How to achieve universal open access (OA) to research outputs is the topic of sometimes heated discussion. Major publishers pronounce the superiority of ‘gold’ OA as the ‘only’ sustainable route to full OA. The rhetoric from major commercial publishers is understandably business-orientated, and driven by competition for market share. As part of their argument for continued ‘investment’ in their products as the ‘only’ solution to OA, these same publishers are vociferously campaigning to cast distrust on repositories, and discredit the practice of providing access to and disseminating Author Accepted Manuscripts (AAMs), as well as denying authors retention and assertion of their rights. That is understandable, given these publishers’ main drivers for success are shareholder satisfaction and monetary bottom lines. With the publication of its revised rules, it seems UKRI disagreed [that gold OA is the only sustainable solution], and rightly so. These points represent publishers’ interests, rather than the views of some mythical single “research community” (Eglan & Gatti, THE, 11/8/2021

However, such arguments that aim to limit authors’ (and research funders’) options are neither research- nor researcher-based, despite publishers’ claims to the contrary. They ride roughshod over the fact that the content of articles belong to the author, and fail to support a mix of approaches to OA, or the shift to a ‘Record of Versions model. They also dismiss the broader value of repositories for researchers, institutions and scholarship. This broader value, together with some publisher’s attempts to misrepresent repositories, was described by Kathleen Shearer in her piece: ‘Don’t believe the hype: repositories are critical for ensuring equity, inclusion and sustainability in the transition to open access’.

Although cOAlition S values the input and services publishers offer – and some of its funders state a preference for OA via the gold route – they do not support paid gold OA at any price nor to the detriment of content ownership. These publishers’ arguments in support of ‘the only way is our gold’ are hollow. 

Market forces will prevail

Publishers state that the version of record (publisher’s version or VoR) is the product that readers and authors prefer, want, and specially seek out. In fact, Springer Nature published a white paper describing their findings from their own survey on this very topic. If it is the case that authors and readers prefer the VoR, then authors (or their agents such as libraries) will pay for it. That is how the free market works. If a company provides a product or service people want, customers will pay for it. People will cancel if the service is not delivering what they need, is too expensive, or a competitor provides an alternative that’s better, cheaper, has more widgets, etc. 

So what’s the big deal? Why are major publishers trying to discredit repositories and the use of AAMs? What are they frightened of?

They should have nothing to worry about. They’ve even got years’ worth of external evidence in the form of Arxiv (hosting >2M articles), which, every year, disseminates thousands of physics and related subject preprints and AAMs very similar to the VoR. Journals continue to publish those same papers, despite content being freely available in Arxiv. If Springer Nature and other publishers believe their own statements, readers and authors will seek out the VoR. Repositories even help them to do this; one of the benefits of repositories is the free publicity they provide for publishers. Each discoverable record in a repository includes the DOI of the VoR for users to easily locate the VoR with a single click, and either access the full text immediately, or pay to access it (e.g. here and here). 

If an author wants to make an unformatted AAM version available, then so be it. Provided the VoR offers the features that customers want, then publishers have no cause for concern. If it doesn’t, then the publisher will have to rethink – but that’s how it should be, and how markets work. According to the publisher produced white paper cited above, there is nothing for publishers to worry about. As Peter Suber, arguably the father of the OA movement, stated, There are no good reasons to put the thriving of incumbent toll-access journals and publishers ahead of the thriving of research itself’.

Perhaps it is true that services like Unsub and the SPARC log of journal big deal cancellations mean that ‘green’ OA is having an effect on subscriptions. If it is, then why? Could it possibly be because what is on offer is too expensive, rights are too restrictive, and the product is not what the customer wants in some way? This is what the competitive market entails, and any services that are losing out clearly need to re-evaluate and reconsider what they are offering. 

Sustainability

Another factor major publishers cite is the ‘sustainability’ of OA publishing options. This somewhat tortuous and dubious argument hinges on a number of publisher-defined criteria, including:

  • continue status quo payment (often crafted as ‘investment’) for gold OA,
  • the spurious claim of the need for embargoes which conflicts with the actions of those same publishers who promote zero embargo via ShareLinks and similar initiatives
  • publisher-defined licensing (see LTP the boot is on the wrong foot), and 
  • attempts to discredit other forms of OA, particularly AAMs and repositories. 

Also, some publishers would like to think that they alone lead and drive research quality and dissemination, and are the sole custodians of the scholarly record. Such ‘sustainability’ arguments are misaligned with 21st century Open Science

Regarding sustainability, again, market forces will drive this. If the products on the market are those that users want and are willing to pay for at a price they can afford, then the OA publishing options offered by these publishers will continue and will be sustained by users’ payment. If not, they will fail – but only because they are not meeting what users want, need or can afford. The publisher has to earn their customers’ business by making their product what they will pay for. Having a place in that market is neither a divine right nor even a legal right. Owning the rights to content, by contrast, is a right: the author’s.

Monopolisation

Publishers that talk about self-archiving as The false promise of Green OA are missing the point. Green OA isn’t promising anything – it is an expression of the right of authors and institutions to disseminate and use the research finding papers and other outputs they created, or were created with their affiliation, in a way that they choose. If supporting that right happens to result in a service that users prefer and choose to use in preference to a publisher’s VoR, then so be it. But publishers should not be so disingenuous to the authors that contribute content for the publisher’s use at no charge by trying to deny them the rights to disseminate their own work in the ways they choose. The content belongs to the author. 

