Step 1: Include the Share-Alike provision in your Creative Commons license, as in the mysteriously popular CC BY-SA and CC BY-NC-SA.

Step 2: Listen to the crickets. You’re done. Congratulations! No-one will ever use your silhouette in a scientific paper, and they probably won’t use your stuff in talks or posters either. Luxuriate in your obscurity and wasted effort.

Pachyrhinosaurus canadensis by Andrew A. Farke, CC BY 3.0, courtesy of


PhyloPic is the incredibly useful thing that Mike Keesey made where makers upload silhouettes of organisms and then people can use them in papers, posters, talks, on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and so on.

At least, they can if the image license allows it. And tons of them don’t, because people include the stupid Non-Commercial (NC) and even stupider Share-Alike (SA) provisions in their image licenses. (Need a refresher on what those are? See the tutorial on licenses.)

Why are these things dumb? Well, you could make a case for NC, but it will still probably kill most potential uses of your images. Most journals are run by companies — well, most are run by incredibly rapacious corporations that extract insane profits from the collective suckerhood that is academia — and using such an image in a for-profit journal would break the Non-Commercial clause. Even open-access journals are a bit murky.

But Share-Alike is way, way worse. What it means is that any derivative works that use material released under CC-BY-SA have to be released under that license as well. Share-Alike came to us from the world of software, where it actually has some important uses, which Mike will expand upon in the next post. But when it comes to PhyloPic or pretty much any other quasi-academic arena, including the Share-Alike provision is misguided.

As of this writing, PhyloPic has two silhouettes of Panphagia. I can actually show you this one, because it doesn’t have the Share-Alike license attached. The other one is inaccessible. Image by Ricardo N. Martinez and Oscar A. Alcober, CC BY 3.0, courtesy of

Why not Share-Alike?

Why is Share-Alike so dumb for PhyloPic? It’s a viral license that in this context accomplishes nothing for the creator. Because the downstream material must also be CC BY-SA (minimally, or CC BY-NC-SA), almost any conceivable use is prevented:

  • People can’t use the images in barrier-based journals, because they’re copyrighted.
  • People can’t use the images in almost all OA journals, because they’re CC BY, and authors can’t just impose a more restrictive license on them willy-nilly.
  • People can’t use the images in their talks or posters, unless they want to make their talks and posters CC BY-SA. Even people who do release their talks and posters out into the wild are probably going to use CC BY if they use anything; they care about being cited, not about forcing downstream users to adopt a pointlessly restrictive license.
  • People probably can’t use the images on t-shirts or bumper stickers; at least, I have a hard time imagining how a physical object could meet the terms of CC BY-SA, unless it’s being given away for free. And even if one could, most downstream creators probably won’t want the headache — they’ll grab a similar image released under a less restrictive license and move on.
  • I can’t even blog the CC BY-SA images because everything we put on this blog is CC BY (except where noted by a handful of more restrictive museum image use policies), and it would more than a little ironic to make this one post CC BY-SA, which it would have to be if it included CC BY-SA images.

You may think I’m exaggerating the problem. I’m not. If you look at the Aquilops paper (Farke et al. 2014), you’ll see a lot of ceratopsian silhouettes drawn by Andy Farke. We were making progress on the paper and when it came time to finish the illustrations, most of the silhouettes we needed had the Share-Alike provision, which made them useless to us. So Andy drew his own. And while he was doing that, I took some of my old sauropod drawings and converted them to silhouettes and uploaded them. Both of us used CC BY, because all we care about is getting cited. And now people are using — and citing! — Andy’s and my drawings in preference to others, some arguably better (at least for the sauropods), that have pointlessly restrictive licenses.

So we have this ridiculous situation where a ton of great images on PhyloPic are essentially unusable, because people put them up under a license that sounds cool but actually either outright blocks or at least has a chilling effect on almost any conceivable use.

