Open Access and Authors’ Rights

Today’s post will focus on — and direct you to — information regarding Open Access and authors’ rights. The OA movement seeks to not only capitalize on the diminished barriers to distribution (thanks to the Internet) but also to empower scholars to gain greater control over the content they publish. This empowerment can be done through an Open Access mandate or deposit requirement policies at institutions, though as we saw yesterday, these measures can have a negative impact on younger scholars. The other means of empowering authors is simply through increased education and advocacy.

Here’s a remarkable but perhaps not widely known fact: 70% of journal publishers allow you make some form of your article available online for free. This number includes proprietary publishers as well as Open Access ones. That’s a pretty high percentage, but what exactly does that mean? How restrictive is “some form of your article”? And where can you make your article available anyway?

If a publisher’s agreement from a proprietary publisher allows you to archive some form of your article, that agreement will specify whether it is the pre-print (the version of the article before it enters the peer review process) or the post-print (the accepted version of the article following the peer review process) that can be archived and made freely available. Information regarding the self-archiving policies of thousands of journals can be found at SHERPA/RoMEO, a comprehensive database from the University of Nottingham that lays out these policies in a very straightforward, easy-to-understand manner. This database complements the work done by Open Access journals, helping to clarify if an author has the right to make her published article freely available. Typically, the means to delivering articles are distinguished, in OA parlance, by color: “gold” refers to OA journals and “green” for archived OA content, either through an institutional/subject repository or on an author’s own website.

If you are interested in publishing your article with an Open Access journal, you should be aware that there are a variety of business models that make these journals free. For a window onto these models, I defer to Peter Suber:

“OA journals pay their bills very much the way broadcast television and radio stations do: those with an interest in disseminating the content pay the production costs upfront so that access can be free of charge for everyone with the right equipment. Sometimes this means that journals have a subsidy from a university or professional society. Sometimes it means that journals charge a publication fee on accepted articles, to be paid by the author or the author’s sponsor (employer, funding agency). OA journals that charge publication fees usually waive them in cases of economic hardship. OA journals with institutional subsidies tend to charge no publcation fees. OA journals can get by on lower subsidies or fees if they have income from other publications, advertising, priced add-ons, or auxiliary services. Some institutions and consortia arrange fee discounts. Some OA publishers (such as BMC and PLoS) waive the fee for all researchers affiliated with institutions that have purchased an annual membership.”

In addition, Suber notes that in the majority of cases (88%) the “author fee” is paid not by the author but by the author’s funder or employer. Or it is waived entirely. And, though the publication fee model has been abused by a number of predatory journals, red flags should not be raised if you are asked by an OA journal for payment in order to publish.

Resources such as Beall’s list of predatory journals, SHERPA/RoMEO, and SPARC provide excellent information for authors and provide very necessary advocacy for authors’ rights. But education and advocacy hardly stops there. Many libraries (like, lots and lots and lots and lots of ‘em) offer in-depth guides to help their institutions’ faculty and researchers navigate the maze of authors’ rights and to educate them about OA. On top of this, many universities include Offices of Scholarly Communication (or some similar body) that perform the necessary work to ensure that their stakeholders understand their rights as authors and help develop comprehensive publishing policies for their institution.