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Seeking Justice for Readers

February 27th, 2017 | Posted by rmounce in Paywall Watch | Wrongly selling OA articles

I am highly curious as to why Elsevier do not seem to be responding to emails at the moment:

Four days ago, continuing an existing thread on the public GOAL mailing list, I wrote to Dr Alicia Wise (Director of Access and Policy at Elsevier), about how Elsevier’s paywall systems are wrongly defrauding readers across the world by charging them to access content that has been paid-for to be open access.

Below is the full content of my message to the list, nicely formatted for clarity. I re-publish it here because I am still seeking answers to my questions, and I still want justice for the many unknown readers who may have been defrauded by paying to access content that should instead have been “open access” to all.

I remind readers that the scale of this is not trivial at all. Elsevier themselves admit in 2014 they attempted to refund or credit “about $70,000” to readers who had been wrongly charged for open access content.

Dear Alicia,
Approximately five days ago you wrote on behalf of Elsevier to this mailing list in response to my finding of a single paid-for hybrid “open access” article paywalled and actively being sold at the Elsevier journal Mitochondrion.

In the response Elsevier sought to re-assure the world (open access is for the benefit of everyone) that:

“We’ve gone through the system, this is the only article affected.”

I then found another paid-for hybrid “open access” article paywalled and actively being sold at the Elsevier journal The Lancet.

We appear to have had no official response from Elsevier since.

Today, an independent analysis by Christoph Broschinski of more paid-for hybridOA articles at Elsevier journals may have found up to five additional paywalled, for sale articles. The Cambridge one is a mistake, the payment was for page charges & colour figures not open access, I have done due diligence on this and checked myself since I am at Cambridge. http://openapc.github.io/general/openapc/2017/02/23/elsevier_hybrid_access/

I’m struggling to reconcile what I have found and what Christoph might have found with Elsevier’s statement:

“We’ve gone through the system, this is the only article affected.”

The most likely conclusion I can draw from Elsevier’s statement and these reports that appear to conflict with that statement is that Elsevier’s system is not adequately tracking paid-for hybridOA articles. 

Assuming this to be true:

1.) Will Elsevier openly publish on a single web page, on a continuous, ongoing basis, the exact DOIs of all articles that Elsevier has been paid to make “hybridOA” , including the DOIs of articles that Elsevier were paid to make open access, that now reside at journals published by other publishers (if the journal was subsequently transferred to another publisher) ?

This will enable any interested party to:

a) Check that each and every one is actually freely accessible from the publisher site landing page

b) This ‘master list’ of Elsevier hybridOA can be cross-checked against institutionally-held lists of paid invoices. Any articles listed by an institution as paid-for OA, but not on Elsevier’s hybridOA ‘master list’ can be further investigated, to perhaps further reveal more articles that should be “open access” that Elsevier’s faulty “system” has overlooked.

2.) Will Elsevier refund 100% of the paid APC to each institution, funder, or individual that has a wrongly paywalled paid-for “open access” article behind a paywall?

3.) Will Elsevier hire and fully pay for an independent 3rd party forensic accounting firm to go through their pay-per-view and re-use licensing data/systems and records, including the period from January 1st 2005 until today (23rd February 2017), to produce a thorough openly available report on the extent of PPV payments AND re-use licensing payments for articles that should not have been sold to access, or to re-use?

I hope Elsevier will do this to ensure that every individual who has paid to access or re-use ‘mistakenly’ paywalled “open access” material is refunded in full, with interest, including the local taxes applied not just the article fee, and not with “credit” that can only be used to purchase other Elsevier goods or services.

4.) What meaningful assurances can Elsevier give that it will not make these mistakes again, given that it appears to be making these mistakes over and over again?

Full open access publishers have an error rate of precisely 0 out of over >500,000 articles published so far e.g. PLOS, PeerJ and eLife.

Errors such as these are simply intolerable and have the potential to cause great harm.
For instance, imagine if an article providing the first report of Ebola in Peru was paid-for to be hybridOA but was instead mistakenly paywalled…
Since Peru is now “too rich” [1] to qualify for HINARI, but still too poor to pay to subscribe to most subscription journals, many Peruvians would not have access to this vital information unless it was open access.

c.f. the first report of Ebola in Liberia which was also infamously paywalled at an Elsevier journal [2]

[1] http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2214-109X(16)30188-7
[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/opinion/yes-we-were-warned-about-ebola.html

Sincerely,

Ross