Is this a good silhouette of Camarasaurus? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s beside the point: this is currently the only silhouette of Camarasaurus on PhyloPic that you can actually use. By Mathew Wedel, CC BY 3.0, courtesy of

What I do about this

Here’s my take: I care about one thing and one thing only, which is credit. All I need is CC BY. If someone wants to take my stuff and put it in a product and charge a profit, I say go for it — because legally every copy of that product has to have my name on it somewhere, credited as the creator of the image. I may not be making any money off that product, but I’m at least getting exposure. If I go CC BY-NC, then I also don’t get any money, and now I don’t even get that exposure. Why would I hack my own foot off like that? And I don’t use CC BY-SA because I don’t write software, so it has only downsides to offer me.

Now, there are certainly artists in the world with sufficient talent to sell t-shirts and prints. But even for them I’m skeptical that CC BY-NC has much to offer for their PhyloPic silhouettes. I know we’re all nuts around here for monochrome filled outlines of dead animals, but let’s be real, they’re a niche market at best for clothing and lifestyle goods. Personally I’d rather get the citations than prevent someone in Birmingham or Bangkok from selling cladogram t-shirts with tiny copies of my drawings, and I think that would still be true even if I was a professional artist.

What you should do about this

I suspect that a lot of people reading this post are dinosaur enthusiasts. If you are, and you’d like to get your name into published scientific work (whether you pursue writing and publishing yourself or not), get drawin’, and upload those babies using CC-BY. Make sure it is your own original work, not just a skin thrown over someone else’s skeletal recon, and don’t spam PhyloPic with garbage. But if you can execute a technical drawing of a critter, there’s a good chance it will be used and cited. Not only because there are still holes in PhyloPic’s coverage, but because so many otherwise great images on PhyloPic are locked up behind restrictive licenses. To pick an example nearly at random, PhyloPic has two silhouettes of Pentaceratops, and both of them are useless because of the Share-Alike provision in their licenses. You have an opportunity here. Don’t tarry.

If you already uploaded stuff to PhyloPic using CC BY-SA for whatever reason (it sounded cool, Joe Chill murdered your folks, you didn’t realize that it was academic reuse equivalent of radioactive syphilis), change it or replace it. Because all it is doing right now is driving PhyloPic users to other people’s work. Really, honestly, all you are doing is wasting your time by uploading this stuff, and wasting the time of PhyloPic users who have to hover over your pictures to find out that they’re inaccessible.

You don’t get any credit if no-one ever uses your stuff. Or, more precisely, you get 100% of a pie that doesn’t exist. That’s dumb. Stop doing it.


Farke, A.A., Maxwell, W.D., Cifelli, R.L., and Wedel, M.J. 2014. A ceratopsian dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Western North America, and the biogeography of Neoceratopsia. PLoS ONE 9(12): e112055. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0112055

A couple of weeks ago, more than hundred scientists sent an open letter to the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) about their new open-access journal Science Advances, which is deficient in various ways — not least the absurdly inflated article-processing charge.

Today I learn from email that there has finally been a response — of sorts. Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt had a long phone-call with Jon Tennant — one of the hundred-plus authors/co-signers. All we know about that call is (and I quote from Jon’s email account) “it became quite apparent that we would have to agree to disagree on many points”.

All I want to say is this. When a hundred scientists co-sign an open letter, it is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE for the response to take the form of a private telephone call with one of those authors.

Come on, AAAS. This is all about openness. Let’s see an open response: a substantive, non-patronising one which addresses the actual points made in the original letter.

Meanwhile, you may like to read this article at The New StatesmanScientists criticise new “open access” journal which limits research-sharing with copyright. In finishes on this very clear note, courtesy of Jon Tennant:

The AAAS should be a shining beacon within the academic world for progression of science. If this is their best shot at that, it’s an absolute disaster at the start on all levels. What publishers need to remember is that the academic community is not here to serve them – it is the other way around.


Dear  AAAS,

This is an open letter concerning the recent launch of the new open access journal, Science Advances. In addition to the welcome diversification in journal choices for authors looking for open access venues, there are many positive aspects of Science Advances: its broad STEM scope, its interest in cross-disciplinary research, and the offering of fee waivers. While we welcome the commitment of the Association to open access, we are also deeply concerned with the specific approach. Herein, we outline a number of suggestions that are in line with both the current direction that scholarly publishing is taking and the needs expressed by the open access community, which this journal aims to serve.

