Have De Gruyters enclosed previously open-access Bepress journals?

November 16, 2014

At the end of October, we published a short piece called CC-By documents cannot be re-enclosed if their publisher is acquired. In an interesting discussion in the comments, moominoid asked:

Isn’t this what happened when DeGruyter acquired BEPress?

And subsequently expanded:

This is the announcement of the acquisition. If you visit the journals now, they are behind paywalls, when they were OA before the acquisition.

Having previously read (and commented favourably on) an interview with bepress CEO Jean-Gabriel Bankier,  I was disappointed to think this might be true. I emailed him to ask for clarification, and he passed my message on to Irene Kamotsky, bepress’s Director of Strategic Initiatives. A little later, she send a helpful a detailed response, which I now reproduce with her permission.

Date: 10 November 2014 14:27
From: Irene Kamotsky
To: Mike Taylor
Cc: Jean-Gabriel Bankier
Subject: Re: Previous OA journals enclosed behind paywalls?

Dear Mike,

I apologize for sitting on this for so long — thank you so much for following up, and for clarifying what was, indeed, always a bit confusing about the bepress-published journals that are now with deGruyter.

To answer your question, the bepress journals were not open access in the formal (Budapest) definition of the term, and they never used a CC license. The copyright was traditional publisher-owned copyright, with permission to authors to post their articles on their websites and university IRs.

The bepress journals did have an unusual access policy: we made all articles available to readers for free, as a way to demonstrate demand and urge libraries to subscribe. Basically, if a guest filled out a short form we would grant them access to the article. We would tally those forms by institution and then call the library and ask them to subscribe. There’s an article in Learned Publishing that describes the model in more detail. It wasn’t open access but it was a good balance for many years. Unfortunately, libraries facing strong budget pressures stopped subscribing. They said “we can’t justify paying for a title that our authors can get for free. We have to spend the money on titles that are otherwise unavailable.”

At the same time, we had already developed our institutional repository and publishing platform called Digital Commons. This platform allowed libraries to host and publish their own faculty’s and students’ journals (among all the other digital scholarly content produced on campus), and this has turned out to be an extremely successful approach. There are now nearly 800 journals published by libraries using Digital Commons, the vast majority of which are open access (and none charge author article fees). You can see a brief overview of this new model in a recent report.

I’d be happy to talk more about the new direction in library-led publishing; I know this is a growing interest among UK libraries. Is this something you’re seeing as well?

Thanks again for getting in touch, and clarifying this point.

All best,

9 Responses to “Have De Gruyters enclosed previously open-access Bepress journals?”

  1. Underlines the importance of choosing the right license, then.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    That’s exactly my reading, Kaveh. Bepress have done nothing wrong in the sense that they have broken no promises. But authors who submitted work to their journals in the expectation that it would be free to access will be legitimately disappointed that it now isn’t, even under the rather cumbersome terms that pertained initially.

    The moral is that authors who care about their work being open access should limit themselves to publications that either leave copyright with the author or publish the work under a well-defined open-access licence (preferably CC By). Of course most venues that do the latter also do the former.

  3. Susannah Says:

    But surely there would have been some kind of contract with the authors, agreed at the time of publication, that the articles would be given away?

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    There’s really no way for us to tell what private arrangements were made between the authors and publisher — not unless either one of them wants to come forward with historical documentation, which seems unlikely.

    For me, this reinforces the importance of getting a proper, formal licence on the published work. It immediately avoids all doubt.

  5. waltcrawford Says:

    A minor point, but kudos to Irene for recognizing that requiring registration to read articles is *not* OA. (One of two minor points on which I differ with DOAJ’s current criteria.)

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    Wait — DOAJ considers register-to-read as open access?

    That is flatly wrong. As the BOAI clearly says, “By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.”

  7. waltcrawford Says:

    Yes, it does; it’s one of three areas in the new DOAJ standards that I question (and will discuss in the January 2015 Cites & Insights). Go to the FAQ (link follows), then to “What are the basic standards that a journal must meet for the application to be considered?”; it’s the second bullet under “Access.” http://doaj.org/faq

  8. waltcrawford Says:

    (The other two nits I choose to pick: DOAJ doesn’t allow for magazine-style OA, where all refereed scholarly articles are free but other editorial content isn’t; and DOAJ will now require at least five articles per year, which is great for medicine and STEM, but not so great for some HSS journals. But those are nits in an otherwise excellent set of criteria.)

  9. Mike Taylor Says:


    “Registration: User registration online is acceptable on the condition that the journal has a proper Privacy Policy in place and abides by global Data Protection rules.”

    That is awful. Separate blog-post incoming.

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