Voyages into publisher copyright – Full Open Access.

Some readers may wonder why I am spending energy and words on Open Access to publishers’ sites when I can simply read the papers they have listed as OA. Surely that’s all that matters?
Well, no. I’m a scientist and I want to developed data-driven science – the idea that there is a huge amount of data out there that is telling us about the natural world, the human world and our technology. Much of this data is semi- or un-structured but we are developing tools to overcome this. We believe that there is a huge amount of undiscovered science out there and that machines can help us liberate it. After all we have shown (with Indiana University) that our software can read 500,000 Pubmed abstracts in a day. Why can’t we do the same for full chemistry papers.
Very simple. We can’t get access to them, and if we do we are in danger of being cut off or worse. (I don’t know what “worse” is, but we’ve been cut off and I don’t want to find out.). Many publishers make it EXTREMELY difficult to access the data in their publications. My current blogging is an attempt to find out whether this is deliberate and if not, to suggest ways forward.
The major problem is legal access rights. As Peter Suber says, many people are not prepared to break copyright – I try to be one of them. If I see a copyright on a paper – unaccompanied by a license or other guide – then by default there is very little that I know I can do with it.  If I copy it onto my web site, use it for teaching, put pictures from it is a book the chances are I will have the lawyers after me. So copyright, by itself, is a MAJOR deterrent.
Copyright is also complex. It varies from country to country and is rimged around with fuzzy concepts like fair use which – in essence – say: here are some rough ideas of what things you are allowed to do but we can’t tell your how often, how much and you could anyway be taken to court. If so you might be able to use “fair use” as a defence.
Now some publishers want us to re-use their material. Here is a typical example from Biomed Central website :

BioMed Central is an independent publishing house committed to providing immediate open access to peer-reviewed biomedical research
All original research articles published by BioMed Central are made freely and permanently accessible online immediately upon publication. BioMed Central views open access to research as essential in order to ensure the rapid and efficient communication of research findings.


All research articles published by BioMed Central may be freely accessed, re-used and re-distributed
Authors publishing with BioMed Central retain the copyright to their work, licensing it under the Creative Commons Attribution License. This license allows articles to be freely downloaded from the BioMed Central website, and also allows articles to be re-used and re-distributed without restriction, as long as the original work is correctly cited [more information].

The important thing about this is that it is INSTANTLY CLEAR WHAT IS GOING ON.  That is what I am banging on about at the moment. It takes me 10 seconds to understand the BMC website. I have not yet – sorry – understood the Springer policy after half an hour or more.
But suppose I find a paper from and I didn’t know it was published by BMC. I’d be afraid of violating copyright. Does the paper help? Yes!:

© 2007 Spjuth et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

What could be simpler than that? nothing… it is INSTANTLY CLEAR WHAT IS GOING ON.
And I could have picked many other publishers such as PLoS, Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry and so on. They all use Creative Commons or similar licenses.
So the practice for “full open access” is simple:

  • announce the policy on the journal masthead
  • announce the policy in the TOC by each Open Access article
  • put appropriate copyright notices (i.e. NOT the publisher, but the authors) in the paper and accompany them by a clear statement of the terms of re-use. This is most easily done by a simple inclusion of a well-known and understood license. The publisher might, if they wish, create their own license with the same intent but different words, but why bother?

So my concern with Springer – and this is the last mention in this post – is that the only mention of Open Access is in the publishers’ web page and they retain copyright of the paper. Jan, why don’t you simply use CC as illustrated here. That would save a lot of angst and make friends.
… now we’ll move onto not quite so open …

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3 Responses to Voyages into publisher copyright – Full Open Access.

  1. kg says:

    May I remember that something in the text of the BERLIN DECLARATION is mostly overlooked: “A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials, INCLUDING A COPY OF THE PERMISSION AS STATED ABOVE, in an appropriate standard electronic format is deposited (and thus published) in at least one online repository using suitable technical standards (such as the Open Archive definitions) that is supported and maintained by an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or other well-established organization that seeks to enable open access, unrestricted distribution, inter operability, and long-term archiving.” (My emphasis). True OA according Berlin has to be LABELED. The rights Berlin declaration grants are like a license and this quasi-license should be deposited with the e-print. There are millions of OA articles but I never found an excerpt of Berlin among them. With the growing of CC there was no need to do so because CC-BY is better for the openness of scholarly texts than Berlin (Berlin allows only a few print-outs for personal use).
    Now let’s ask if Springer is a “well established organization” which seeks unrestricted distribution and long-term archiving.

  2. pm286 says:

    (1) Many thanks. I will add this mantra to all the other OA stuff I quote. Excellent.

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