It would appear that these publishers don’t want a normal market to operate. They are creating a monopoly (“the exclusive possession or control of the supply of or trade in a commodity or service”  Concise Oxford Dictionary), monopolising other people’s (i.e. their authors’) intellectual property, and attempting to close down what they claim nobody wants anyway. How contradictory. The result is harming fully open scientific discourse and open science, and is disrespectful to authors.

Journals

Replacing traditional journals with a more modern solution is not a new idea, but the lack of progress since the first calls more than 20 years ago has convinced an increasing number of experts that a disruptive break is now necessary. The list of problems that have been accumulating is long, but three stand out as the most severe:

  • Quality control by traditional journal peer review has often proven to be opaque, capricious, and insufficient for catching even overt errors, leading to what is now called a “replication crisis”;
  • An “affordability crisis” is the consequence of large international corporations that each own their separate monopoly on scholarly content and enjoy an exemption from procurement rules such that they can dictate conditions;
  • A lack of digital modernization has caused a further “functionality crisis”, where some of the most basic digital functionalities are missing for research objects.

The reason for three decades of inaction is a social dilemma, where every player – researchers, libraries or institutions – is at a disadvantage if they move (first), so all remain locked-in. Reminiscent of the big internet platforms, the corporate publishers exploit this situation by using their massive profits not only to resist and delay any research- and public-oriented reform, but to fund a reform of their own and on their own terms: The major publishing houses are tracking their academic users in order to, among other reasons, expand their monopolies beyond scholarly texts. Over the last decade, the four leading publishing houses have all acquired or developed a range of services aiming to develop vertical integration over the entire scientific process (Fig. 1). For any institution buying such a workflow package, the risk of vendor lock-in is very real: Without any standards, it becomes technically and financially nearly impossible to substitute a chosen service provider with another one.

 

Figure 1: Providers of digital tools for the scientific workflow.

 

Logos stand for software tools designed for specific aspects of the workflow, and each tool may be used in more than one step. Elsevier and Holtzbrink are leading in the race to enclose the entire process, with Holtzbrinck offering multiple tools for each step in the workflow. The preconditions for a functioning market exist, but a common standard that provides for the substitutability of service providers or tools is missing.
(CC BY: Bianca Kramer, Jeroen Bosman, https://101innovations.wordpress.com/workflows)

 

Replacement

Any solution needs to not only solve the current problems but also be capable of preventing a takeover by the corporations. Technically, there is broad agreement on the goal for a modern scholarly digital infrastructure: it needs to replace traditional journals with a decentralized, resilient, evolvable network that is interconnected by open standards and open source norms under the governance of the scholarly community. At the same time, and enabled by this plan, new, modern and adaptable reputation systems, long demanded by the scientific community, can finally be implemented. An essential part of the goal is also to replace the monopolies of current journals with a genuinely functioning and well-regulated market, where substitutable service providers would compete and innovate according to conditions set by the scholarly community.

To ensure the substitutability of workflow service providers, content needs to be stored and made accessible according to a set of enforced standards. These standards need to be open, under the governance of the scholarly community. The basis for such standards exists and only needs to be expanded, adopted and enforced. Thus, a standards body, analogous to, e.g., the W3C, needs to form under the governance of the scholarly community to allow the development of open scholarly infrastructures servicing the entire research workflow. There already are independent, non-profit platforms where service providers can be substituted. Scholarly institutions have a long history of publishing the work of their scholars, as well as striving to develop a global library of interoperable repositories. Combining these long-standing initiatives with existing open infrastructure developments could be instantiated today and is no longer a future scenario.

Incentives

Redirection of funding from the legacy publishers to the new framework can be realized in a variety of ways. One possibility is already established and has been used for decades: Funding agencies have always required minimal conditions at funded institutions. These requirements, broadened to include the new framework, provide exquisite incentives for institutions to redirect their recurrent funds from antiquated journals to modern technology. With journal articles currently being overpaid by a factor of ten, the level of library funding is more than sufficient to implement any desired technology. Such updated eligibility criteria by funding bodies would help realign the financial incentives for recipient institutions with public and scholarly interest.

Ownership involves socially recognized economic rights, first and foremost the exclusive control over that property, with the self-efficacy it affords. The inability to exert such control over crucial components of their scholarly infrastructure in the face of a generally recognized need for action for over three decades now, evinces the dramatic erosion of real ownership rights for the scholarly community over said infrastructure. Thus, this proposal is motivated not only by the now very urgent need to restore such ownership to the scholarly community, but also by the understanding that through their funding bodies, scholars may have an effective and proven avenue at their disposal to identify game-changing actions and to design a financial incentive structure for recipient institutions that can help realize the restoration of ownership, with the goal to implement open digital infrastructures that are as effective and as invisible as any non-digital infrastructure.

 


This text is an abbreviated version of a more detailed proposal available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5526634


Authors

 Björn Brembs, Universität Regensburg, Germany

 Philippe Huneman, IHPST, CNRS, Paris, France

 Felix Schönbrodt, LMU Munich, Germany

 Gustav Nilsonne, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

 Toma Susi, University of Vienna, Austria

 Renke Siems, Reutlingen, Germany

 Pandelis Perakakis, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain 

Varvara Trachana; University of Thessaly, Larisa, Greece

 Lai Ma, University College Dublin, Ireland

 Sara Rodriguez-Cuadrado, Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain 

In law – at least UK law – copyright is automatically assigned to works created by authors. Authors do not need to apply for it or register copyright in a work they have created. This means that when a researcher has an article accepted for publication, they usually are the copyright holder of that work. The version of the work at this stage in the publishing process is called the Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM).

