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Scientist Must Pay to Read His Own Paper 289

Glyn Moody writes "Peter Murray Rust, a chemist at Cambridge University, was lost for words when he found Oxford University Press's website demanded $48 from him to access his own scientific paper, in which he holds copyright and which he released under a Creative Commons license. As he writes, the journal in question was "selling my intellectual property, without my permission, against the terms of the license (no commercial use)." In the light of this kind of copyright abuse and of the PRISM Coalition, a new FUD group set up by scientific publishers to discredit open access, isn't it time to say enough is enough, and demand free access to the research we pay for through our taxes?"
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Scientist Must Pay to Read His Own Paper

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:06PM (#20465235)
    First, it's not surprising that Rust is befuddled here. He is a Cambridge professor. You might as well ask a Wellesley grad to explain gender roles.

    Second, Oxford isn't selling his work. It's selling access to his work. If he published his work anywhere else under the license which he claims, then that work would still be fully accessible, sans $48.

    Stick with the chemistry, doc! Understanding the law isn't for you.
  • by Virgil Tibbs ( 999791 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:16PM (#20465381) Homepage
    if you read tfa you will see he is NOT complaining about access to it to read but them selling its redistribution rights despite the licence explicitly pointing out it is NON-commercial redistribution which is allowed....
    his issue isn't getting people to publish his article...
    his issue is someone selling his work, although the licence does not permit that.
  • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:19PM (#20465443) Journal

    Just because it's released under CC, doesn't mean that people must give you a copy of it for free on demand.
    True. Except in this case, the author is paying an open-access surcharge. In the blog post [] he says: "After all, the author has paid for this". The purpose of the surcharge is to help the journal cover distribution costs, thereby guaranteeing that everyone can read the article. If the journal accepts that publication fee, but then charges readers anyway, isn't that fraud?

    Now, if he released the paper on the condition that no one ever charge for it
    He did use such a condition. He used a creative commons license with a non-commercial clause, so it's illegal for the publisher to charge people for distribution. Again from his post, he says: "The journal is therefore SELLING MY INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WITHOUT MY PERMISSION AGAINST THE TERMS OF THE LICENCE (NO COMMERCIAL USE)"

    If publishers are really contributing nothing ... stop publishing through them!
    The controversy here is precisely that he decided to publish in an open access journal. In fact, you can read about their open access policy here [], which says: "From 1st January 2005, all articles published in NAR are freely available online immediately upon publication. This means that it is no longer necessary to hold a subscription in order to read current NAR content online."

    After paying his >$2000 publication charge, the journal turned around and tried to charge others for access. As he points out, this could have been an innocent mistake on their part. But, it's a violation of the agreement he had with them, and needs to be fixed.

    Set up your own journals and charge nothing or a token amount for access. If scientists are so bigoted they only deign to acknowledge work published in overpriced, unnecessary, exploitative publishers' journals, the problem is on the scientists' end.
    I don't know if the word "bigoted" is warranted, but I agree that we scientists need to push for open access. Which is what he did, by publishing in an open-access journal.
  • Story Overblown (Score:2, Informative)

    by nodrogluap ( 165820 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:22PM (#20465475) Homepage
    You can access the article from the OUP web site for free (CC-NL with attribution), and additionally it is available from PubMed Central at the NIH. I don't know how we got that popup asking him for money to use it in a classroom, but it is probably just a mistake. Of course, there's nothing stopping someone from asking you to pay for something that's free, if you're a sucker. Once again, the whole article is right there to read, with the CC license right at the top. BTW, OUP has both Open Access and non-open access journals, so I can see how a common document delivery system could get screwed up. Not that it should, but you could see how. Hopefully they will correct it, I've published Open Access and non-Open Access papers with OUP and they are pretty responsive on both the technical and editorial sides.
  • Publish in PLOS (Score:2, Informative)

    by GAATTC ( 870216 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:22PM (#20465479)
    One way to completely avoid the issue of commercial scientific publishers is to publish in an open access journal such as one of the Public Library of Science [] journals.

