Re: Nature's vs. Science's Embargo Policy

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2003 16:04:47 +0000

On Sun, 12 Jan 2003, jan velterop wrote:

> My take is that an internal battle took place between editorial, PR and
> legal departments as to how to present it in such a way that it looks
> like a positive step and yet is only a a confirmation of an already
> widely existing practice. Even Elsevier has a similar policy for quite
> a while already (I've pasted it at the end of this message).

Elsevier's copyright policy has been changing, and much discussed in
past years on this list:

(1998) Elsevier Science Policy on Public Web Archiving Needs Re-Thinking

The new policy seems promising:

(2002) Re: Interview with Derk Haank, CEO, Elsevier

But Peter Suber was unsuccessful in getting it clarified:

(2002) Elsevier's self-archiving policy

(The last includes reference to a letter Peter Suber sent to Derk Haank
for a clarification of Elsevier self-archiving policy -- to which I
believe he received no reply. I hope I will be more successful in asking
for the same clarification from Nature's Editor, Philip Campbell!)

> Of course, if what the junior permissions person at Nature said about
> being allowed to post one's published article on open institutional
> repositories is accepted in Phil Campbell's/Nature's response to the
> open letter, I'll eat my words.

Let's wait and see what the Editor says.

> Perhaps it is a bit shrill. I don't expect public praise from you for
> BMC (I'm not sure why), but somehow I would have expected public praise
> for the PLoS journal initiative, which is, like BMC, a bold step
> towards trying to hasten open access, instead of extraordinary praise
> for, at best, a tiny incremental shuffle from Nature if that's what it
> is at all. (Maybe you have publicly praised the PLoS journal
> initiative; I can't find it in the September98 archives).

I have indeed praised PLoS:

Grant for founding new open-access journals

And I do, repeatedly praise BMC and all open-access journals!

But the reason I single out for praise toll-access journals who
liberalize their self-archiving policies is (as you know) because I
believe the self-archiving route to open-access will be the faster one
(faster than replacing 20,000 toll-access journals one by one), and
toll-access journals' copyright policies are among the factors still
needlessly slowing self-archiving right now. Hence toll-access journals
should certainly be praised when they take the progressive step of
formally removing perceived obstacles to self-archiving.

> The problem is that Nature doesn't remove any obstacle. See their FAQs
> (
> 05_faq.xml&style3Dxml/05_faq.xsl 96 emphasis in bold/asterisks added by
> me):
> The licence says I may post the PDF on my "own" web site. What does
> "own" mean?
> It means a personal site, or portion of a site, either *owned by you*
> or at your institution (provided this institution is not-for-profit),
> *devoted to you and your work*. If in doubt, please contact
> .

This is the point that my open letter to Phil Campbell is meant to

Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature

The reply from the Nature permissions department seems to suggest that
no incoherent distinction is intended here between the author's own
(institutional) "personal website" and the author's own (institutional)
eprint archive.

> How can I show my article to my colleagues?
> By sending a link to the paper on your website. You may *not*
> distribute the PDF by email, on listservs or on *open archives*. Please
> remember that although the content of the article is your copyright,
> its presentation (i.e. its typographical layout as a printed page)
> remains our copyright.
> This only confirms the perceived obstacles, in my view.

To me, it only confirms that whoever wrote the above excerpt hasn't the
faintest idea what a digital network or synchronous and asynchronous
data transmission means!

"You may not send the PDF by email! You may only email the URL for the
website where the PDF is deposited, so the recipient can click on the
URL and retrieve it via synchronous HTTP rather than the asynchronous
sendmail protocol." Gimme a break! If they had said "you may only type
'send' with your left hand and not with your right," would we have to
have taken that seriously too? (Even the Patriot Act can't monitor
distinctions like that!)

Please, let's agree to devote our time and energy only to substantive
restrictions and not patent nonsense!