The first of these issues concerns the licensing terms of the journal articles. The default choice of a non-commercial licence (CC BY-NC) places unnecessary restrictions on reuse and does not meet the standards set out by the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Many large funders, including Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust, do not recognise this as an open license. The adoption of CC BY-NC as the default license means that many researchers will be unable to submit to Science Advances if they are to conform to their funder mandates unless they pay for the upgrade to CC BY. There is little evidence that non-commercial restrictions provide a benefit to the progress of scholarly research, yet they have significant negative impact, limiting the ability to reuse material for educational purposes and advocacy. For example, NC-encumbered materials cannot be used on Wikipedia. The non-commercial clause is known to generate ambiguities and uncertainties (see for example, NC Licenses Considered Harmful) to the detriment of scholarly communication. Additionally, there is little robust evidence to suggest that adopting a CC-BY license will lead to income loss for your Association, and the $1,000 surcharge is difficult to justify or defend. The value of the CC BY license is outlined in detail by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association.

We raise an additional issue with the $1,500 surcharge for articles more than 10 pages in length. In an online-only format, page length is an arbitrary unit that results from the article being read in PDF format. Can the AAAS explain what the additional costs associated with the increased length are that would warrant a 50% increase in APC for an unspecified number of additional digital pages? Other leading open access journals, such as PeerJ, the BMC series, and PLOS ONE, offer publication of articles with unlimited page lengths. The extra costs create constraints that may adversely incentivize authors to exclude important details of their study, preventing replication and hindering transparency, all of which are contrary to the aims of scholarly publication. Therefore it seems counterproductive to impose this additional charge; it discriminates against researchers’ best effort to communicate their findings with as much detail as necessary.

We feel that the proposed APCs and licencing scheme are detrimental to the AAAS and the global academic community. As such, we recommend that Science Advances:

  • Offers CC BY as standard for no additional cost, in line with leading open access publishers, so authors are able to comply with respective funding mandates;

  • Provides a transparent calculation of its APCs based on the publishing practices of the AAAS and explains how additional value created by the journal will measure against the significantly high prices paid by the authors;

  • Removes the surcharges associated with increased page number;

  • Releases all data files under CC0 (with CC BY optional), which has emerged as the community standard for data and is used by leading databases such as Figshare and DataDryad.

We hope that you will consider the points raised above, keeping in mind how best to serve the scientific community, and use Science Advances to add the AAAS to the group of progressive and innovative open access scholarly publishers. We hope AAAS will collaborate with the academic community to facilitate the dissemination of scientific knowledge through a journal committed to fully embracing the principles of Open Access.

We kindly request that you allow your response(s) to be made public along with this letter, and look forward to hearing your response soon.

Signatories (please note that we do not formally represent the institutions listed):

