cyberscience: by default Elsevier's licence, copyright, etc. cripples us

I have recenly been invited to write an article on Open Access for an Elsevier journal, “Serials Review”. I would normally refuse as this is a closed access journal but it is an opportunity to get some of the arguments for Open Access and Open Data across. Before committing to write this article I explored all the conditions imposed by Elsevier – and also who might be able to read the article, for what period, whether they could keep a copy, re-use it, etc. I think we can all agree that whatever the rights and wrongs and differences of philosophy, practice, etc. it is complicated. So, in writing this article I am setting aside at least two day of my time for discourse with the publisher. Fortunately in this case the discourse will form part of the article (except, of course, for those parts which the publisher does not allow).
In the SR article I shall publish creative digital works, authored by me. I shall have to negotiate with the publisher as to who retains copyright and what re-use is possible. (I have been distressed by Wiley’s policy that scientific data (as graphs) is the publishers’ property.) I need to find out if Elsevier take the same view.
I’m carrying out this discussion in public. This is because previous conventional correspondence with publishers is frequently unsatisfactory. For example letters are sometimes not acknowledged, discussions break off in midstream (Springer have never replied to my reasonable question as to why they don’t use CC-BY given that their informal discourse suggests this.). So I shall post a public copy of my questions, copy them to a named individual at the publisher and inform them that in the reply to my public questions I would like to publish their reply unless they indicate otherwise). So this is the first of these requests.
I will be the first to admit that I do not always reply to reasonable requests and am not blameless. We are all overwhelmed by information. But I sometimes get the impression that replies and non-replies from publishers are designed to wear the correspendent down rather than to help.
So I haven’t highlighted Elsevier on this blog because they don’t publish any Open Access chemistry that I could discover. (Maybe the HHMI will change this their agreement with Elsevier for double-payment free-to-read-but-not-to-do-anything-useful-with “open access”).
Cyberscience involves using HUGE amounts of data. CrystalEye has used a modest 100,000 crystal structures from about 50,000 publications over several years. The reason it isn’t higher is:

  • Most chemistry departments throw this data away or let it decay (ca 80% revealed in our SPECTRa study)
  • Most theses do not contain this info in machine-readable form.

in principle we can change this by changing the culture (and putting in some funding). But the most serious reason is:

  • Several of the major publishers either do not require this data, or throw it away, or hide it behind toll-access firewalls or worst of all (like Wiley) copyright it.

So I have been trying to find out what Elsevier’s policy is. Be warned, it is complex. Let’s look at readers first (or users in the case of robots). Here is what I found on the masthead of Serials Review. (I have not asked permission to quote this material, but I have given attribution, and will defend this as fair use, in the public interest. I have tried to copy it exactly by cutting and pasting, but may have excised some of the non-printing characters that most publishers add in their creative works).

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PMR: This is clear. Elsevier owns everything in the article I submit to them. (I may have missed something, but I get the impression that if I query it they will thank me and claim ownership to it as well). By default Elsevier forbids me to carry out cyberscience on any of their material. Maybe this is an oversight and the responsible thing is to write for permission. Tedious, but here goes:


PERMISSIONS – JOURNALSElsevier is pleased to announce our partnership with Copyright Clearance Center to meet your licensing needs.With Copyright Clearance Center’s Rightslink® service it’s faster and easier than ever before to secure permission from Elsevier titles to be used in a book/textbook, journal/magazine, newspaper/newsletter, coursepack/classroom materials, TV programme/documentary, presentation/slide kit, thesis/dissertation, CD-ROM/DVD, promotional materials/pamphlet, conference proceedings, CME material, training materials, in a poster, use a journal cover image, or photocopy.Getting permission via Rightslink is easy, simply follow the steps below:1. Locate your desired content on External link ScienceDirect (guest users can view abstracts for free)
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The next post contains a copy of a letter to Elsevier requesting permission.

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One Response to cyberscience: by default Elsevier's licence, copyright, etc. cripples us

  1. Pingback: Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge - petermr’s blog » Blog Archive » Request to Elsevier for robotic extraction of data from their journals

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