Springer – I resign from your Journal

Till today I was a member of the editorial board of Journal of Molecular Modeling · Computational Chemistry – Life Sciences – Advanced Materials – New Methods – published by Springer. It wasn’t very onerous – I occasionally got a mail from the editor to comment on a submitted paper – and I was loyal enough to publish a paper in it two years ago. And I and a co-author were considering publishing another one and because we believe in Open Access wished to do this under the Springer Open Choice system. Here’s what it offers according to its Architect, Jan Velterop (excerpt):

Springer Open Choice: Open Access Publishing
In this model the author also submits a manuscript for peer review, in exactly the
same way as in the traditional system. However, when the article is accepted for
publication, the author does not transfer copyright, but, instead, arranges for
payment of a so-called article processing fee, which defrays the publisher’s costs
and as a result the article will be published with immediate and permanent full
open access on line. At Springer there will also be a traditional printed version,
which follows the usual subscription model, albeit with much reduced costs, as the
only costs that need to be covered for open access articles are those of the actual
paper, printing, handling and postage.

and “More information and details can be found on this web site”

Springer Open Choice™
Your Research. Your Choice.
Springer operates a program called Springer Open Choice. It offers authors to have their journal articles made available with full open access in exchange for payment of a basic fee (‘article processing charge’).
With Springer Open Choice the authors decide how their articles are published in the leading and well respected journals that Springer publishes. Springer continues to offer the traditional publishing model, but for the growing number of researchers who want open access, Springer journals offer the option to have articles made available with open access, free to anyone, any time, and anywhere in the world. If authors choose open access in the Springer Open Choice program, they will not be required to transfer their copyright to Springer, either.
well, the “basic fee” is USD 3000 which immediately deterred my co-author (also an editor) as he is an independent scientist of renown but is not supported by an institution. So I looked to see what the authors were getting – at least they would get “full open access” – and I could rely on this since Jan Velterop is a signatory of the Budapest Declaration.
So I went to JMolMod to search for any Open Choice articles. Springer provides no advertisement for Open Choice – you cannot search for (“all Open Choice articles”). So you have to browse journal-by-journal (and I have to say that like all other publishers sites it is very badly laid out). Anyway I found the overall TOC. This advertises

  • Access to all content
  • Access to some content
  • Access to no content
Note: no mention of Open Choice. It seems that
  • almost issues are white (toll-only). This was to be expected.
  • a very few issues are openly readable (toll-free) and these carry the full green square. They carry no “Open Choice” or other indication of rights and are usually either a Jan-1 issues and/or a special issue. There is no indication as to whether they will remain toll-free.
  • a very very few issues are white+green (access to some content). I went to that issues and found two “Open choice ” articles. At least someone is paying for the privilege.
But I was APPALLED to find that the article was copyrighted by Springer. No mention of Open Choice, No mention of Open Access. All you get for your 3000 USD. And the bottom link points to:

Permissions Request To request reuse of content from this Springer Science+Business Media journal, please e-mail Springer Rights & Permissions directly at permissions.heidelberg@springer.com for assistance.This journal is not currently supported for reuse licensing through Rightslink.Please include content information available on SpringerLink.com (article title, author, date, issn, volume, issue), your request details, your contact information, and a link to the content on SpringerLink if available.
To purchase or view a PDF of this article, please close this window and select “add to shopping cart”.
Close Window

Copyright © 2007 Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Comments? We would like to hear from you. E-mail us at customercare@copyright.com
so it is absolutely clear that Springer has no intention of actually making this article Open Access even by their own “Your Research. Your Choice” promise, let alone the BOAI. Even if Springer honoured their commitment to the author, their words are not BOAI-compliant as they forbid commercial use.This isn’t a glitch in the technical editing. I have looked for other “Open Choice” articles and none of them have copyright attributed to the authors. Since I cannot assume many authors would consciously pay 3000 USD and then hand over their copyright I assume they have copyrighted material that doesn’t belong to them. (Or, of course, the Open Access label doesn’t actually refer to an Open Access purchase). There’s even one journal where every article has a full green sticker and just one has Open Access. The authors of that one have no more rights than their TOC neighbours. The only difference is that they get 200 pixels saying “Open Choice”. That’s not much for 3000 USD.
So I’m using this blog to resign from the editorial board of JMolMod. I cannot be associated with such practices.
The best that can be said is that Springer don’t care a green fig about Open Choice – they clearly have made no effort to implement it with the care that is required. That’s certainly the impression that most of the large publishers give – they want to be able to say “we offered this choice but hardly anyone wanted to take it up”.
If Springer care about it they should give all the authors their money back. I think they have destroyed the idea of Open Choice for the whole publishing industry. It doesn’t matter what the details were – they have blatantly failed to deliver “full open access” and they have taken a lot of money for it.
[I have given enough links for any readers to play the game of “hunt the Open Choice and find the copyrights”. It isn’t easy. I may have got some things wrong in the struggle. But not the lack of “full open access”].

