Thursday, May 31, 2012

Are strict CC-BY publishers shooting themselves in the foot?

This post asks whether open access publishers that practice strict adherence to the Creative Commons-Attribution license (CC-BY) are actually shooting themselves in the foot, that is, leaving plenty of room for competitors who will be able to use their works with no requirement to reciprocate. Note that it is not the competitors who are binding CC-BY publishers - they are voluntarily doing this to themselves! CC-BY publishers can easily avoid this situation, simply by adopting a flexible approach to licensing.

How can this be?

Let's compare CC-BY with what I would consider to be an enlightened approach to licensing for an open access publisher: the decision about licensing is left to the author, with the full range of creative commons license options made available, and provision made for sub-licensing portions of a work. An author can choose to publish a work with the CC option that I would consider optimal for ensuring open access not only for now, but into the future:  CC-Attribution-Noncommercial-Sharealike (CC-BY-NC-SA). The author using this license can use CC-BY material, and even material with a different restrictive CC license, such as CC-BY-NoDerivatives (CC-BY-ND), as long as the material with the different license is marked with the appropriate CC license.

This flexible approach, leaving the choice with the author, supports one of the main philosophical arguments for open access: author's rights. With respect to choice of license, author's rights means that the author gets to choose, not the publisher. A publisher that forces a CC-BY choice is no more in support of authors' rights than a publisher that requires full transfer of copyright. Engaging authors in thinking about these choices is, from my perspective, an essential step towards articulating the commons - a discussion that we as an emerging global society need to have amongst ourselves.

A journal or book publisher using the flexible approach I recommend is free to publish material that a strict CC-BY publisher would not be able to publish - including the works that are published CC-BY.

To take another example: a publisher that uses CC-BY-NC as a default can publish whatever they like from the repertoire of a CC-BY publisher, but a strict CC-BY publisher will refuse to touch any work that is licensed CC-BY-NC. I predict that the more flexible approach will give new open access publishers (or traditional publishers transitioning to open access likely to consider more limited licenses) a competitive advantage over the strict CC-BY approach.

There is nothing to stop a CC-BY publisher from adopting a more flexible approach, with CC-BY as the default license, but permitting authors to use a different license if they prefer, and allowing for differential licenses for elements included in a CC-BY piece.

As a bit of context:  Some of the early commercial and open access publishers, such as BioMedCentral and Hindawi, as well as the not-for-profit Public Library of Science, seem pretty strict about use of the Creative Commons-Attribution (CC-BY) license. For some people, this is the legal expression of the most open definition of open access from the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Klaus Graf expresses this point eloquently in the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, with Sandy Thatcher expressing the counterpoint, the good reasons for considering more limited licenses. My own perspective is that CC-BY, while superficially appearing to be the expression of the most open form of open access, actually contains loopholes which make CC-BY a weak license for strong open access. For details of this argument, see the second chapter of my draft thesis  - search for open access and creative commons. This post adds to and expands this argument, by suggesting that CC-BY publishers may be putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage. If your library or institution is supporting CC-BY publishers' article processing fees - I hope that you are storing the articles in your IR for preservation purposes, just in case...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Open Access and Copyright Issues Related to Knowledge Translation and Transfer for the OMAFRA-UofG Partnership

This post notes some reflections from a recent meeting of the Community of Practice of the  Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) / University of Guelph's Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT) group. My role in this group is that of open access consultant. The OMAFRA / KTT group is doing some very interesting work in the area of developing intellectual property practices to support innovation, including both open access and patenting. Researchers include academics and also grower groups.

One of the projects involves growing the Ontario vegetable crop research repository in the University of Guelph's ATRIUM repository. The University of Guelph's Ridgetown Campus produces a lot of agricultural research, some of which has world level impact, particularly in the area of pesticide management for control of fusarium in corn which is published in the scientific literature. Many other research findings, however, remain in unpublished research reports stuck in filing cabinets. If these reports were digitized and made available through ATRIUM, the research would be useful to many people - including Ministry staff for developing policy and local farmers and gardeners wondering whether to use black plastic on their strawberries.

One of the challenges to developing the repository is dealing with rights issues. Much of this research is owned by growers' groups, who conducted the research for their own community. As agricultural entrepreneurs, the growers will want to retain an edge for competition and so are likely to want to retain commercial rights. Similarly, faculty members at Guelph own their own IP and may want to retain the rights for commercialization when applicable. Strategies to address these issues could include such tactics as defensive publishing.

