, my guess is that few researchers have used the SPARC addendum but it works. If we are not moving to the open access scheme (why? why we keep publishing with paywalled journals?!) at least we should be using SPARC addenda or promoting its use. Some journals don’t even know what it is, apparently: https://twitter.com/captain_primate/status/369933007424987136

  15. Mike Taylor Says:

    That weaselly “have to” is an absolute disgrace, and surely fools no-one.

    Come on, Cell, have some guts. Either embrace the move towards openness like an actual scientific enterprise would, or reject it completely like the for-profit commercial corporation. Let’s not have these half-measures.

  16. Wearing my astronomer’s hat here, copyright conventions vary. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society leaves copyright with the author and requires an exclusive license to publish it in a journal. Fair enough. Their standard letter actually encourages posting to arXiv. I think the only restriction is on a institutional website. I think most people get stuff from arXiv or perhaps the author’s personal website, so this isn’t really a big restriction.

    Astronomy and Astrophysics requires transfer of copyright to ESO, which I can live with, but gives the author a non-exclusive license to distribute it otherwise. Same for The Observatory (though copyright is with the Editors, who are not making a profit out of the journal).

    In practice, the two policies have the same effect, but I prefer the MNRAS one.

    I think astronomy is in a better situation than many fields with respect to OA: the major journals have unimportant, if any, restrictions regarding distribution and copyright.

    The price of journals is another issue, but here astronomy is also in a better position than most fields.

  17. […] Melero ha compartido con nosotros el Tutorial 27 de Mike Taylor sobre cómo hacer que tu artículo sea de acceso abierto mediante una adenda. Os dejamos el […]

  18. […] this SV-POW! post on the practicalities of negotiating Green OA if you’re publishing behind a […]

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