    The open access model works as follows: "Open Access: Everything we publish is freely available online for you to read, download, copy, distribute, and use (with attribution) any way you wish." Pretty straight forward.

    As an author you pay a small amount to support the publication of the journal - often smaller than the cost for color pages at a commercial journal, and then your work is freely available. These are high quality journals and are one important part of the free future of scientific publishing. The more people who make this choice, the more pressure there will be on the traditional journals to open up their content if they want to survive.

  • by _bug_ ( 112702 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:24PM (#20465499) Journal
    The page on OUP's website that the Rust is on about is located here []. As you can plainly see on the right-hand of the screen this document is available, FOR FREE, in PDF format. In fact, here's a direct link to said PDF on OUP's website [].

    What Rust's complaint is about is the "Request Permissions" link under the "Services" menu on the left-side of the page. It apparently opens to a third party website [] which OUP, it appears, uses to calculate charges for different uses of papers published through OUP.

    My guess here is a bit of poor programming for the OUP website. The document is clearly CC and it's free to download, but the website doesn't appear to know this, so it's providing pricing on publishing the article. Maybe OUP needs to look into this matter, but the fact remains that the paper is online, freely accessible through OUP to anyone, and clearly listed as being released under CC licensing.

    Rust is really making a lot of fuss over nothing.
  • by everphilski ( 877346 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:27PM (#20465553) Journal
    In order to get published, you have to sign off on Oxford Journal's License to Publish:

    here []

    and I quote:

    "You agree that OUP may include the Article in an "open access" version of the Journal subject to payment of the relevant 'open access' fee or submission of a valid fee-waiver form."

    You have to sign this piece of paper to submit the article. Obviously, he (or a coauthor?) did, so from my read he gave them explicit permission to seek payment.
  • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:27PM (#20465555) Journal

    it's a violation of the agreement he had with them, and needs to be fixed.
    Sorry to reply to my own comment... but...

    The article he couldn't access was this one: "MACiE (Mechanism, Annotation and Classification in Enzymes): novel tools for searching catalytic mechanisms []" (doi 10.1093/nar/gkl774). I just tried accessing it from a non-subscription IP address, and I was able to load the PDF without issue. All the articles on the page seemed to load without asking for payment.

    So, in short, this was probably an innocent mistake and seems to be already fixed.
  • Re:Two Ideas (Score:2, Informative)

    by JamesP ( 688957 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:36PM (#20465661)
    I'm guessing you've never seen an academic's desk before...

    Yes, I have... And they didn't have much trouble finding stuff in it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:44PM (#20465765)
    The fuss is that the author never licensed the website to distribute commercially under *any* terms, let alone for a fee. Only the copyright holder can authorize that, and unless the author has signed the copyright over to the website, negotions for commercial use need to occur with *him*.
  • Re:And (Score:5, Informative)

    by mikael ( 484 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:48PM (#20465819)
    I am sure that if he went in to see the library staff, they would be able to give him an Athens login account [], and that would allow him to to read his article for free. These are free for any staff or student who is working at a UK university.

    This seems to be more of an issue of central services not being informed of which journals they should be subscribing to.
  • by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:51PM (#20465847) Journal
    Nucleic Acids Research is an open journal, which charges the authors a publication fee. It's supposed to be free for reading by their own statement. Thus, this is not some special case of open access submission to a regular journal. The charges window is from OA's regular, pay-for-access journals. It's obviously a simple mistake by OA's web site. Write email to AO's admin for access at and let them know, then give them adequate time to fix it. Journals, even open access, even web-based, are not fast action organizations and OA is, in my experience, one of the slower ones.