Authors can decide how their work is used

Researchers seeking to publish a research article in a scholarly journal are usually presented with some form of publishing agreement, commonly at the point of acceptance. Such documents can take the form of a Licence to Publish (LTP).  It is a legal requirement that a publisher requires a licence to publish granted to them by the copyright holder (i.e. author) in order to publish the accepted article. Granting the publisher a LTP does not mean that the publisher needs to own the copyright of the article in order to publish it. As a result, there is no need whatsoever for the author to transfer copyright to the publisher. The LTP granted to the publisher may be either exclusive or non-exclusive: frequently, they are of the more restrictive ‘exclusive’ type.

It is precisely because the author is the copyright holder that they have the right to assign a licence to publish. The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) states this clearly:

You can license the use of your work if you own the copyright. You can also decide how your work is used.

In some cases, permission to publish is at the submission stage. Note that in all cases, the author is the one granting the LTP. However, you would never think that this is the case when you see what actually happens in practice. It appears I am not the only one – see, for example, the excellent NC State University ReproducibiliTea discussion.

But…who is actually in control?

In practice, the LTP is written by and presented to the author by the publisher. Note the direction of travel here – the publisher asks the author to sign a LTP that the publisher has written. An example of a publishers’ LTP is Wiley’s sample Exclusive Licence Agreement. I find it interesting that in this LTP example, the author is referred to not as the legally titled ‘Licensor‘, but merely the submissive ‘Contributor,’ whilst Wiley/Journal are referred to not as the ‘Licensee,’ but as the more dominant ‘Owner.’ Is this a subtle power assertion tactic by the publisher?

With an exclusive agreement, the right to publish is granted to that publisher alone for the term of the licence (which may be perpetual). An exclusive licence means that the author is granting permission for that specific publisher to not only publish, but reproduce, distribute, make available, copy, communicate, display publicly, sell, or rent – and probably more uses that publishers include in their LTPs. The exclusivity assigned to this particular publisher means that the author – the copyright holder – cannot do any of these things without seeking the publisher’s permission once the licence has been granted.

Nevertheless, even publishers realise that completely barricading articles is not beneficial, so they commonly licence back some rights to the author. Authors may be granted rights of use for purposes of teaching or presentation at conferences. However, such licenced rights are often restrictive and can include terms such as when, where and how an AAM, i.e. the author’s content, can be made available, and with whom, i.e. limited sharing and dissemination. 

Publishers expect the author to agree to all their terms expressed in the licence. CUP goes as far as stating: 

PLEASE NOTE: Amended/alternative versions of this LTP will not be accepted and may delay or prevent publication.” 

With modern submission systems, licences can be presented as ‘click through’ documents. This means that the submitting author has no easy means to amend licence terms which are unacceptable to them. In this way, LTPs are presented as non-negotiable, ‘take-it-or-leave it’ agreements. The publisher has put forth their demands in their own terms. Once the author has signed, the publisher effectively takes full control of content which is not theirs. 

LTPs are presented as non-negotiable, 'take-it-or-leave it' agreements. The publisher has put forth their demands in their terms. Once the author has signed, the publisher effectively takes full control of content which is not theirs. Click To Tweet

Of course, a publisher has every right to define their terms and conditions, and an author can at this stage choose to jump ship and take their manuscript elsewhere. The point is that by agreeing to such supposedly non-negotiable LTPs, a fundamental premise is completely extinguished: that it is the original copyright holder who actively grants a LTP to a 3rd party in order to have their work published and has the authority and power to define the uses of their work. The publisher is in complete control of both the content and how it is used. The creator of the content is left with a begging bowl at the mercy of the publisher as to how they can use work that they created and contributed to that publisher at no charge.

Authors have power

This is just plain wrong: authors should be able to use their own content as they choose.

Authors must be reminded that they are able to assert the rights they own. The author can and should define, or at least negotiate, the terms of use of their work. There is no need for them to allow publishers to make a grab for ownership rights of the content the author created. Authors actually have more power than they often realise.

This is just plain wrong: authors should be able to use their own content as they choose. The author can and should define, or at least negotiate, the terms of use of their work. Click To Tweet

Publishers know full well that authors are often willing to sign pretty well anything to get their article ‘out of the door’ and published, particularly after a long period of peer review. In this way, publishers have for some considerable time ‘got away’ with insisting that authors sign non-negotiable unidirectional LTPs – no fuss, no bother. Although such non-negotiable LTPs make authors feel as if the publisher has them ‘over a barrel‘ (Will Cross at 22:13), in fact, the publisher is equally wanting to publish at this stage. This means that the author actually has more power than they might think (see Qu + Response from 20:38).  It is also worth noting that in 2012 Martin Eve discovered via Deborah Kaplan that T&F offer alternative Author or Company-Owned Copyright Agreements that are non-exclusive – but authors have to make the effort to request them (I do not know if this is still the case). Even so, all authors have the right to negotiate and decline unacceptable terms.

To go some way towards rectifying the problem of authors not being able to use their own works as they choose, cOAlition S funders have produced a Rights Retention Strategy (RRS). The RRS empowers grantees to retain sufficient rights to be able to use their own work and, at the same time, be compliant with their funder’s OA policy. Many authors are already using the RRS, and there are examples of works being available in repositories whilst the publisher’s version is trapped behind a paywall (see example). One should not lose sight of the fact that rights retention and/or assertion is a fundamental principle that enables authors to use their own works as they choose. In this way, the RRS is not created purely as a hoop to be jumped through in order to meet compliance with a funder’s condition of grant. 

