SPARC Innovator Award | SPARC

There is something very appealing about the simplicity of using a single number to indicate the worth of a scientific paper.

But a growing group of scientists, publishers, funders, and research organizations are increasingly opposed to the broad use of the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) as the sole measure used to assess research and researchers.

 

SPARC Innovator Award | Sparc.

A Reply to Schadt’s Rant on Strawberries, Open Access Licenses, and the Reuse of Published Papers

This rant has been lighting up the twittersphere — at least, the little corner of it inhabited by people I follow. And for good reason — it’s a good read, and the comments are also well worth reading!

A Rant on Strawberries, Open Access Licenses, and the Reuse of Published Papers | C.W. Schadt | ORNL-UTK Microbial Ecology Lab.

I’ve got something to add to the discussion that goes beyond a comment, which is why I’m replying here. In my reply, I’ll assume you have already clicked on the link and read the initial rant and comments. My basic point is this: this sort of reuse of published papers has little to do with open access (OA) or OA licenses.

It’s tempting to blame open access — publishers, licenses, and the whole OA movement be damned! To his credit, Schadt doesn’t do so. Instead, he expresses surprise mixed with a sort of indignation that someone could take his published, freely available paper, slap it into an anthology, and then sell it for profit — and all this without so much as a word to him or the other author of the paper. Schadt lists 5 reasons he’s really irked, which I won’t list here (all strike me as good reasons, and interestingly are reminiscent of many of the reasons humanists give in favor of CC-BY-NC licenses over CC-BY). But here is a more troubling paragraph:

Anyway, Im not sure who to be more upset with.  The “editor” and publisher that republished the article, or myself for not noticing the reuse clause in the open access license.  From now on I vow that I will pay closer attention to this, and it may influence where I end up submitting future papers.

Schadt admits that he should have paid more attention to the license under which the paper was published, and then suggests that he will have to consider whether he wants to publish future papers under the same license in the future. Ross Mounce (@rmounce) comments that Schadt shouldn’t blame the license, which is a good thing: CC-BY prevents authors from blocking reuse “for no good reason.” Of course, this leaves open the question of what would constitute a good reason for not wanting your paper republished without either your knowledge or your permission. It’s a good question, and one that is at the heart of the debate surrounding CC-BY. But the really good thing about CC-BY and cases like Schadt’s is that they draw our attention, or should, to the question of copyright.

In fact, it’s entirely possible for the same scenario to be played out anytime an author gives up her copyrights, whether to an open access publisher using CC-BY or not.

I know this because essentially the same thing happened to me. My co-author and I published this article in Issues in Science and Technology. You’ll notice that at the bottom of the page, it clearly states the terms of copyright:

Copyright © 2007. University of Texas at Dallas. All rights reserved. 800 W Campbell Road, Richardson, TX 75080-3021.

The hyperlink takes you to the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), where it’s possible* to obtain permission to republish the article. Once permission has been purchased (yes, it costs money that varies with the venue and circulation of the intended reuse), it’s possible — and now legally permissible — to republish the article.

See, the California Science Teachers Association did it here for an issue on “Ethics in Science” that can be purchased for what appears to be $10 plus tax.

Of course, all this was done without contacting either my co-author or me. I was surprised to find it one day on Google when searching for the hyperlink to the original publication. I wrote a nice (I thought) email to the California Science Teachers Association asking them why they had republished our article without contacting us first. They wrote back that they’d obtained the required legal permissions through CCC and were under no obligation to contact us. And, legally speaking, they were right. I still think this move is a breach of etiquette and is ethically questionable, even if it’s perfectly legal.

Now, I don’t mind supporting science teachers. I hope they made their money back, and then some. But it would have been nice to receive an email telling us how happy they were to republish our article — or even asking us whether we might be happy about it and would care to add it to our CVs. I might even have appreciated a free copy of the issue. It looks pretty interesting. Instead, I got the legally correct answer, which came off as a double rudeness.  Needless to say, that left quite a bad taste in my mouth, and I do not include this republication on my CV.

But my hurt feelings (or Schadt’s) aren’t the point here. I signed over my copyrights, which means my feelings are irrelevant. Schadt signed over his, which means the same. But it has nothing to do with whether the license is CC-BY or all rights reserved by the entity to whom one has signed over one’s copyrights. Once an author gives up her copyrights, she has no legal right to reassert them (short of obtaining permission from the new holder of those copyrights). This isn’t about open access or the CC-BY license. It’s about copyrights. This is what makes resources like SPARC’s author addendum so important.

I’m not upset with Schadt, who hasn’t done anything wrong. I’m not upset with Ross Mounce, either. I think this is a discussion we need to be having. (Oh, and like Schadt, to be clear, I’m not upset at strawberries, either.) What would be upsetting to me, however, is if cases like Schadt’s were used uncritically to disparage open access.  What would please me is if authors would take some time to educate themselves about copyrights. I promise it’s interesting — and it may even affect you, one day.

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* When I click on the copyright hyperlink, I get the CCC site and it asks me to search for the article. I can’t find it by searching the title. There is an additional hyperlink on the article page that takes one directly to the CCC site to purchase permissions for the article here: For more information regarding reproduction of this article, please click here. However, when I follow the link and try to get a quick price quote, for some reason I keep getting a ‘sorry, we cannot process orders for international customers’ notice.