The distinction between "personal website" and "public website," by
the way, borders on patent nonsense, because all websites are public in
the only relevant sense -- which is that anyone can access them (open
access!). I am playing along and making these solemn inquiries, however,
on the assumption that the publishers' worry is about the provider rather
than the user, and that granting the legal right to "self-archive" on
a commercial, public provider's website would open the door to their
re-selling or otherwise making other commercial use of the publisher's
product, leaving the publisher with no legal recourse. That, I assume,
is what publishers are at pains to try to avoid.

But there's no reason for worry. The self-archiving author no more wants
to sanction commercial re-use or re-sale of his paper than his publisher
does. Open access is all they want, for all potential users.

>sh> I have many times said that I now regret ever having called
>sh> self-archiving "subversive"!
>sh> I (like many others) was earlier under the (completely wrong) impression
>sh> that the obstacle to open access to refereed research was publishers. I
>sh> now realize that it is not, and never was. The only obstacle is
>sh> researcher unawareness and inertia.
> My point is that authors can always subvert (dodge, if that sounds
> better) the rules, but Nature's policy statement just simply doesn't
> make it clear that they allow self-archiving in open access
> repositories. Why not? Because they don't allow it. What should we
> believe? What they actually say on their web site, or what you in your
> magnanimity seem to infer?

Let's hope Phil answers.

But the distinction between depositing in (my university's) personal
website and (my university's) eprint archive is logically and
technologically untenable, and at best merely a labelling matter: This
is most clearly illustrated by another (technically clueless) version
of the distinction: depositing only on the author's "personal server" vs.
elsewhere. But the author's homepage and the software are
often running on the very same server! (I am seriously thinking of
relabeling the authors' sectors of the Eprints Software "Joe Bloggs's
Homepage" -- if that's what it takes to put an end of this empty

> Of course there still is a lot of author unawareness of what's
> possible, even of what the benefits of open access are for them. But
> Nature's and other toll-gate publishers' perpetuation of the perception
> that open access is not allowed for the articles they publish is less
> than helpful in persuading authors.

I just cannot see how you construe the right to archive the published
postprint on a publicly accessible website (call it whatever you like!)
as not allowing open access!

>sh> Supporting self-archiving does not mean *doing* it for the author! That
>sh> would be for Nature to become an open-access publisher like BMC (at a
>sh> time when it is far from clear that ends can be made to meet yet that
>sh> way): Is *that* what you wanted Nature to do?
> The key is to bring about open access. That means something more and
> more profound than just supporting self-archiving, although it is
> clearly recognised that self-archiving can be an important way to
> achieve open access. We shouldn't confuse goals with means to get there.

To me, open access to paper X means that anyone, anywhere, can access
paper X online. Self-archiving paper X does that. Now let us simply do
a little mathematical induction: If that is open access for paper X,
then doing the same with paper X+1 means open access for both. There
are 2,000,000 peer-reviewed papers published annually. When the above
iteration has been performed for paper X+2,000,000, that is open access,
in the full sense of the word, is it not?

(Please don't reply about legacy and preservation! The answers there are
obvious too.)

> I do indeed argue (and have for a long time) that Nature should make
> their primary research articles available in open access (I'm concerned
> only with primary research 96 the stuff of 'publish-or-perish'; not the
> considerable amount of synthetic 96 review 96 articles, commentary, news,
> and other magazine-style content).

I agree that that's the target research corpus, and I would of course
welcome it if journals did that, but I can quite well understand why they
might not wish to take that risk at this time. There is some risk involved
in supporting author self-archiving too, but less risk, and distributed
over a longer time. Hence I do not fault journals if they do not elect
to become open-access journals at this time. (My own belief is that
self-archiving itself must prepare the ground -- not only creating the
culture of open access, but also generating both the gradual institutional
toll-savings and the gradual publisher downsizing/cost-cutting that will
make the transition to the new service-based model possible.)

> Preferably input-paid, to help
> establish that funding model of scientific communication, but if they
> choose to cross-subsidise that's fine, too. Nature do not realise much
> revenue from publishing primary research these days. It helps to keep
> up the brand prestige, but the revenues come from advertising,
> subscriptions and licences, none of which would suffer if the primary
> research were open access.