Don’t stand for it: swap the boot to the other foot

The fact of the matter is, if the system worked as it was intended, we shouldn’t need a RRS. Authors would retain and assert rights as the norm and, having done so, define how their works can be used, for example, by assigning a CC licence. Unfortunately, the current norm is that commercial publishers are dictating use of works to the copyright holders. The boot is on the wrong foot. Some publishers may rail against the RRS – they do so regularly. Some publishers also desperately try to equate the RRS to one publishing model or another. They try to insist that RRS is working against ‘gold’ open access. Rights retention and models of publishing should be mutually exclusive. It has nothing to do with the type of work for that matter – article, preprint, etc. It is a fundamental principle that the creator of the work is the copyright holder and that the copyright holder is able to assert their rights; use their own work as they choose; and define and grant permissions for others to use it. That fundamental principle is also now enshrined in the recently adopted UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science where 193 countries have agreed to abide by common standards for open science. By rallying behind a set of shared values and guiding principles, they have adopted a common roadmap” and which states:

“Any transfer or licensing of copyrights to third parties should not restrict the public’s right to immediate open access to scientific publication.” 

UNESCO, (2021). UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. Para 7a. 23rd Nov 2021.
Available at https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379949 [Accessed 29/11/2021]

QED

“The shift in the pattern of land ownership caught us largely unawares in the last century”.

Roly Smith (from notes by Henry Folkard of BMC and Terry Howard of RA and SCAM)

following the 1932 mass trespass against the restricted access to Peak District moorland (Hayfield Kinder Trespass Group)

 

The cOAlition S Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) was designed to provide researchers with the opportunity to submit their manuscript to any research journal they choose whilst remaining compliant with Plan S. As such, it was developed with the aim of empowering researchers to be able to use their own author accepted manuscripts (AAMs) as they choose, without having restrictive third party terms of use imposed on them. At the stage when the article is accepted by the editor for publication, after the author has made changes as a result of peer review,  the content of the article is the intellectual property of the author. The RRS is currently directed towards research articles published in academic journals – a Plan S high priority.

Rights retention is an author’s fundamental right. Of course, a publisher has added value to the publishing process at the acceptance stage. The publisher administers the peer review process or puts a submission system at the disposal of authors, reviewers and editors. However, by imposing restrictive terms on the use of the content of the AAM, the publisher is making a rights grab, claiming rights that were never theirs. Author rights in exchange for the use of a submission system does not make a fair trade. Certainly, the use of the submission system should be paid for, but these costs should be recouped via the subscription or the APC for the VoR.

Rights retention and publishing models should be mutually exclusive. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a ‘green’, ‘gold’ or ‘sky-blue-pink-with-yellow-spots’ publishing model. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, author rights retention has become inextricably associated with models of publishing journal articles in subscription journals. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a ‘green’, ‘gold’ or ‘sky-blue-pink-with-yellow-spots’ publishing model. Rights retention and publishing models should be mutually exclusive, and rights retention should not be a factor deciding where an author chooses to publish. That publishers are making it this way – by adding contractual terms to stop an author sharing their manuscript when the work is destined for publication in a subscription journal – is disingenuous to their authors and to scientific discourse. Springer Nature has even weaponised the use of RRS i) by employing a ‘green’ versus ‘gold’ publication model argument, and thereby a ‘reason’ why funds should be made available to ‘invest in gold OA’, and ii) to imply funders want to use it for ‘free’ publishing. This is nonsense as cOAlition S funders are committing millions towards payment for publishing services (see, for example, UKRI which “will provide increased funding of up to £46.7 million per annum to support the implementation of the policy”).

Looking beyond the article

cOAlition S views the adoption of its RRS as critical for ensuring that articles published behind a paywall can be made available Open Access.

Indeed the RRS offers an opportunity for subscription journals to publish material which, in order to be available open-access, would otherwise have to be submitted to a different journal. More importantly, though, the RRS asserts a fundamental principle: authors should retain sufficient intellectual property rights on their work. This is especially important as different publication types – e.g. pre-prints, micro-publications, recordings, working papers, methods etc.– emerge under the auspices of  Open Science.

Put simply, authors should be empowered to retain their rights for all output types, now and in the future, so that author rights retention becomes the norm.

All researchers and those working in the field of scholarly communications are mindful that scholarly research dissemination is evolving rapidly. For many disciplines, the ‘article’ is no longer the sole primary vehicle for disseminating research findings. Research outputs are becoming increasingly diverse, and findings are presented, so they are open to scrutiny throughout all phases of the research process, rather than just towards the end. For example, researchers are disseminating their research methods and protocols to assist reproducibility and for comment to improve research quality. Open Access is no longer the be-all and end-all of openness: dissemination now encompasses broader Open Science. This is perhaps best illustrated by the notable rise in the popularity of preprints, which are increasingly being recognised as important research dissemination objects in their own right, the first step in a ‘Record of Versions’.

The case of preprints

Preprint servers across many disciplines have been blossoming since the launch (in early 1990s) and rapid growth of the high energy physics preprint server, arXiv. Many researchers use preprint servers that are independent of the major legacy publishers. According to the ASAPbio list of 56 preprint servers, 39 out of 56 are today owned by academic institutions, funding organisations, charities, individuals or community-owned, non-profit organisations, research infrastructure programs, or societies. This list includes well-known services such as those provided by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory such as bioRxiv and medRxiv. 

However, in recent years major publishers have set their sights on owning services that support multiple phases along the research process, including preprint servers. Examples include:

The consolidation, market dominance and control that such major publishers have over the journal articles landscape is well documented (see here for example). There is a risk that the same could be extended, indeed is being extended, to preprint services. See images below.