My thoughts so far as shared in the meeting:

Engaging the growers' groups in open access is a strategy that I would highly recommend in this situation. Don't just ask for the license to their works, rather do some workshops or provide information to link people to some of the many open access resources that are already available to them. A message of people everywhere are sharing their work; won't you join us? strikes me as a message that is a little bit easier to listen to than won't you share your work? Include open access peer-reviewed journals on agriculture, of course - but don't neglect to mention some of the high-quality magazines written largely by people similar to the growers' groups, such as BC Grasslands. Focus on agriculture for sure, but not necessarily just agriculture - farmers and their families are people too, and are as likely as anyone to benefit from all the freely available health information or enjoy the many free texts, movies, and music available from the Internet Archive. Flickr can be a good resource for developing marketing materials, and open government resources can be useful, too.

One challenge for farmers in this area is that many still rely on dial-up access. This suggests to me another avenue for illustrating the benefits of open approaches. It can be difficult for people in rural communities to get the rest of us to pay attention to their issues (such as lack of broadband) and hence to gain political support. This is one area where the internet creates the possibility for a more level playing field; a rural newspaper can create an online presence with the same potential audience as an urban newspaper, and rural individuals, families and community groups can similarly create an online presence with the same potential impact as urban people.

Some potential venues for information sharing include practioners' peer-reviewed journals using tools such as Open Journal Systems - although the growers' groups might be more interested in using social networking tools like ning. 

Our Community of Practice is just getting started! Watch for further posts on this topic.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Black Out Speak Out June 4th

Canadians: it is time to take a stand and speak out for nature and democracy. Please join this event coordinated by a number of environmental groups - and spread the word!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Journal price increases: the costlier the journal the more important smaller percentage increase

To state the obvious: the more expensive a journal is, the more an increase costs in dollars given the same percentage. A journal price increase for a costly journal can look small from a percentage perspective, but actually be quite large from a dollars perspective.

To illustrate, consider this hypothetical (but realistic) scenario):

Small society journal (SSJ) has been charging a subscription fee of $100. Unlike the large commercial scholarly publishers, this society has not raised prices every year. This fee has not covered costs for several years, and so the society has decided to increase the subscription rate for this year to $150.

Original cost:      $100
New price:  $150
Increase in %:  50%
Increase in $:  $50

Commercial publisher journal (CPJ) has been charging a subscription fee of $10,000. One of the reasons for this high fee is that prices have been raised every year for the last few decades at rates above inflation. This year, CPJ is raising their prices again by 5%, to $10,500.

Original cost:  $10,000
New price:  $10,500
Increase in %:  5%
Increase in $:  $500

Discussion:  a 5% increase for a costly journal can easily cost ten times more, in dollar terms, than a 50% increase for an inexpensive journal.

Note that this analysis does not necessarily fit other formats such as scholarly monographs, where the diversion of funding from monographs to journals has distorted the market (less money for monographs means fewer copies bought  and printed, raising prices on a per-copy basis).

Conclusion: when considering journal prices increases, dollar amounts are more important than percentages. Also, the more expensive the journal, the more important it is to negotiate lower or no price increases.

Sent to Liblicense-l May 2, 2012. 

About 30% of peer-reviewed scholarly journals are now open access

Ass Professor Laura Czerniewicz of the University of Cape Town recently asked about the percentage of scholarly peer-reviewed journals that are now open access. In brief, my response is "about 30%" (apparently Heather Joseph from SPARC gave almost exactly the same response). This figure needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, though. My full response illustrates why:

Any such figure would be a very rough ballpark, because we don't have a count of how many peer-reviewed journals there are in the world. We tend to use Ulrich's as a surrogate, however this list reflects a strong English-language / western bias, e.g. Ulrich's would only include a very
tiny fraction of the academic journals from China.

Something else to keep in mind is that is has become more difficult to assess the number of peer-reviewed journals in Ulrich's, because the default search does not deduplicate for multiple formats (i.e. a quick search for academic / peer-reviewed / scholarly journals will yield two titles when a journal is produced in both print and electronic form).

My latest count of active, peer-reviewed scholarly journals from Ulrich's using deduplication from Dec. 1, 2011 is 26,746. My method and calculations are shown here, in this appendix of my draft thesis:

If we take the DOAJ current figure of 7,665 journals as the number of OA journals, this gives a rough guesstimate of 28% of scholarly peer-reviewed journals that are fully open access. I would like to
emphasize that these numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt - my Ulrich's deduplication exercise is a quick and dirty one, and not all OA journals are necessarily in DOAJ (e.g. there is generally a delay in adding titles due to the vetting process).