In a recent post Springer – I resign from your Journal – July 8th, 2007 I criticized Springer for their failure to implement their Open Choice according to their promise to authors. I thank Jan Velterop for his speedy and long reply (in the comments section). Since the subject is a very serious and very immediate one I’m taking his reply and commenting on it.
As background I should point out that the motivation is to review the value of the label “Open Access” for data-driven science – the ability for a machine to read the literature and extract facts from it. I and colleagues are comprising a list of all Open Access chemistry journals and the rights that humans and robots have to re-use the information in them. (We intend to submit our findings to an Open Access journal). As a side product we may investigate “Open Access” publications from Closed Access publishers (variously “Open Choice”, “Online Open”, “Open Access”) which require substantial payment by the authors. (At this stage I am not concerned about whether this is good or bad, simply as to whether the authors and readers get what they are entitled to).
Springer was among the first of the major Closed publishers to announce such and offering and to suggest that this would be an important milestone in Open Access. As such they have a special commitment to do whatever they do properly, including clarity to all concerned.
Bill Hooker puts it well:
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. [PMR’s emphasis] 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!
My additional concerns were:
- That the authors were not getting what they paid for – the ability to retain copyright and offer full Open Access to everyone
- That Springer made no effort to indicate, let alone promote, that the paper was an Open Access one.
For example if you visit the pages by putting the DOI 10.1007/s00894-005-0041-7 into Google you get:
File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Fax: +31-20-5987488. J Mol Model (2006) 12: 531–536. DOI 10.1007/s00894-005-0041-7 …
www.springerlink.com/index/KP82270286744820.pdf – Similar pages – Note this
which, if followed, leads to a page with only a minute bar , hardly readable, indicating that the paper is Open Choice (and no explanation or hyperlink). There is no ALT tag so an unsighted person would have no idea that the paper is Open in any way. Indeed there is a larger option via the shopping cart encouraging the reader to purchase it for 32 USD. This is a disservice to the authors. I think that it is not unreasonable to use “false pretences” for offering to sell a free item. (I do not care to do the experiment but I am sure if I followed this I would be charged).
I now return to Jan’s reply. I do not wish this to get acrimonious – and I enjoyed my visit to Springer at Jan’s invitation last year. However the public face of Springer pages give no indication that they bhave put any effort into Open Choice – and this is 2 years down the line. By contrast Open Access journals like PLoS, BMC and Chemistry Central are very simple and very clear. They don’t find it difficult to add author’s copyright and license to papers – nor indeed do Blackwell (I shall blog about them later).
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?
PMR: I have made it clear why I used terms such as lack of care and false pretences. They may be harsh and they may be unfair to individuals but they are accurate about the outward face of the publisher. And that is what we should go on. There is virtually no public effort in promoting the Open Access concept.
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)
PMR: where is this metadata? I didn’t see any on the Abstract page. I agree that in principle a publisher could make a paper Open Access if it added a license such as CC-BY. (But who would be the “BY” – the publisher?). But without an explicit license the paper is not by default Open Access according to the full definition.
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)
PMR: I don’t label my blog as “full open access”. The BY-NC was to encourage readers to post without fear of having their material sold. However we have been reconsidering changing to BY
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).
PMR: On following this I get:
An Open Access Publication is one that meets the following two conditions:
- The author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship, as well as the right to make small numbers of printed copies for their personal use.
- A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials, including a copy of the permission as stated above, in a suitable standard electronic format is deposited immediately upon initial publication in at least one online repository that is supported by an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or other well-established organization that seeks to enable open access, unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long-term archiving (for the biomedical sciences, PubMed Central is such a repository).
PMR: I see nothing here that forbids commercial use (as Springer does). There are many commercial uses other than printing copies, such as creating databases, intelligent software, music, etc.
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.)
PMR: I note this, but this operation is going on for 2 years old. In any case the publishers consistently tell us about the added value and how much this costs to do properly. I let the community judge whether you have taken a professional approach here.
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.
PMR: Other publishers such as Blackwell don’t have a problem here. But there is no reason to add your copyright when you are not entitled to. Or have you already insisted on a transfer of copyright? In which case this is hardly promoting Open Access.
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.
PMR: You have a larger number of articles which are labelled green and which are readable toll-free but are not labelled Open Choice. This is mislabelling – it is not Open Choice it is publisher donation of toll-free reading.
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?
PMR: I am only commenting on what is meant by Open Access here – not on the business decisions for offering it or not.
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.
PMR: Thank you
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.”
PMR: That is how they appear to the casual reader. The publishers’ rights are promoted and the reader is encouraged to pay for the article.
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.
PMR: I hope the answers above are fair, if unflattering. I leave unanswered whether hybrid access schemes promote OA or not. But they have to be responsibly implemented.
I am sorry to have got bogged down in this – when reviewing access to data in Open Access papers I had expected that actual access to data was possible and that the question was whether the license explicitly allowed re-use. But there is no license associated with your material – only a copyright statement – and even if the copyright is still retained by the authors there is no automatic right of re-use. I hope that Springer can devote more effort to promoting Open Access and Open Data.