 

   Elsevier Sharing policy 

 

 

   Wiley Authorea preprint service 

 

 

   Sage Advance preprint server 

 

 

Commercial publishers owning preprint services control the content deposited in these services. Preprints could be seamlessly integrated into their full suite of services, providing full service – and maintaining full control – from preprint to peer-reviewed publication. Subsequently, publishers could move to require authors to use these services, changing their terms and conditions to restrict the rights ownership and permissions of preprints deposited in their servers. Needless to say, such a scenario would negatively affect the use of community-owned preprint services, increasing the dominance of a handful of major players over the entire research process from inception to publication.

Some major publishers are already making a grab for authors’ rights for articles. They could do that for preprints as well, and if for preprints, then, as they provide additional services for other ‘early publications,’ they could do it for any research output item they hold.

The quotation about land ownership at the opening of this blog was used for good reason. Major publishers’ control and ownership of research publication and dissemination services and their content can, and is, creeping up on the research community. As one means towards retaining the freedom to use their own work as they choose, researchers would be well advised to get into the habit of retaining their rights. 

 – The following post was originally published on LinkedIn on October 25, 2021 – 


It’s International Open Access Week and I’m taking a moment to step back and reflect on the Open Access movement. The call for Open Access publishing—scholarly research that is freely available, accessible, and reusable—has been around for more than 30 years. However, the last year-and-a-half provided an unprecedented case study on the power of Open Access and there are several learnings I hope we take forward and never forget.

First, the nearly immediate open sequencing of COVID-19 led to the rapid development of vaccines, saving millions of lives. Common barriers that researchers traditionally face—including paywalls, closed data, time lags, etc.—were snubbed and the open sharing of data and information led to increased collaboration and the expedited development of effective vaccines. In an exceptional way, we saw behavior change happen seemingly overnight as researchers and scientists around the globe shared early data and results, openly collaborated, and prioritized public health over prestige and personal gain.

Secondly, we saw the impact of restricted access to library and educational materials. Since libraries and educational institutions were closed or inaccessible, researchers—quarantined at home—encountered paywalls and limited access to information, forcing them to question the necessity and purpose of paywalls in an unmatched way. It has become harder and harder to argue that the current system is working well.

Third, my colleagues, peers, and I were able to attend and speak at workshops, conferences, and other convenings that otherwise would have been inaccessible due to scheduling conflicts, distance, time, or financial constraints. I observed more diversity, new voices, and a broader global representation at these virtual gatherings, which added tremendous value. I strongly hope we’ll continue to prioritize virtual and hybrid convenings moving forward.

At the start of 2021, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation updated our Open Access Policy to “enable the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded, in whole or in part, by the foundation, including any underlying data sets.” We took this stance because we believe that free and accessible research expedites innovation, helps solve problems faster, and saves more lives sooner. The past year-and-a-half proved that to be undoubtedly true. And now is the time to push for the acceleration of Open Access to ensure it becomes the norm.

Other recent and exciting developments in the Open Access movement came from cOAlition S, an international group of research funders who are committed to working together to advance Open Access, of which the foundation is a member. In July of 2020, cOAlition S launched the Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) which gives “researchers supported by a cOAlition S organization the freedom to submit manuscripts for publication to their journal of choice, including subscription journals, whilst remaining fully compliant with Plan S.” RRS has sparked more engaged and robust discussions around author rights and what it means to sign away those rights exclusively to publishers during the publishing process. cOAlition S also developed a Journal Checker Tool, which helps researchers easily identify journals or platforms that are compliant with Plan S, a set of 10 guiding principles for the future of Open Access publishing.

There has been so much momentum in the Open Access movement over the last year-and-a-half inside and outside of the work that I’ve been focused on. I’m hopeful that more funders and researchers will continue to feel empowered to embrace Open Access, because as the development of the COVID-19 vaccines has proven, the open and global sharing of research accelerates discoveries, expedites innovation, and saves lives.

As someone who is independent of cOAlition S, I have been monitoring with great interest the application of the Rights Retention Strategy (RRS).

Using Google Scholar and Paperpile, I have documented over 500 works published across hundreds of different outlets using the Rights Retention Strategy language in the acknowledgements section of the work. Authors are using it to retain their rights in preprints, journal articles, conference papers, book chapters, and even posters – this makes perfect sense; the RRS language is simple and easy to add to research outputs. It’s not a burden to acknowledge one’s research funding and to add the statement: “For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission“, and so authors are doing this.

The RRS language is simple and easy. It's not a burden to acknowledge one's research funding and add the statement: ''For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript… Click To Tweet

I am also pleased to observe that ALL the major publishers appear to be happily publishing works containing the RRS language, including Elsevier, ACS, Taylor & Francis, Wiley, IEEE, and Springer Nature (inc. Nature Publication Group). So, authors need not fear practising rights retention.

I note that the RRS is a tool that can be and is used across all disciplines – it works equally well for STEM and HSS. Indeed one of my favourite examples of RRS-in-action is a Wellcome Trust funded output by Dr Barbara Zipser from the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. Thanks to the RRS language Dr Zipser included in her submission, there is a full-text accepted author manuscript version of her work available at EuropePMC for all to read, whilst separately the journal-published version is available from the publisher website behind a 25 euro paywall. The author accepted manuscript has undergone peer review and has been accepted by the publisher (it is not a rough preprint, from before peer review). I do not need to read a version that has publisher branding & logos. When researchers choose the “green” route to open access, people need not feel sorry for the journal publisher – individual and institutional subscribers pay handsomely to support the journal. Thus, green open access is never “unfunded“, as some publishers have tried to claim.

