Elsevier admits it has been mis-selling Open Access and will be contacting mis-sold customers

Elsevier’s Director of Access and Policy (was “Universal Access”) has commented on my blog posts.

Dear Peter:
We appreciate your concerns about this matter, and I can assure you that Elsevier is taking the issues you have raised seriously and that we are working as diligently as possible to have these resolved. Some elements we were able to address in short order last week, including disabling the links from open access content on ScienceDirect to Rightslink.  Please also note that we rapidly committed to reimburse anyone who has made an unnecessary payment. We have completed the investigation for open access content published by us under a CC-BY license and there appear to be 11 customers who may have been impacted and to whom we will reach out in the coming days.  We need a little more time to look into other license types.
We’re currently working on a more complete and official update that will reaffirm our commitment to this shared journey to implement the UK government’s OA policy, while noting that there will be some bumps on the road. But rest assured we take smoothing these out very seriously.
Thank you,
Dr Alicia Wise
Director of Access & Policy

This confirms that Elsevier has been mis-selling Open Access products. The DoAP does not give sufficient detail to say exactly what so I don’t regard this reply as satisfactory. Given also that part of the problem appears to be a seriously broken IT infrastructure it cannot be accurate to use it to find problems. It is unclear whether the 11 customers were authors with mispublished articles or purchasers of rights through Rightslink.    This problem is of similar seriousness to faulty electrical goods where responsible companies will advertise in the national press. I would therefore have expected Elsevier to make a public announcement of the following sort:

“Elsevier informs its authors that some of its “open access” products have been unfit for purpose and will issue a full or partial refund in the cases where:

  • an article has been hidden behind a paywall
  • an article has not been labelled as “open access”
  • an article has been labelled “(C) Elsevier” or similar
  • an article has been linked to “Rights and permissions” which imply that there is limited or no permission for re-use

We ask any author who believes they have been disadvantaged to contact the Director of Access and Policy.
Elsevier also informs purchasers of rights from Rightslink that they may have paid for rights which were already granted. Anyone who believes they have made such payments is asked to contact the director.”

From my own discussions I would expect the scale of the problem to be higher than 11. The only way I could be convinced would be an independent audit.

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7 Responses to Elsevier admits it has been mis-selling Open Access and will be contacting mis-sold customers

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  2. Thomas Munro says:

    Strangely, I’ve just found that BMJ do the same thing, e.g. this “CC BY-NC” article
    http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g1741 (under “Request Permission”)
    links to a Rightslink page that quotes $36.80 for an individual to make 10 photocopies. Furthermore, no-one may “reproduce in full or in part any material that promotes the use of baby milks / infant formula without reflecting current knowledge and responsible opinion and be restricted to scientific fact and not imply that or create a belief that bottle feeding is equivalent to breast feeding” or use a reproduction to promote sunbeds (!)
    Shall we call it CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NonXerox-NonInfantFormula-NonSunBed?

  3. Graham says:

    Thomas, as that is an -NC article, having a request permission link is not necessarily wrong. You may wish to request permissions to use it in a commercial context, which are otherwise prohibited by the licence.
    In terms of Elsevier’s statement, I agree that it lacks detail. But then there may be good reasons for not elaborating further, without at least contacting the people affected.
    Personally, I don’t think there is any intention from Elsevier to reach out to authors. When they say “reimburse … unnecessary payment” and “11 customers”, I read that as contacting 11 people who have unnecessarily purchased read / re-use rights to the articles. It’s not that surprising that the number should be so low, given how little OA content there is, that people can read and interpret a CC licence for themselves and ignore a RightsLink link, and how few would be committed/desparate enough to purchase access and/or re-use.
    I suspect little financial damage / profiteering has resulted from these issues. But that doesn’t excuse the opportunity cost of people simply walking away from the article(s) and/or not re-using them because they hit a wall that they shouldn’t have done. The fact that they have any evidence of this occurring should be taken as a clear sign that they need to reimburse the authors who have paid an APC for failing to provide the service that they believed that they were paying for.

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