Update from Elsevier; some #openaccess problems will take many months to fix

Today I got a second substantive reply from Elsevier on the problems with their #openaccess labelling and access.

The other issue you raise relates to the clarity of labelling of articles as open access, and the clarity of labelling the license terms under which these articles are available. Over the past year, we have been working to upgrade our core metadata management systems to ensure that we have a central, consistent overview of all of our open access content. These developments are now complete and in coming months, we will be working to integrate the new metadata across our large number of platforms and back office systems.

ScienceDirect will be the first product to benefit from the new metadata, and with the next release (coming soon) there will be improvements in how open access content is labelled on ScienceDirect. In fully open access journals a "Open Access" text label will appear below the journal title on articles. In hybrid open access journals this "Open Access" text label will appear below the article title. For the licensing terms, as you know, we have offered authors a choice of licenses since April 2013. For these articles our production systems have the relevant metadata to signal which license (e.g. CC-BY, CC-BY-NC-SA, CC-BY-NC-ND) applies to the article and this information will be more visible in the next release. We are investigating how to populate this license metadata information for older open access articles.

Roll out to our products and services will continue through the remainder or 2013 and into 2014. While this is very much a work in progress, it is one we take very seriously indeed and are determined to get right.

With very kind wishes,

Alicia Wise, Director of Universal Access Elsevier @wisealic

To remind readers, after being pointed by Elsevier to their Open Access showcase I uncovered a multitude of problems (http://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2013/08/15/update-on-elseviers-failings-in-gold-openaccess/ ), many of which could (and I think do) result in substandard offerings and overcharging (I shall illustrate this in the next blog post). Elsevier replied to one of my concerns (http://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2013/08/15/elsevier-replies-in-part-systems-issues-are-inevitable/ ) saying "systems issues are inevitable" and indicating that there were at least three problems and they would reply to each of these. They then replied again, today (above). At least two of the problems I highlighted have not been corrected and it appears from the letter they will not be for some time.

This is not PMR "nitpicking". This can, and if not fixed immediately, will cost people thousands of dollars.

Two examples:

  • An author submits paper which is required by the funder to be CC-BY. It is mislabelled (e.g. "Elsevier, All rights reserved), or hidden behind a paywall and the granting body would reasonably withhold grant from the scholar. Their only recourse would be to trust that Elsevier had the paperwork intact and also would respond rapidly and professionally.
  • A re-user wishes to re-use an article for commercial purposes and if the article were mislabelled as CC-NC or not labelled could be charged thousands of USD (yes, I will show this in the next post).
  • A re-user believes that an article is CC-BY, re-uses and is contacted by Elsevier's lawyers.

None of these are fanciful. At best they cost time at worst they cost money. I re-emphasize that this will, apparently takes months and the total cost to Elsevier customers could be large.

I'll finish with a comment from Gavin Simpson on this blog (http://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2013/08/15/update-on-elseviers-failings-in-gold-openaccess/#comment-141062 )


It *is* worrisome that in an *entirely* open access journal that your web teams and associated staff just don't seem to get this right from the outset. I can understand the metadata backend argument from your later reply and the desire to implement a more robust system that will work efficiently for the future. What beggars belief is that you can build a website for an *entirely* open access journal that even includes code/logic that might display a message about charging for access! Likewise, how difficult it is to remove the "All rights reserved" label – which I note is *still* there despite the article in question no longer suggesting a charge is levied for access? This points to a large failing within Elsevier among its broader staff to understand OA and licensing etc. I'm sure you and some of your colleagues are all over this, but is it filtering down to the people that also need to know enough not to do stupid things like slap "All rights reserved" on OA journal websites? You and the small group of OA people at Elsevier can't possibly monitor everything the company does with regards to OA and licensing, so what is being done to educate the wider company staff of the issues? It's not as if these things don't keep on happening and they *do* affect how we perceive Elsevier and undermine what positive steps the company is trying to make in this area.


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