As a keen Wikimedian, I am delighted with another aspect of the RRS. Prior to the RRS, green OA copies of articles weren’t much used on Wikimedia Commons owing to incompatible licensing. But now, with the RRS, suddenly, RRS-using green OA copies become easier to adapt for re-use on other websites. As Wikipedia is one of the top 15 most visited websites globally, I think it is very important that academic research is not prevented from being used there by overly restrictive licensing conditions. To celebrate this openness, I have added a few figure images sourced from cOAlition S funded, CC BY licensed, author accepted manuscripts using RRS to Wikimedia Commons. These images can be re-used within suitable Wikipedia articles across all languages, helping the transmission of research information beyond the constraints of academic journals and language barriers.

I am delighted that RRS-using green OA copies become easier to adapt for re-use on other websites. As Wikipedia is among the 15 most visited websites globally, it is very important academic research is not prevented from being used there… Click To Tweet

“The seven pillars of aging”, as depicted in Wellcome Trust funded research, for which the authors accepted manuscript, inclusive of this image, is licensed for use by the authors under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY). Image Credit: © David Gems & João Pedro de Magalhães from their article “The hoverfly and the wasp: A critique of the hallmarks of aging as a paradigm” as made available at EuropePMC.

 

I am particularly impressed with how the Irish institutional repository community has been adapting their workflows to accommodate and accurately present CC BY rights statements on deposits of author accepted manuscripts (AAMs) at Irish institutional repositories, often for Science Foundation Ireland funded research. To give one such example, I’ll point to a deposit of an AAM at the University of College Cork (UCC) repository, where the rights statement is clearly and correctly given as CC BY. I note with interest also that this AAM has been made available online before the publisher version of record (VOR) has been made available. Why wait for the publisher? Let the AAM free!

♦ ♦ ♦

I look forward to helping Arcadia Fund grantees use the Rights Retention Strategy to help their work have maximum impact, unrestrained by publisher-imposed artificial scarcity, from 2022 onwards when we align our open access policy with Plan S.

Many publishers rightly appear keen to proclaim publicly the many benefits of open access (OA), to state how eager they are to support openness, and to publicise their OA offerings to researchers to help make their articles open for greater access, visibility and readership (e.g. Wiley, T&F, and SN). They generally acknowledge that maximising sharing, availability, visibility, and barrier-free access are good for research. 

As part of its ‘sharing’ provision, Elsevier offers its published authors Share Links. It would appear, though, that the rhetoric surrounding these links does not match Elsevier’s own restrictions and dire warnings of the risks of sharing. (Readers may be interested that a similar problem of another major publisher’s permissions around sharing not matching rhetoric was described in the blog We encourage you to share your article widely – but not too much).

Share Links are customised links created for articles, available from the final publication stage, and in ‘the majority of Elsevier journals’. They provide 50 days’ payment-free, sign-in-free, access to read and download the article – after that, the article has a paywall barrier (temporary free access – a topic for another day). The Share Link points to a ‘Published Journal Article’ (PJA) (Elsevier’s term, synonymous with publisher’s ‘Version of Record’ (published PDF)). Share Links are used for articles published in subscription journals where the article is locked behind a paywall barrier for non-subscribers. Anyone with the link can freely access and download the full text of the article. It would appear that many authors are Tweeting their 50-day ‘free’ access links.

The Elsevier Share Link information proudly states (my emphasis):

“By sharing your article, you can make a bigger impact with your new publication. Now that your article is published, you can use your Share Link to share your research with friends, family, colleagues, and your wider network. There are many benefits to doing so.

  • Sharing the link via social media accounts and email helps you generate interest in your article.
  • Sharing your article makes it more visible, potentially increasing downloads and citations.

It continues:

“Share links can be shared with anyone through any communications channel potentially bringing your article to an audience of millions.

The Share Link web page trumpets the impact of the links, including the most popular link of 2017, where the paper has been viewed over 20,000 times.

Let me set aside, for now, the confusion for users caused by temporary free access (open – but only for a limited period) and the lack of information about the open/closed status of the paper in one example I looked at. I will focus on some discrepancies between what is advertised for Share Links and what is stated in Elsevier’s permissions and policies for authors.

Conundrum 1: Sharing is allowed with anyone / Sharing is restricted

Authors are encouraged to share the special Share Link “with anyone through any communications channel”, and told that it will help make a “bigger impact” – more visible, possibly increasing downloads, citations and so on. Yet, on reading the publisher’s information about article sharing, a very different view unfolds.

According to Elsevier’s article sharing policy regarding the Published Journal Article (i.e. the one available via the Share Link), authors are allowed to:

  •  share their Published Journal Article (PJA) privately with known students or colleagues for their personal use
  •  make some use for classroom teaching and internal training if their library is a subscriber to ScienceDirect

But:

  • “Otherwise sharing is by agreement only [the link here leads to a page about commercial platforms, technology and hosting options]
  • “the Published Journal Article cannot be shared publicly, for example on ResearchGate or Academia.edu, to ensure the sustainability of peer-reviewed research in journal publications.”

All of a sudden, there is no longer any mention of the permission to share it anywhere with anyone that the author was proudly told about their Share Link. No sign of the potential audience of millions”.

At this point, I got sucked into a seemingly endless vortex of linked policy and sharing pages, despite Elsevier’s statement that “we are committed to making it simple and seamless for researchers to share their research on platforms of their choice“. I challenge any author to read all the information provided to them about Elsevier’s open access and sharing instructions.

