Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Knowing when you may self-archive

Peter Murray-Rust, Communal repositability wiki? A Scientist and the Web, November 13, 2007.  Excerpt:

I continually find it difficult to know what the formal publisher rules are for self-archiving....[T]here is a huge variation in publisher policies (some seemingly internally inconsistent and many drafted in the era of printing presses). Many of these deserve challenging but are so fuzzy that it’s like punching cotton wool. I used to think this was simple carelessness - now I think it’s deliberate obscurantism....

A few months ago I suggested to some of my Blue Obelisk colleagues that we carry out a systematic survey of Open Access policies in Chemistry, and particularly whether the publisher allowed re-use of the data (e.g. was it Open Data?). There were (only) about 60 journals, some very small, so it didn’t seem difficult. However after struggling through about 10 publishers pages I was worn out with the difficulty of getting any sort of grip. So we have put this on hold (but not before we had alerted one published to the value of adopting a CC-BY licence).

Yesterday Elin Stangeland from our DSpace@Cambridge told us how to self-archive and I think it’s generating useful interest and commitment in my colleagues. Unfortunately chemistry is almost the worst subject for any sort of OA. Am I allowed to post my preprint of an article  in an ACS (American Chemical Society) journal? After all I wrote it - surely the ACS doesn’t own the copyright before I’ve submitted it? No, it doesn’t. but as Peter Suber reminds us:

Retention of copyright is neither necessary nor sufficient to allow authors to self-archive. It’s not necessary because authors don’t need the full bundle of rights in order to authorize self-archiving. It’s not sufficient in the sense that many journals (for example, Nature and Science) say that they let authors retain copyright but in the fine print insist on exceptions that deprive authors of the right to self-archive. However, retaining copyright simpliciter or without qualification is more than enough to allow authors to self-archive.

Did you get it right? The answer seems to be that copyright is irrelevant if the publisher requires you to sign that you will not self-archive. There are a zillion publishers, many with umpteen pages of fuzzy pseudo-legal waffle embedded in the promotional material on the mastheads of their journal. So you have to know it for each one.

Now SHERPA/RoMEO - Publisher copyright policies & self-archiving has more-or-less definitive statements about publishers’ policies. Of course the publisher has the correct version and it’s possible for the sites to be inconsistent. Not SHERPA’s fault. It’s a large job. In addition many publishers will actually waive copyright transfer if you ask nicely or are sufficiently feared/valuable. But, since many of us still find it difficult work out. So I suggested it would be useful to have an informal website/wiki where people could record their experiences of self-archiving - either as authors or as repository managers. Dorothea Salo replies…

Dorothea Salo Says:
November 13th, 2007 at 2:44 pm e

I thought about this a year or so ago. I even started experimenting with wiki software. I’d be willing to run it… but it’s not going to work without the investment you mention, and that is a hard problem.

Imprimis, many repository “managers” (scare quotes used advisedly) are part-timers who had the repository loaded on to an existing full-time job. These people are not clued into the zeitgeist. A lot of them don’t even know about SHERPA.

Secundus, a lot of us have “better safe than sorry” imprinted on our brains by management and by the general culture of risk aversion in librarianship, and so if SHERPA doesn’t have the answer, we don’t investigate any further.

Tertius, there aren’t obvious places to get out the word on something like this. We have no journal. The only conference dedicated to us, Open Repositories, travels more than we can afford to. We have no online gathering-place (and if we did, how many of us would know about it? see point the first). And nobody’s leading. I’ve tried. I failed.

Quartus, it’s been tried on a disciplinary basis in law. The results were not outstanding.

I really will do this if someone convinces me there’s a snowball’s chance in Hades of it actually accomplishing something. Thus far, not convinced.

PMR: This is very useful. The law site is actually nicely laid out and although not heavily populated is exactly what is required. I could see that 1-2 repositorians could reasonably populate the wiki and keep it up-to-date. I shan’t finger anyone but there are organizations dedicated to the Opening of publications and they could find it useful to help support an effort like this....


  • SHERPA is wonderful, but PMR is right that it doesn't include all the details one might want --and also right that SHERPA is not responsible for publisher policies that are vague or silent on key details.  Before supplementing it, however, or even asking whether it would expand to include some discoverable extra details, I'd think about the goal.  If the primary question is whether one is allowed to self-archive after publishing in a certain journal, then supplementing SHERPA (except to cover more journals) is not necessary.  One should self-archive whenever SHERPA says it is permissible, subject to later notification that SHERPA was in error or the journal changed its policy.  This option is less work and yields more OA, even if it leaves certain questions unanswered.
  • There are two tools that already supplement SHERPA.  One is Lund's JournalInfo (launched in June 2007), a guide to both OA and TA journals, with a raft of useful information on each one.  It already does much of the work that SHERPA does, and more.  If it doesn't cover certain details, then (as with SHERPA) one might ask whether it would expand to include them.  The second is Eureka Science Journal Watch, which is already a wiki.  At Eureka, users can start a page on a science journal and record whatever info they can dig out of its editorial pages and recount their experiences when relying on that info.