    As for a claim of "my" article from one of a dozen or so authors (the complaint being about 6th or 8th among them) as well as the complaint about not being able to read it (you've got a copy, don't you?) instead of the more accurate "charge being applied to OUR open access article on THEIR open access journal web site", criminy, take a trank and some deep breaths. You're having a tantrum and it's making you spout extravagant and incorrect claims. It took me all of 5 minutes, including reading the blog posts, to find the contact point for OA's open access admin. Contact the right people and let them fix it.

    FWIW, NIH has been working to get any publication supported by NIH funding to be made available for free (at least to US sites, as having been supported by US tax money) via National Library of Medicine's PubMed (nee MEDLINE), no matter what journal it's in. NASA has had good luck making their stuff available through their own channels since they won't sign over copyright to journals because they're publicly supported, and NIH is following their example through their own distribution system. And that's working with copyright snatching pay-for journals. Open access journals are already open, and I haven't had this problem with non-OA open pubs, so it's obvious this is simply a bug in the OA system. It happens. They're not evil ogres out to steal "your" pub.

    It might go faster if the first author made the contact with OA, but I doubt it since I doubt they intended for this to happen.
  • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:51PM (#20465851) Journal
    I need to correct myself (again). The article PDF is available for free download, but if you go to the article page [] and click on the "Request permission" link, you're brought to a new page where you can request permission to, for instance, print out copies for use in class. The form then tells you how much you have to pay them for those permissions.

    The issue, of course, is that this explicitly violates the creative commons (noncommercial) license that he published under (and which the journal evidently agreed to, in order to be able to post his paper at all). The journal is thus illegally charging others for permissions that are free.

    It still looks like a honest mistake. The structure of the website is such that a standard "permissions system" is being applied to a wide range of content for various journals. They seem to be mistakenly applying this system even to the open-access journals in the collection.

    Even though this is probably just an honest mistake, it needs to be fixed ASAP. They are presently breaking the law and very much going against the spirit of the agreement that he entered into with them when he published his paper.
  • by Chris_Keene ( 87914 ) * on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:53PM (#20465901) Homepage Journal
    Where to start, first try []
    as the 'alternative' site to prism (they forgot that wanting to share you knowledge is the work of communists).

    Researchers at Universities do research.
    They are paid by the University, and they (well the University) may have received a grant to carry out the research (from nsf in the US or the research councils in the UK for example).

    Once they have done their research they write it up, normally in a paper (in the arts it can be a dance!).

    They send the paper to our journal. The journal's editorial board receive it and will the have it peer reviewed by other researchers in the same field to ensure it meets a level of quality and is suitable for the journal. This is the crucial part of the process. But the peer reviews do not get paid for this, and the VAST majority of editors do not get paid either.

    The publishers then sell the journal to the very Universities who supplied the articles for free and allowed their academics to peer review and edit for free (on university time normally).

    The publisher will normally demand they own the copyright.

    The price they sell journals to Universities have gone up far more than inflation year after year after year, which means unis cancel journal subs. Plus the contracts are complex with huge tie-ins and 'if you buy x you must by z' clauses.

    All publishers to is take the work of the academic (for free), get the editors and peers to review (for free) and then demand they own it, all for basically doing little more than formatting the document, proof reading and putting on a website (and, rarer now-a-days, in print). These are basic clerical jobs, not something which means they should own the copyright.

    As noted, Universities and academics often do not have access to their own work.

    There are changes afoot.

    The Open Access movement is taking off (either through freely available journals, or by making the articles available on University websites). The latter are referred to as Institutional Repositories (unsexy name!) and I happen to run one. The software they use is either [] or [] both are free and open source.

  • by Stephan Schulz ( 948 ) <> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @12:55PM (#20465921) Homepage

    "You agree that OUP may include the Article in an "open access" version of the Journal subject to payment of the relevant 'open access' fee or submission of a valid fee-waiver form."
    This part is a bit confusing, but it refers to the author paying OUP to put it into an open access journal, not the reader paying to access this paper. The reader access is described on the right of that form:

    "Open access" versions are made freely available online immediately upon publication as part of a long-term archive without subscription barriers to access.
  • by conspirator57 ( 1123519 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:03PM (#20466063) []

    Dr. Knuth has a stark and telling financial analysis for his journal in particular and its trend in relation to the marketplace in his letter to the Editorial board of the Elsevier journal of which he was a member. It led to the resignation of the entire editorial board and the formation of the ACM journal Transactions on Algorithms. It's a must read for the current discussion.