If that is a realistic assessment, then I am sure Nature will come to
realize it too -- and to realize that the scientific good-will that
would come from leading in that direction would be a plus for them too.
(But I'm not sure your assessment is realistic!)

> Individual subscriptions and advertising not
> at all, and for institutional licensees the synthetic and commentary
> content is of such value that there is unlikely to be a reduction in
> numbers of licensees either.

I don't think anyone can second-guess this in advance.

> Nature could even increase its standing
> and importance, as there would be no reason to maintain the 90%+
> rejection rate.

You lost me: Give up quality for quantity?

> At least some articles are not rejected for reasons of
> quality, but for reasons of lack of space in the pages. So they could
> publish more, print less (no reason to print more than the abstracts
> and perhaps one or two of the most newsworthy articles and save on
> paper and postage), and have the same, or more, revenues (add article
> charges to the current revenues, which otherwise won't diminish).

Again, this seems to me to be arithmetic with Nature could do for itself,
if it was indeed as clearcut as that...

>sh> Pressure for on whom to do what, how? It is not journals that need to
>sh> be pressured but researchers. Unlike journals, they can provide open
>sh> access without any risk of revenue loss, only the prospect of
>sh> lost-impact gained!
> Sure, but journals ought to be pressured into removing the (perceptual
> and real) barriers.

I think every single author of every single one of the annual 2,000,000
published research articles could already start self-archiving today,
legally, without needing anything further from the journals. Yes, we
should continue to press journals to liberalize their self-archiving
policies, but they are *not* the main target: Researchers and their
practises are. *They* are the ones who need to be better informed about
the benefits of open access and the feasibility of self-archiving.

>sh> at BMC this is not yet merely a peer-review service charge,
>sh> with archiving offloaded onto the authors' institutions. When that is
>sh> the case, the cost may prove to be lower... (But as long as a product
>sh> is provided, instead of just the peer-review service, costs will not
>sh> be minimized to the essentials.)
> Correct, but the organisation of peer-review is the most work and the
> major portion of the cost. The cost is actually more than $500 per
> article now, as we haven't quite reached the requisite scale yet. But
> between peer-review and archiving (which, incidentally is 'off-loaded'
> in that BMC material is deposited in permanent open archives such as
> PubMed Central, INIST France, and soon to be announced some others, and
> any institution anywhere in the world, or anyone else for that matter,
> is free to store, and even sell, BMC material), there is a phase to do
> with making the material suitable for proper web dissemination and
> permanent archiving in a variety of formats. It is often amazing what
> the state of manuscripts is. Especially non-textual bits like formulae,
> tables and photo or line illustrations. What we do for the $500 charge
> is get that in perfect order as well, in XML as basis, XML-derived
> HTML, and PDF, with all the live links to other literature incorporated
> and all that as well. By the time all that can be done effortlessly,
> faultlessly and automatically by the authors we'll no-doubt see a
> reduction in costs. Thus far, these matters are included by many in the
> 'essentials'.

You have a point, but I think that should be off-loaded on authors too,
and if they don't do it optimally, they take the consequences. The
PostGutenberg refereed-journal's only essential responsibility is
ensuring that the *content* meets the peer-review quality standards
of the journal. Doing more is trading off open access (because of the
deterrent effect of the extra cost) against inessential add-values.

> Elsevier's Copyright Policy:
> (From What rights do I retain as author?
> The right to retain a preprint version of the article on a public
> electronic server such as the World Wide Web. Elsevier Science does
> not require that authors remove from publicly accessible servers
> versions of their paper that differ from the version as published by
> Elsevier Science.
> Posting of the article as published on a public server can only be done
> with Elsevier Science's specific written permission.

As I've said before, that sounds just fine to me, for both the
unrefereed preprint and the refereed postprint (if not the publisher's
PDF). If I were an Elsevier author I would self-archive without the
slightest worry.

Cheers, Stevan
Received on Sun Jan 12 2003 - 16:04:47 GMT

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