Wellcome would like comments on author-pays licence

Robert Kiley has asked me to help garner comment on a potentially restrictive author-pays (or as may be funder-pays) licence. I’ll post him in full and add my own comment.

Open access licence: researcher opinion sought

A learned society has offered the Wellcome Trust an open access, author pays option for researchers who seek publication in their journal. However, the licence they wish to attach to these articles is more restrictive than the Trust would normally require when paying an OA fee.

The purpose of this posting is to seek opinion from the research community on whether these restrictions will, in any way, limit a researchers ability to re-use this content.

Summary of relevant licence conditions

The relevant section of the licence is shown below, in italics

PMC or UKPMC mirror site users may access, download, copy, display and redistribute articles, as well as text and data mine content in articles for non-commercial purposes only, subject to the following conditions:

  • In the case of text-mining, User may incorporate individual words, concepts and quotes up to 100 words per matching sentence, whereas longer paragraphs of text and images cannot be used.
  • Users may not create derivative works (as defined in the U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §101 et seq.) based upon the documents.

The Wellcome Trust is seeking input from the research community to help determine:

A) Whether such a licence would impact on your ability to re-use and re-purpose this open access content.

B) If so, please give some examples of research activities that would be limited by this licence.

If you would like to respond to this issue, please use the comment function below or send an email to r dot kiley at wellcome dot ac dot uk.

PMR: The first thing to remember is that funder-pays Open Access is – in large part – a business model. The funder wishes a good – universal access to the information – and is prepared to pay the provider an appropriate sum. There is, possibly, a balance between the fee and the extent of the service provided (although personally I am an absolutist). IOW it could be that the publisher says “we shan’t charge you very much and this makes author-pays access affordable to those who normally couldn’t. But understand that we cannot give so much in return.” I doubt this is the case here – I do not know and shall not guess the society but I suspect that the fees are comparable with normal author-pays.

A major problem is “what is a fair price for author-pays”. I have complete trust that Wellcome has thought very hard about this, because it sets the scene for the market. If the society is properly run for the benfit of its members then they should be able to determine whether the fee covers the cost of processing (after all these are non-profit orgs). If the books are closed and the fee is large then there is a suspicion that revenue is used for other purposes or that there is no drive towards effficiency.

It’s complicated because the society probably gets most of its revenue from closed access publications – they don’t stop coming and the subscriptions don’t stop either. So the society should lower its subscriptions pro rata to the author-pays income. Is there any evidence for this?

The wording of the licence implies – though I would hate to impugn any society publisher – that the society (or its senior officers) cares more abouyt income than about the furtherance of the scientific domain in which the community has invested its trust. A scientific society, especially in the chemistry/bioscience area should actively welcome text-mining as this is a major tool for extracting science from textual publications. I was sorry, for example, when Nature (for whom I have many regards) created the OTMI (open text mining initiative) where they exposed the text of the paper but jumbled the the order of the sentences. This obfuscation of science sits badly on a learned organization (even a for-profit one).

Our group text-and data-mines chemistry and bioscience. In some cases this is a worthy activity because running text is the way that bioscience is expressed. In others, such as chemical data, it’s because the authors, publishers, readers, don’t yet understand the value of semantics and ontologies (Chem4Word addresses that problem at the authoring stage).

What worries me about the licence is that the society wishes to restrict the use of semantic information. Why? Possibly because it has an interest in redistribtuing its own semantic version of the work or an aggregate at a higher cost. If so we are seeing yet again deliberate restriction in the progress of science.

Finally I really discourage the use of NC licences. They are difficult to manage, have complexities in mashups and derivative works. It’s a pity that the proponents of Gold-OA haven’t universally insisted on CC-BY – there are many who do like SPARC , BMC, PLoS, etc. Anything less is a less valuable good and should not carry the same fee.

I understand that restrictions and politics in the US have made it difficult to get full CC-BY for the NIH policy (“eyeballs are sufficient”) but we must not let this creep.

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One Response to Wellcome would like comments on author-pays licence

  1. This seems like a pretty bad idea to me. The Author Pays model is, as you point out, a business model, and as such it would seem that the point is to charge the author an amount where the publisher is covering costs and making a reasonable profit. We can argue about ‘reasonable’ but to then reserve further rights (which we can assume the publisher thinks might provide future revenue) definitely seems unreasonable to me.
    The other big issue for me would be rights management. Knowing that in a body of work you had to treat specific bits differently in any text mining activity – I’m not sure you would bother, especially for a small corpus of exceptions – so you might end up simply not using the material at all in text mining.
    I’m not familiar with the US Copyright Act definition of derivative works, so feel less able to comment on that – however, I’m nervous of exerting a foreign copyright act on material ‘published’ in the UK – surely this needs to be goverened by UK law?
    In summary – this seems like a very bad idea!

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