Strangely Share Links (nor Springer Nature’s similar SharedIt links) are not mentioned on the publisher-provided “How can I share it? website, which is supposed to make things easy (I personally beg to disagree with some of the principles that underpin this site). Using this website to check permissions for the publisher’s version of an article that is freely available via Share Link indicates the same article can only be shared via “Mendeley – group collaboration (private)“. Although, “additional full-text sharing options may exist – please check this directly with publisher Elsevier“, the link provided points to the Elsevier Sharing Policy page (see above), which, in direct contradiction to what Elsevier told the author about their Share Link, clearly states that the sharing permissions for this version are severely restricted.

Conundrum 2: Authors can/can’t share via academic networks

Authors are explicitly told in the Share Link blurb that using the link, their article “can be shared with anyone through any communications channel”, including on academic networking sites (sometimes called academic social networking sites or scholarly collaboration networks) and which are commonly understood to include Academia.edu or ResearchGate. 

“You can post the Share Link on your personal website and academic networking sites

And

“Share links can be shared with anyone through any communications channel potentially bringing your article to an audience of millions”.

Excellent. But if they read the Elsevier sharing information for authors, they are told:

“The Published Journal Article cannot be shared publicly, for example on ResearchGate or Academia.edu, to ensure the sustainability of peer-reviewed research in journal publications”.

According to this, if they do share via academic networks, they are jeopardisingthe sustainability of peer-reviewed research journal publications”. But they’ve just been told they can share access to the article using such networks….and it’s the publisher’s version PDF Elsevier is encouraging people to access using Share Links.

Conundrum 3: The article must / doesn’t have an embargo

Elsevier trumpets to their authors that the early and widespread sharing of their newly-published article” has many benefits. To this end, the publisher encourages their authors to share the publisher’s full text version using the Share Link provided. Let me state this in simple terms: Elsevier is encouraging its authors to maximise immediate and barrier-free access, by anyone, via any communication channel, to the publisher’s version of record (Published Journal Article) of a published article.

However, should the author read the information for authors for the example I used, and the Elsevier self-archiving embargo policy for other Elsevier journals (via their Journal Embargo Finder), they are given clear instructions to the contrary:

“For subscription articles, an appropriate amount of time is needed for journals to deliver value to subscribing customers before a manuscript becomes available for free to the public. This is called an embargo period and it begins from the date the article is formally published online in its final and fully citable form. Find out more This journal has an embargo period of 12 months”. [Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology]

Now, the Share Link points to the publisher’s PDF, but the principle is surely the same for both Author’s Accepted Manuscript (AAM) and publisher’s version – either Elsevier believes an embargo period is needed to ensure value for subscribers, or it is not.

Similarly paradoxical information is provided in Elsevier’s instructions for sharing AAMs online which states:

Authors can share their accepted manuscript: Immediately…via their non-commercial personal homepage or blog”……..but not “via non-commercial hosting platforms such as their institutional repository”. 

Yes, astonishingly, this means an embargo is required for one freely available website but not another. This is completely absurd.

Clarity please: either Elsevier believes an embargo period is needed to ensure value for subscribers or not.

Is the cat alive or dead?

The contortions that this publisher is going through to promote immediate free access and prevent it – at the same time – is quite extraordinary. It is the Schrödinger’s Cat of open access. Immediate free access to the article is simultaneously:

  • allowed AND restricted
  • beneficial AND harmful
  • can be shared with “an audience of millions” AND must not be shared beyond a strictly limited group
  • does NOT harm the sustainability of the journal AND harms sustainability of the journal
  • affects the value to subscribing customers AND does NOT affect the value to subscribing customers

Trying to have it both ways, both restricted AND widely and immediately open, is just bewildering. The cynic might wonder if Share Links are offered in order to increase impact and early citation with the aim of boosting the impact factor of Elsevier journals. Once achieved, free access can be cut off, and a paywall erected – job done. Some might say that this amounts to providing limited open access for economic and marketing reasons rather than to promote the dissemination of research.

All these shenanigans only serve to pile on confusion. This is why the cOAlition S stance is clear and straightforward – authors should be able to own and use their own content freely as they choose for all the benefits extolled by Elsevier (and other publishers). See Plan S Rights Retention Strategy. Many researchers agree with this premise (see here and here). Authors – don’t stand for this double-speak. Your work, your rights: Use them; don’t lose them!

Has anyone else noticed the conflict of advice that exists in the Springer Nature (SN) SharedIt initiative? On the face of it, it appears a good thing – actively encouraging authors to share their research – until you get into the weeds of what is permitted and required. [Added emphasis in quotations are all mine]

SN states that it 

wants researchers to share content easily

and that it wishes 

to enable researchers to share articles of interest with collaborators and colleagues. We also wish to enable authors to share their research articles widely” 

and proudly trumpets that using its SharedIt initiative 

links to view-only, full-text subscription research articles can be posted anywhere – including on social media platforms, author websites and in institutional repositories – so researchers can share research with colleagues and general audiences.” 

For now, let’s skate over the fact that this initiative is ‘read only’. As a SN author at this point, you might think – great. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

Those pesky Terms & Conditions

You have been sent the SharedIt link to your article and are excited because you’re told that you:

Can post shareable links to view-only versions of [your] peer-reviewed research paper anywhere, including via social channels, institutional repositories and authors’ own websites as well as scholarly collaborative networks.”

It says ‘anywhere.’ Excellent. Then you read the SharedIt Terms & Conditions (Ts & Cs). 

We support a reasonable amount of sharing of content by authors, subscribers and authorised users (“Users”), for small-scale personal, non-commercial use provided that you maintain all copyright and other proprietary notices.

This is quite a difference: only a reasonable amount of sharing is supported. That is a long way from anywhere. It certainly doesn’t sound like the “wish to enable authors to share their research articles widely” SN started out with. ‘Small-scale’ is even more limiting. I would have expected researchers might want ‘mega-scale’, worldwide interest in and access to their hard-won work.

