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A Scientist and the Web


Indexing Open Access and Free Access articles

I reported that Chemspider had been asked to take down indexes of scientific articles (based presumably on chemical names) and stated that I did not think this was reasonable. (My language was probably rather more heated – I shall choose words carefully in the near future. The position now seems to be clear:

  1. ChemSpiderMan Says:
    October 15th, 2007 at 6:16 pm ePeter…fyi regarding the situation: Visit

    The post is given here for you too.

    Agreement Reached between ChemRefer and RSC

    We have been requested to remove all RSC articles from the ChemRefer Index.
    The articles in question, from 1997-2004 are marked as ‘Free access’ and, these being indexable according to the robots.txt file, formed the basis of the current indexing. The RSC are unhappy at the way their articles have been presented and linked to in our search results, and consider that the additional intended reuse of the indexed information in ChemSpider without permission violates the terms of use.

    RSC will reconsider the indexing policy for ChemRefer if requested changes are made to the search results and we are presently in discussions with the RSC to identify and execute on these modifications. All RSC articles will be de-indexed from ChemRefer during the next indexing cycle.

PMR: thank you for this. I now comment without emotion.

From what I can see the RSC has made copies of its older articles (ca. 2-3 years) “Free Access”. This means they can be read on the Web. They are not labelled Open Access and are copyrighted in the original manner (“This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2003″). The Permission box states:

Material in RSC and other publishers’ publications is subject to all applicable copyright, database protection, and other rights.   Therefore for any article, whether printed or electronic, permission must be obtained to use material for which the author(s) does not already own the copyright.   This material may be, for example, a figure, diagram, table, photo or some other image.   Note that permission is not needed to re-use your own figures, diagrams, etc, which were originally published in an RSC publication.   However, permission should be requested for use of the whole article or chapter.

PMR: This does not indicate whether or how the material may be indexed. I make the following observations:

  • The term “Free Access” is used although it is unclear whether this is simply an incentive to read the paper or describes types of access and re-use.
  • The RSC uses the term “Open Science” to describe its author-pays hybrid

I am not surprised there is confusion, which stems from a lack of clarity. It would be useful to know when and how publishers wished to have links to their articles; it seems a pity to have to take all the links down again. I would have thought that publishers would welcome pointers to their papers.

I asked the general question and asked if Peter Suber would give his best shot at an opinion.

  1. Peter Suber Says:
    October 15th, 2007 at 4:09 am eHi Peter. You asked me to comment “on what it is legal to index without publishers’ permission. And what it is reasonable to expect from someone who labels themselves an Open Access publisher.” I’ll give it a try.

    On the first: I wish I knew. Some book publishers are suing Google for indexing their copyrighted books without permission. The case has not come to trial and law professors disagree in their predictions of the outcome. On the publishers’ side is the fact that Google has to make copies in order to create its index, and it makes these copies without the copyright holder’s permission. On Google’s side is the fact that it is not distributing the copies, but only distributing fair-use snippets. I would guess that the kind of indexing you have in mind is even more lawful than Google’s (however lawful that is), since you only distribute uncopyrightable facts. But I just don’t know whether your kind of indexing has ever been tested in court.

    On the second: While the term “open access” has a clear public definition, not every journal describing itself with the term lives up to that definition. Some of them state clearly what they have in mind, which is fair even if we wish they would use the public definition instead. The hybrid OA journals are usually specific about what they offer in exchange for a publication fee, and they usually avoid the term “open access”; they should be held to the terms of their offer. (I’ve appreciated your blog posts monitoring hybrid publishers and calling out those who are not living up to their own terms.) If a journal uses the term without saying what it has in mind, then I think it would be fair to assume it means the BBB definition. I don’t know whether the journal would be legally bound to live up to the BBB definition, but nor do I know how the publisher could complain if users took the term to mean what its public definitions say it means.

    Peter Suber

PMR: Many thanks, Peter. It is a great pity that the current situation is so messy. I cannot see who benefits anywhere. I take the simple-minded Web 2.0 that the more exposed something is the more value it accretes. I am not advocating the misappropriation of electronic content, simply creating an electronic index of the facts within it.

Unless someone tells me otherwise it is legal to make an index of a printed book. I can, for example, list the names of characters in Harry Potter without infringing. If I legally buy a copy on CDROM can I make an index from that? If I read the RSC articles on the web surely I can type up a list of the melting points (facts) in the article? But if I use a machine to reduce the labour I cannot do this?

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