  1. Jonathan P. Tennant, PhD student, Imperial College London (, @protohedgehog)
  2. Timothée Poisot, University of Canterbury (, @tpoi)
  3. Joseph R. Hancock, Montana State University-Bozeman (, @Joe_R_Hancock)
  4. M Fabiana Kubke, University of Auckland, New Zealand (, @kubke)
  5. François Michonneau, University of Florida (, @FrancoisInvert)
  6. Michael P. Taylor, University of Bristol (, @MikeTaylor)
  7. Graham Steel, Open Science, Scotland (, @McDawg)
  8. Jérémy Anquetin, Section d’Archéologie et Paléontologie, Switzerland (, @FossilTurtles)
  9. Emily Coyte, University of Bristol (, @emilycoyte)
  10. Benjamin Schwessinger, UC Davis (, @schwessinger)
  11. Erin C. McKiernan, independent scientist (, @emckiernan13)
  12. Tom Pollard, PhD student, University College London (, @tompollard)
  13. Aimee Eckert, MRes student, Imperial College London (, @aimee_e27)
  14. Liz Allen, ScienceOpen, San Francisco (, @LizAllenSO)
  15. Dalmeet Singh Chawla, Imperial College London (, @DalmeetS)
  16. Elizabeth Silva, San Francisco (, @lizatucsf)
  17. Nicholas Gardner, Marshall University (, @RomerianReptile)
  18. Nathan Cantley, Medical Student, Queens University Belfast (, @NathanWPCantley)
  19. John Dupuis, Librarian, York University, Toronto (, @dupuisj)
  20. Christina Pikas, Doctoral Candidate, University of Maryland (, @cpikas)
  21. Amy Buckland, Librarian, McGill University, Montreal (, @jambina)
  22. Lenny Teytelman,, Berkeley, CA (, @lteytelman)
  23. Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge, UK (, @petermurrayrust)
  24. Zen Faulkes, The University of Texas-Pan American,, @DoctorZen)
  25. Robert J. Gay, The University of Arizona/Mission Heights Preparatory High School, AZ, USA (, @paleorob)
  26. Peter T.B. Brett, University of Surrey, UK (, @PeterTBBrett)
  27. Anders Eklund, Linköping University, Sweden (, @wandedob)
  28. Johannes Björk, Institute of Marine Sciences, Barcelona, Spain (, @AwfulDodger)
  29. William Gunn, Mendeley, London, UK,, @mrgunn)
  30. Nitika Pant Pai, McGill University, Montreal, Canada ( @nikkiannike
  31. Philippe Desjardins-Proulx, Ph.D. student (, @phdpqc).
  32. Joshua M. Nicholson, PhD candidate Virginia Tech, VA and founder The Winnower, VA (, @thewinnower)
  33. Scott Edmunds, GigaScience, BGI Hong Kong (, @SCEdmunds)
  34. Steven Ray Wilson, University of Oslo (, @stevenRayOslo)
  35. Stuart Buck, Vice President of Research Integrity, Laura and John Arnold Foundation (, @stuartbuck1)
  36. B. Arman Aksoy, Ph.D. student, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (, @armish)
  37. Nazeefa Fatima, University of Huddersfield, UK (, @NazeefaFatima)
  38. Ross Mounce, University of Bath, UK (, @rmounce)
  39. Heather Piwowar, Impactstory, (, @researchremix
  40. Avinash Thirumalai, Ph.D student, East Tennessee State University (
  41. Jason Priem, Impactstory (, @jasonpriem
  42. Clayton Aldern, University of Oxford, UK (, @compatibilism)
  43. Marcus D. Hanwell, Technical Leader, Kitware, Inc., (, @mhanwell)
  44. Kristen L. Marhaver, NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, Carmabi Foundation (, @CoralSci)
  45. David Michael Roberts, ARC Research Associate, University of Adelaide (
  46. Brian Hole, Ubiquity Press, UK (, @ubiquitypress)
  47. Alexander Grossmann, University of Applied Sciences Leipzig, Germany and co-founder of ScienceOpen, Berlin/Boston (, @SciPubLab)
  48. David L.Vaux, Assistant Director, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia (
  49. John Murtagh, Repository Manager, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine @LSHTMlibrary
  50. Alecia Carter, University of Cambridge, UK (, @alecia_carter)
  51. Alex O. Holcombe, University of Sydney (, @ceptional)
  52. Ignacio Torres Aleman, Cajal Institute, Madrid. Spain. (
  53. Sarah Molloy, Research Support Manager, Queen Mary University of London (, @moragm23)
  54. John Lamp, Deakin University, Australia (, @johnwlamp)
  55. Matthew Todd, The University of Sydney and Open Source Malaria,
  56. Anusha Seneviratne, Imperial College London (, @anushans)
  57. Guido Guidotti, Harvard University (
  58. Joseph McArthur, Assistant Director, Right to Research Coalition(, @mcarthur_joe)
  59. Carlos H. Grohmann, University of São Paulo, Brazil (