    BTW: I just started back at school for my master's and the required orientation seminars include a segment from the librarians. The librarians emphasize the importance of searching the more expensive, private journals they pay for (Springer, etc.) claiming that your academics will suffer if work has been published in a journal and you don't reference it. The librarian sounded like he was reading Springer's marketing material to us. It was disgusting. For the scientific community to break out of this media trap, we must reject this mentality, allow researchers to answer questions on research sources on ethical grounds, and ultimately make the decisions that Dr. Knuth and the JoA board made.
  • Re:And (Score:5, Informative)

    by iocat ( 572367 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:24PM (#20466441) Homepage Journal
    I think it's worth RTFA and the Oxford response in his comments section. Pasted below:

    Dear Dr Murray-Rust

    I would like to respond to your post entitled, 'OUP wants me to pay for my own Open Access article' (September 3rd 2007).

    It is not Oxford Journals' policy to charge any users for downloading and using Open Access articles for non-commercial purposes. As stated in the copyright line, all Oxford Open articles are published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( ) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

    Rightslink functionality should not be appearing on any of our OA articles, and we are in the process of removing it. For Nucleic Acids Research, the links are not displaying on tables of contents with immediate effect, and will be removed from all article pages as soon as possible. For the OA content in journals participating in Oxford Open, we will also remove any references to Rightslink. In addition to the existing copyright line and the embedded machine-readable licence, we will also display the Creative Commons logo to help make the licence terms clearer to users.

    For clarification, it has never been our policy to charge our own authors for the re-use of their material in the continuation of their own research and wider educational purposes, and this includes authors of articles published under a subscription model.

    Kind regards

    Kirsty Luff
    Senior Communications and Marketing Manager
    Oxford Journals

    So, maybe not quite as sinister as it appears.
  • by adrianmonk ( 890071 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @01:58PM (#20467015)

    2) If publishers are really contributing nothing to academic publishing, and just charge high prices and force you to sign away your rights (which I think is a fair characterization), here's a crazy idea: stop publishing through them! Set up your own journals and charge nothing or a token amount for access.

    This is a nice idea, but a researcher is unlikely to make this choice even if they want to promote open access. The reason is, a big factor in determining a researcher's career opportunities is the level of prestige of the journals that they can get their papers published in. A researcher's output is research, and the tangible and visible sign of that is publications, so it is the only reflection of their work that many people see. Prestige is so important that there is a formal system to denote the prestige of a journal: they are each assigned an Impact Factor []. So, 99% of the time, a researcher will submit their paper to the most prestigious journal they think will accept it, and any other concern is secondary.

    There do exist open-access journals, but at present these tend to be towards the lower end of the prestige scale. Basically, journals that have a high impact factor do not have any need to offer open access and can easily get away with charging for access. Journals with a lower impact factor are interested in providing open access as a way to create interest in their journal. So although some journals have a motivation to provide open access, most researchers are motivated to publish in journals with high prestige, and as a consequence, they tend to prefer journals which as a side effect happen to not be open access.

  • by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @03:29PM (#20468381) Homepage
    I wrote this article [] for Linux Journal, and discovered it was for sale on the ACM Web Site [].

    I phoned the ACM and got it sorted out. As you see now on their site, it's freely-available. The ACM was reasonable and reacted quickly. That isn't always the case.

  • by Petrushka ( 815171 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @08:49PM (#20472767)

    Cambridge was founded by a bunch of criminals escaping from Oxford in the 7th century.

    Please get your facts right. As a Cambridge alumnus myself, I have some pride in my alma mater.

    13th century, not 7th.

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