Sharing for subscribers too

Not only can authors distribute links to their papers, but subscribers to the journal can obtain SharedIt links for articles to which they have access, and which they can disseminate. This includes anyone at a university eligible to use a university subscription to the journal, which may be many thousands of individuals at a single institution, to distribute the link.

SharedIt allows you to share research articles you or your institution have subscribed to in a legitimate way, facilitating discussions and collaborations with other researchers who may not have a subscription.”

The instructions state that: Reasonable sharing is encouraged for non-commercial, personal useand that subscribers can “share links to free-to-read versions of research articles anywhere.” That term again – ‘reasonable.’

More Ts & Cs

As a distributor of the link, you automatically agree to the Ts & Cs (“By using the unique SharedIt URL (“shareable link”), you agree to these terms of use (“Terms”)”). But it continues:

“By sharing, or receiving our content from a shared source, Users agree to be bound by these SharedIt Terms of Use.”

Or receiving.’ Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but I don’t grasp how the ‘Users’ (‘authors, subscribers and authorised users) who have agreed to these Ts & Cs can be responsible for the actions of the person receiving content via the link – who, given the trumpeting, could be any random person who’s found it via Twitter or other social channels or scholarly network where the author has posted it (see above). Someone, please correct me if I’m wrong.

But it gets even more confusing. The T’s & Cs state that:

“Users may occasionally share a shareable link to a read-only version of the full text article”.

We’ve had reasonableamount of sharing, then ‘small scale’ use. Now we are down to occasionally share. To me, the initial encouragement to share widely is becoming increasingly restricted. It is a long way off the “See Your Research Soar with SharedIt” headline on the SN ‘media plan’ for authors. Rather a case of clipped wings.

I also don’t understand how the insistence on limited (reasonable/small-scale/occasional) sharing, aligns with SN’s touting the large numbers of links distributed and accessed (“Over 3.25 million articles accessed in SharedIt’s first year”). It really seems like SN is trying to have it both ways. 

Finally, the following clause is very odd.

“Please ensure that you have the express consent of the recipient to send the link to their email address or contact details.”

This is, frankly, bizarre. I’m not aware of any author who would wish to contact a colleague to ask their consent prior to emailing them a link to an article they had written, and in which the recipient may be interested. Even if this may be intended to discourage authors from mass mailing their article to colleagues, the way in which this request is framed entails that prior consent for mailing must be asked of every potential recipient of the link.

Authors, Researchers, University members and others with subscription access beware?

If you obtain a SharedIt link, make sure that:

 1. you only use it occasionally, or reasonably, and make ‘small-scale’ use of it. Don’t get caught out sharing the links too much;

 2. people who receive the link you share abide by the SN SharedIt Ts & Cs;

 3. you obtain the express permission of the recipient before sending the link to their email address or contact details;

or you will be in breach of the SharedIt Ts & Cs that you agreed to by using the link. This is a publisher that is very keen to control authors’ use of the content they created and contributed to the publisher (I refer particularly to SN’s insistence on embargos for Author Accepted Manuscripts (AAMs), requiring that authors sign a contract that they know contradicts an existing agreement the author has with their cOAlition S funder, to apply a CC BY licence to their AAM). Would this publisher really take action against authors for breaking SharedIt terms?

Conclusion

That SN “wish to enable researchers to share articles of interest” sounds wholesome and sensible. It certainly is good PR. The (then) Chief Publishing Officer of SN stated it even more strongly:

For too long ‘sharing’ has been a difficult word in academic publishing. We believe we work at the behest of our authors and subscribers, and as the ability to share their work and collaborate around new research is critical to them, it needs to be critical to us as well.”

[Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer, Springer Nature, 27 Nov 2017] 

 

However, scratching the surface by scrutinizing the T&Cs reveals a clear reticence to make sharing either as easy for authors or as wide as we might have been led to believe. To my mind, ‘sharing’ remains a difficult word in academic publishing. ‘Sharing’ is adopted because it sounds good, but in this ‘publisher’ definition of the word, it is not used in the open science sense of the word: in publisher-speak, it means limited distribution, access and re-use.

Inchcoombe adds:

“Research needs to be as discoverable, accessible, understandable, and as shareable as possible… All of this underlines our commitment to enabling new research findings to be read and used by those who support and enable research, by those who help these findings to be applied for the benefit of all, as well as the interested wider public. 

While SN heralds the wide use of and accesses via SharedIt, the Ts and Cs offer a different perspective. Plus, despite a commitment to enabling research findings to be read and used, the links provide read-only access. Clearly, permissions only partially match the fine words.

The cOAlition S Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) is designed to address exactly the problem that SN describes, i.e. sharingresearch articles you or your institution have subscribed to in a legitimate way, facilitating discussions and collaborations with other researchers who may not have a subscription.” The difference with the RRS being that legitimacy is achieved by sufficient rights for sharing and reusing the AAM retained by the author – not reliant on restrictive permissions imposed by the publisher. SN insists on imposing embargoes, on AAMs, even when many researchers publicise they do not want them (see for example this statement).

The point I am making here is the discrepancy between the SN rhetoric on sharing and the restrictions SN attempts to impose on sharing when you closely examine the small print that authors and subscribers actually agree to via use of the links. 

SN, if you really want to demonstrate your commitment for findings to be ‘read and used,’ and to support authors for whom sharing work is ‘critical’ (Inchcoombe, 2017), then simply open up all articles or, at the very least, don’t put barriers in the way of authors using copies of their own work via authors’ rights retention.