  60. Jan de Leeuw, University of California Los Angeles, (
  61. Jung H. Choi, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology (
  62. Ernesto Priego, Centre for Information Science, City University London, UK (
  63. Brian Pasley, University of California, Berkeley (
  64. Stacy Konkiel, (, @skonkiel)
  65. Elizabeth HB Hellen, Rutgers University (
  66. Raphael Levy, University of Liverpool (
  67. Paul Coxon, University of Cambridge (
  68. Nitika Pant Pai, McGill University, Montreal, Canada (
  69. David Carroll, Queen’s University Belfast  (, @davidecarroll)
  70. Jacinto Dávila, Universidad de Los Andes (, @jacintodavila)
  71. Marco Arieli Herrera-Valdez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (, @brujonildo)
  72. Juan Pablo Alperin, Simon Fraser University, Canada (
  73. Jan P. de Ruiter, Bielefeld University (, @JPdeRuiter)
  74. Xianwen Chen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (, @xianwen_chen)
  75. Jeanette Hatherill, Librarian, University of Ottawa, Canada (, @jeanetteanneh)
  76. Katharine Mullen, University of California Los Angeles (
  77. Pedro Bekinschtein, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina (; @pedrobek)
  78. Quentin Groom, Botanic Garden Meise, Belgium (, @cabbageleek)
  79. Karen Meijer-Kline, Librarian, Simon Fraser University, Canada (, @kmeijerkline)
  80. Pietro Gatti-Lafranconi, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, UK (, @p_gl)
  81. Jeffrey Hollister, USEPA, Narragansett, RI (, @jhollist)
  82. Lachlan Coin, University of Queensland and founder of Academic Karma ( @AcademicKarma )
  83. MooYoung Choi, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Seoul National University, Korea (
  84. Oscar Patterson-Lomba, Harvard School of Public Health (
  85. Rowena Ball, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia (
  86. Daniel Swan, Oxford Gene Technology, UK ( @DrDanielSwan)
  87. Stephen Curry, Imperial College London, UK (, @Stephen_Curry)
  88. Abigail Noyce, Boston University (, @abbynoyce)
  89. Jordan Ward, UCSF, San Francisco, CA, USA (, @Jordan_D_Ward)
  90. Ben Meghreblian,, London, UK (, @benmeg)
  91. Ethan P. White, Utah State University, Logan, UT, USA (, @ethanwhite)
  92. Sean R. Mulcahy, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA (, @srmulcahy)
  93. Sibele Fausto, University of São Paulo, Brazil ( @sibelefausto)
  94. Lorena A. Barba, George Washington University ( @LorenaABarba)
  95. Ed Trollope, Director, Things We Don’t Know CIC (, @TWeDK)
  96. Stephen Beckett, Ph.D. student, University of Exeter (, @BeckettStephen)
  97. Andrew D. Steen, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (, @drdrewsteen)
  98. Mari Sarv, Estonian Literary Museum (, @kaskekanke)
  99. Noam Ross, Ph.D. Candidate, Ecology, University of California-Davis (, @noamross)
  100. Erika Amir, Geologist, Massachusetts, USA (, @geoflier)
  101. Martin Paul Eve, University of Lincoln (, @martin_eve)
  102. Franco Cecchi, University of Florence (
  103. Jason B. Colditz, University of Pittsburgh (, @colditzjb)
  104. Philip Spear, postdoc, Northwestern University (
  105. Mythili Menon, University of Southern California (, @mythmenon)
  106. Matthew Clapham, University of California Santa Cruz (,@meclapham)
  107. Karl W. Broman, University of Wisconsin–Madison (, @kwbroman)
  108. Graham Triggs, Symplectic (, @grahamtriggs)
  109. Tom Crick, Cardiff Metropolitan University (, @DrTomCrick)
  110. Diano F. Marrone, Wilfrid Laurier University (
  111. Joseph Kraus, Librarian, University of Denver (, @OAJoe)
  112. Steven Buyske, Rutgers University (
  113. Gavin Simpson, University of Regina (
  114. Colleen Morgan, University of York ( @clmorgan)
  115. Kara Woo, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, UC Santa Barbara (, @kara_woo)
  116. Mathew Wedel, Western University of Health Sciences (


[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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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 will 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.


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 that 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 than 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.


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?