Show me the data!
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This is a parody of a recent blog post over in Elsevier-land by David Tempest. If you haven’t read it yet, you really should – it’s an interesting insight into the mind of the DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF UNIVERSAL ACCESS (their caps-usage, not mine) at Elsevier.

Here’s my remix tribute post, words in blue are my insertions, and strikethough words are words I’ve chosen to delete because they don’t represent my opinion.

Copyright in an Open Access World

Copyright plays a significant vital role in the current world of publishing scientific, medical and technical content. It provides commercial publishers authors with a set ofrights to enable them to utilize these their works to generate subscription access profits and to be recognized as the copyright holder creator of the work. Commercial publishers are empowered to act on behalf of their shareholders the author to use copyright transfer or exclusive license to copy, publish, and adapt works, whilst protecting their profit margins integrity. In this way, publishers are empowered to do various things on behalf of the author, for example to ensure that the article is paywalled widely disseminated, that all requests for the rights to re-use content are denied and provision of permissions are answered efficiently, and to ensure that the original is correctly attributed. Each month, Elsevier receives more than 10,000 rights and permissions requests for content – both books and journals – and we have developed sophisticated systems to deny facilitate these requests and make the process as awkward, daunting and untimely simple and timely as possible. We take this role very seriously.

The importance of protecting profit generating content

But what about copyright in an open access world? Does it make a difference that articles are being made available to all and should we be concerned? The answer is…well, yes and no.

To all intents and purposes, the fact that journal articles are being made available to all through open access, is a big threat to our current business model or to subscribers under the subscription model, should not really affect things. Issues can arise, however, as there is a common misperception [citation needed] that open access means anyone can do anything with an article – in fact, the rights in the content must still be understood and upheld.

In addition, from an editorial perspective, copyright does not prevent elements such as plagiarism, multiple submission and fraud in journal articles. and whilst is It does not actually help detect these elements, so it cannot acts as a protective measure to uphold the quality of journals.

Within open access publishing there seems to be no a dilemma over copyright: author’s should definitely and the three choices facing an author: retain copyright share it or transfer it. Elsevier believes that it remains a fundamental role of a commercial publisher to pretend to act on the author’s behalf, and by continuing to transfer copyright, we can ensnare ensure and uphold the copyrights of the authors and handle all subsequent toll access profits generated permission requests. If copyright is retained by the publisher, then this process remains with the publisher and, if it is shared, there is a greater risk that profit loss fraudulent use may occur, which is why we continue to advocate the transfer of copyright for our journals.

Clearing up the dangerous ‘confusion that threatens our excessive profit margins

Some believe that in an open access world these factors become blurred and journal articles are easier to copy and incorporate into other works – because it’s true! This is a good thing. Science is based on building on, reusing and openly criticising the published body of scientific knowledge – we need to be able to do this as frictionlessly as possible. For example, open access journals offer additional usage rights which help enable re-use may introduce some confusion in relation to copyright. These open access ‘factors may help the speed and progress of science threaten the rights of the author and make it difficult for publishers to make excessive profits from academic works enforce copyright policy. However, if it is clear where copyright lies through consistent application, the usage rights of the article in question become independent of the publishing model and work for both subscription and open access content.

Of course, one of the main issues with copyright in general is that it is often widely misunderstood and interpreted in a different way by each individual. A study published by JISC in 2005 investigated the level of understanding of researchers towards copyright. It found that from a pool of 355 respondents, 30% of researchers did not know who initially owned the copyright of their own research articles and a further 26% of the respondents indicated that they had a low interest in the copyright issues of their own research articles! Clearly, this continues to be one of the important roles a commercial publisher must embrace: ensuring that it is clear and easy to understand what cannot be done with toll access content.

 

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But seriously. I hope this goes to show it’s very easy to write and publish a very one-sided opinion and present this opinion as authority on a website. I dread to think anyone reads those Elsevier editorials uncritically.

Research Councils UK (RCUK) – a partnership of seven core UK research funding bodies (AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, and STFC), has recently released a very welcome draft policy document detailing their proposed Open Access mandate, for all research which they help fund.

The new proposed policies include (quoting from the draft):

  • Peer reviewed research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the Research Councils must be published in journals which are compliant with Research Council policy on Open Access.
  • Research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the Research Councils should ideally be made Open Access on publication, and must be made Open Access after no longer than the Research Councils’maximum acceptable embargo period. [6 months for all except AHRC & ESRC for which 12 months is the maximum delay permitted].
  • researchers are strongly encouraged to publish their work in compliance with the policy as soon as possible. [added emphasis, mine]

As a researcher funded by BBSRC myself – I’m thrilled to read this document.

It shows a clear understanding of the issues, including explicit statements on the need of different types of access – both manual AND automated:

The existing policy will be clarified by specifically stating that Open Access includes unrestricted use of manual and automated text and data mining tools. Also, that it allows unrestricted re-use of content with proper attribution – as defined by the Creative Commons CC-BY licence

 

But as a strong supporter of the Panton Principles for Open Data in Science, and Science Code Manifesto, I’m a little disappointed that the policy improvements with respect to data and code access are comparatively minor. Such underlying research materials need only be ‘accessible’ with few further stipulations as to how. AFAIK this allows researchers to make their data available via pigeon-transport (only) on Betamax tapes, 10 years after the data was generated *if there is no ‘best practice’ standard in one’s field.

The BBSRC’s data sharing policy for example seems to favour cost-effectiveness over transparency: “It should also be cost effective and the data shared should be of the highest quality.” and maddeningly seems to give researchers ownership over data, even though the data was obtained using BBSRC-funding: “Ownership of the data generated from the research that BBSRC funds resides with the investigators and their institutions.” This seems rather devoid of logic to me – if taxpayers paid for this data to be created, surely they should have some ownership of it? Finally ”Where best practice does not exist, release of data within three years of its generation is suggested.” 3 years huh? And that’s only a suggestion! Does anyone actually check that data is made available after those 3 years? I suspect not.

Admittedly, it would be hard to create a good one-size fits all policy, and policing it would cost more money, but I do feel that data & code sharing policies could be tightened-up in places, to enable more frictionless sharing, re-using and building-on previous research outputs.

So all in all this is a great step in the right direction towards Open Scholarship, particularly for BBB-compliant Open Access.

Related reactions and comments which are highly worth reading include posts by Casey Bergman, Peter Suber, and Richard Van Noorden.

Creative Commons Licence This blog post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License, so feel free to redistribute, remix and re-use! All that I ask for is attribution :)