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10 Responses to Springer – I resign from your Journal

  1. Bill says:

    Devil’s advocate/in defense of Springer:
    1. $3000 is on par with OA charges elsewhere (e.g. PLoS), and also on par with page charges at some expensive journals (e.g. PNAS)
    2. The Open Choice artices are at least free to read. I just tried the article you linked, I presume all Open Choice articles are similarly free to download/read.
    However:
    1. Free Is Not Open! and Jan, as a signatory to Budapest, knows or should know this.
    2. The article you linked does not appear in PubMed Central and the PubMed entry does not link to the freely readable version. In addition, neither the pdf nor html version available from the journal website is labeled in any way that indicates Open, or even free, access. This is a tremendous oversight, since anyone finding the article through PubMed will not know that it is available to read, and anyone finding the article at the journal site (e.g. via Google Scholar) will not know what permissions obtain. As Peter Suber has argued, the absence of a clear and conspicuous label cripples OA. This is especially so when not even PubMed knows there is a free version!
    3. That “request permissions” button has no place on an Open Access article! OA by definition means that you know what permissions obtain: all of them!
    4. The article contains the following claim:

    Electronic Supplementary Material Supplementary material is available for this article at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00894-005-0041-7 and is accessible for authorized users.

    but that DOI does not resolve. Argh!
    Judging from my (limited) interaction with him, Jan is a reasonable guy who really does care about OA. I’m sure if you emailed him a link to this post, he’d at least respond (Jan.VelteropATSpringerDOTcom).

  2. Michael Jahn says:

    My best to you. Few stand for principles anymore. Search Google for PDF Evangelist. That is who i am. If I can help in any small way please ask.
    http://www.magicomm.biz/index.php?ct=about&ch=Leadership%20Team

  3. pm286 says:

    (1) Thanks for confirming my analysis, Bill.
    (a) what Springer appear to have implemented is “Green Open Access”. Free but not Open and with the rights extremely muddled. Some publishers do something like this – e.g. ACS – who allow access but insist on copyright transfer. But at least they do what they say (even though I think it’s too little).
    But Springer have consistently and blatantly failed to deliver what they have advertised and for what they have taken money. It’s not good enough to offer Open (or Gold) access and then only to deliver Green. And I hope no-one takes the line – “at least it’s Green and that’s the main point”. It’s a systematic failure of a large publisher who made a lot of noise about this wonderful scheme.

  4. Jan Velterop says:

    Dear Peter,
    Of course I will reply to your message, and yes, this is the first message from you I receive regarding this matter, and it is entirely possible that any previous email message has been lost in the spam filter.
    It is more than a little ironic and sad that the integrity of the one large publisher who is trying to move open access forward is put into doubt, to say it mildly. Is everything perfect? I would be the first to admit that more work has to be done. But does that call for being put in the stocks and having ‘false pretences’, ‘not caring a green fig’, or the rotten eggs of a trashed integrity thrown at you?
    First I want to clear up a basic misunderstanding, that open access equals authors keeping copyright. Of course, authors *can* keep their copyright, but *any* copyright holder can make an article open access, and this *includes* the publisher. Having open access articles with the publisher’s copyright is not an oxymoron in the slightest. In fact, as far as Springer Open Choice articles go, it may well still be the majority, and I will explain that in a moment. But open access articles with the publisher’s copyright line on them are *no less* open access than those with the author’s copyright. They are labelled ‘Open Choice’ in SpringerLink (and in their metadata) and they can be used for any non-commercial purpose, according to what Creative Commons licence (the non-commercial one; the one you also use for your blog) and our web site stipulate. This is wholly in line with the definition of open access in the Bethesda Declaration (http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/bethesda.htm#definition). The ‘permission’ button is a general one that appears on any article and that goes off to RightsLink. It is a flaw that clicking the button didn’t tell you that permissions for non-commercial use of Open Choice articles are not needed, and there were some issues with RightsLink distinguishing the Open Choice articles. Those issues, if they haven’t been solved completely yet, are certainly recognised and will be resolved soon.)
    There are reasons for not showing an author copyright line on all the Springer Open Choice articles. First of all, the choice is often taken rather late by authors, and the article has already been produced and published when the decision is taken. This is probably a consequence of the fact that we only allow the choice being made after an article has gone through peer-review and has been accepted for publication. This is a way of avoiding that any knowledge that an article would be paid for could lead to inappropriate acceptance decisions. Secondly, not all Open Choice articles have been paid for by authors or their funders, as we have decided ourselves to make article Open Choice in order to track downloads and citations and compare those to other, non-open articles. Thirdly, we have made a few arrangements with universities whereby articles from their researchers have been made Open Choice retrospectively. Just last week, for instance, a thousand or so articles from The Netherlands have been made Open Choice, as a result of just such an arrangement (which provides for Open Choice for all articles from Dutch universities to be Open Choice). Which other major publisher has done anything of the sort?
    That said, we do recognise that where authors themselves opt for Open Choice, the copyright line should carry their name, and we are working hard to make sure the procedures we have in place for all of our journals are more robust in making sure that the choice can indeed be made in time for the production of the article, yet after the peer-review and editorial decision have taken place. That procedure is currently being tested, and will be rolled out as soon as the test results are satisfactory.
    As for articles being deposited in PubMed Central, we habitually do that if Open Choice is ordered and paid for, and if it is an article that falls within the scope of PMC (obviously civil engineering is not, for instance). Any Open Choice articles, also the ‘complimentary’ ones, can always be deposited in any repository, including PMC. The article you use as an example may very well be one that we, as publishers, decided to make Open Choice for the reasons mentioned above. The authors are perfectly free to deposit the article, including the published PDF, in PMC. The articles with the label Open Choice’ are fully open, are most definitely *not* “being wrapped in rights management tools to control their use.”
    With best wishes, and the hope that you can levy any future criticism in a constructive spirit, without wrapping it in doubts about my — and the company’s — integrity.
    Jan Velterop
    Drs Johannes (Jan) Velterop
    Springer
    Senior Director of Open Access and Journal Publishing Facilitation

