A simple plan for open access?

So, I worked hard, wrote a paper, and submitted it for publication in a special issue of a prominent journal in the philosophy of science. The paper went through peer review and two rounds of editorial comments, which I responded to in detail. I have no doubt that these comments improved the paper. I am pleased to say that it has been accepted for publication. Great for me, and I hope good for the special issue.

I received my acceptance email, along with instructions for transferring my copyrights to the publisher. Since I have taken an interest in open access and issues of copyright, I read the copyright agreement carefully. Essentially, I am left with two options: (1) pay $3,000, which I don’t currently have, in order to make my article immediately open access; or (2) sign over my copyrights to the publisher. If I choose the latter option, I’ll still be able to deposit a pre-publication version of the paper in my institutional repository. But it won’t be the official, published version of the article; and I’ll have to include a link to the official published version in whatever I post. The publisher currently charges $39.95 for access to articles that are not available via open access, assuming that you (or your institution) don’t subscribe to the journal.

Since I’d like to make my article more easily accessible, I went here and downloaded the SPARC author addendum to modify a publisher’s agreement so that I could retain some of my copyrights. Here is a description of the rights I sought to retain:

  • Professional Activities. Author retains the non-exclusive right to create derivative works from the Article and to reproduce, to distribute, to publicly perform, and to publicly display the Article in connection with Author’s teaching, conference presentations, lectures, other scholarly works, and professional activities.
  • Author’s Final Version. Author retains the non-exclusive right to distribute copies of Author’s final version by means of any web server from which members of the general public can download copies without charge. “Author’s final version” means the final version accepted for journal publication, and includes all modifications from the publishing peer review process.
  • Published Version. Author has the non-exclusive right to distribute copies of the published version of the Article by means of any web server from which members of the general public can download copies without charge, provided that Author cites the journal in which the Article has been published as the source of first publication, and further, that Author shall not authorize public access to the published version any earlier than six months from the date that Publisher first makes the final, published version available to Publisher’s subscribers. “Published version” means the version of the Article distributed by Publisher to subscribers or readers of the Journal.

Of course, the publisher’s automatic sign-over-your-rights system doesn’t allow for submitting such an author addendum. So, I wrote the editors, asking whom I should contact. They responded immediately, and forwarded my addendum to a representative of the publisher, who forwarded it to another representative of the publisher. I’m leaving out details here; but I learned today (a week after my initial query) that the publisher would not accept the addendum. My choice is to pay $3,000 for open access or to sign over my copyrights.

So, should I sign over my copyrights? Or is there perhaps another option? Could I treat the paper as having gone through peer review (which it has), publish it online (which I could), and add a line that it was accepted for publication, but that I refused to sign over my copyrights?

I made the same query on Twitter this morning, and Chris Chambers (@chrisdc77) referred me to the following blog post:

Brain Box: A simple plan for open access?

There are the complicating factors, though. First, it’s not clear that hiring or promotion & tenure committees would accept my paper as having been peer reviewed, despite the fact that I could demonstrate that it was. I think this exhausts narrow considerations of self-interest. Second, and more importantly, I would be leaving the editors of the special issue in the lurch. They went through a number of submissions, weeding out those that wouldn’t fit, submitting those that might to peer review, offering their own detailed comments on submissions (twice), and finally crafting a really nice special issue. I’m honored that my paper was accepted. If I were to choose not to have my article included in the special issue, I would be hurting the editors, as well as throwing away the work of several peer reviewers. Third, and more broadly, I believe I have multiple obligations to the scholarly community. Chris Chambers initially answered my Twitter query by saying that I should go ahead and sign the publisher’s agreement “if the paper is important” to the scholarly community. Then there’s the moral obligation to the scholarly community to set an example of how to stand up for our copyrights. Finally, since the majority of the scholarly community probably has access to the journal, I think it’s important to consider whether the paper might be valuable to folks on the margins of that community (such as policy makers) or those more fully outside of it (the public).

I am curious to know what you think. Please leave comments below.

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2 Responses to A simple plan for open access?

  1. Jeff Hupert says:

    I’m going to focus on the legal angles, not the ethical ones. I would like to know what, if any, policies or guidelines existed for the journal before you submitted your article. Also whether, if at all, you were made aware of them. Either then or subsequently, the publisher may in fact have made a “deal”, whether it thinks so or not. If so, it cannot change the deal in midstream. If there was/is still no binding arrangement, you have your two choices. Two suggestions, thyough – see if a contract lawyer in your State will look at whatever paper/emails you have and give you cheap advice, and ask the editors/ publishers which if any of the concerns in your proposed addenda they might agree to. My fear is that they are reacting on a “policy” level, rather than crafting some cusotm legal solutions that might meet everyone’s interests to a large degree. They have an absolute right to have a firm policy, but it’s a question worth asking.

  2. Thanks, Jeff.

    There is no legal agreement ahead of time, which is why they ask you either to pay for open access or sign over your copyrights. I did ask them to justify their all or nothing policy. They responded by saying that I had retained certain rights they wanted — which was the point of the addendum I sent. I gave them the right to publish the work. They wanted additional rights, or payment from me to retain those rights, or they refused to publish the article. My only options were: (1) pay $3000 to retain my copyrights; (2) sign over all my copyrights; or (3) decide not to publish in that journal or with that publisher. I was tempted by the third option, but I decided not to blow up the special issue that the editors had worked so hard to put together.

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