  5. The OA community is divided in people like Suber who think that reducing PERMISSION BARRIERS is an essential of OA and people like Harnad who think cost free access is OA.
    There are important OA journals which have CC-BY as license (PLoS, BMC, Hindawi etc.) and this seems me the best way to manage the rights in accordance of the BBB definitions.
    There is no reason to exclude commercial use as I have argued at
    http://archiv.twoday.net/stories/3493112
    There are NO restrictions in the BBB definitions of OA which exclude commercial use. Commercial use is therefore allowed by these definitions. Velterop is wrong when claiming that Springer’s OA definition is true OA.
    It’s a little bit hypocrisy by PMR on the one hand to choose a NC-license fot his personal blog and on the other hand to incriminate Springer because it forbids commercial use.

  6. pm286 says:

    (5) Thanks.
    As I noted already this blog is not labelled OA so there is no requirement to have a CC-BY licence. But I have addressed this later.

  7. Pingback: Ouch - Springer editorial board members publicly resigns « putting down a marker

  8. Pingback: Ouch - Springer editorial board member publicly resigns « putting down a marker

  9. pm286 says:

    (7) This quite rightly on the surface criticizes me as “hasty”. However I had already written to Jan Velterop at Springer and received no reply and I have posted the text of the letter on your blog to show that it was written in a reasoned manner. Of course there may have been a problem with the mail getting to Springer or getting spamboxed and maybe Springer can investigate.
    I possibly went too far in my language. But gentle talk doesn’t accomplish much in this area. And the further review of the publishers suggest there is a systemic failure to promote any of their “open” schemes.
    P.

  10. Philip Davis says:

    Finding Open Choice articles…forgettaboutit!
    I communicated extensively with Jan Veltrop of Springer, who was good enough to send me a spreadsheet of Open Choice articles in their journals. After spending a short time, it became clear that “Open Choice” (Springer’s program of author-sponsored articles) is being confused with many forms of free access. I discovered that Springer’s normal practice of allowing the odd free issue, or free supplement to be labeled “Open Choice”. Commentary, perspective, or educational feature articles from some journals were consistently labeled Open Choice.
    When I countered to Mr. Veltrop that Springer’ program is confusing free access with their Open Choice program, he responded: “Why is it ‘vague’? Surely the thing that matters is that the articles are open access; not who paid for them or sponsored them or why?”
    But it DOES matter, because it grossly confuses access models with a business model, and Open Choice as a business model. Someone who has been in the publishing business for most of his life should understand the difference and its implications.
    This could merely be the product of confusion or incompetence on the part of those responsible for labeling articles. It may be a purposeful activity to artificially inflate the success of Springer’s Open Choice program. Whatever the motive or cause, Open Choice can simply not be trusted as an indicator of Springer’s Open Choice business model.
    Either the publisher should get it right, and provide some distinction to those authors who have been willing to pay $3,000 to have an article published as Open Choice, or relabel all of their free content simply as “Free Article”. As it stands, their program leads to confusion and obfuscation. If I spent $3,000 for Open Choice, I’d be pissed.

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