Jean-S├ębastien Caux

Genuine Open Access Principles

Posted on 2018-05-05   Publishing

Expecting more out of Publishers

In this day and age of efforts towards the reform of the business of scientific publishing, it is easy to lose track of where things are going. In a previous post, I shared my classification scheme for types of publishers, according to what they offer and what their business model is. But when talking about where we want to end up, it is perhaps useful to formulate some general principles to follow. A valuable proposal comes from the Fair Open Access Alliance, which has formulated the so-called Fair Open Access Principles as:

  • The journal has a transparent ownership structure, and is controlled by and responsive to the scholarly community.
  • Authors of articles in the journal retain copyright.
  • All articles are published open access and an explicit open access licence is used.
  • Submission and publication is not conditional in any way on the payment of a fee from the author or its employing institution, or on membership of an institution or society.
  • Any fees paid on behalf of the journal to publishers are low, transparent, and in proportion to the work carried out.

These are excellent base principles to follow when implementing the needed reform in scientific publishing. In particular, it is clear that many new initiatives, including SciPost, easily fulfil all these expectations.

On the other hand, one cannot help feeling that these principles are still too much of a compromise, perhaps with the pragmatic intention of making it easier for existing players to "deform" their operations into more acceptable ones.

In an ideal world, it is however clear that one could be even stricter with what can be expected of publishers. Recent developments highlight just how profitable the publishing business has been, and is sadly expected to remain in the future, even with the Open Access transition and the best efforts of the good-willed people involved in making it happen. This makes point 5 of the FOA principles above too loosely formulated, and insufficiently constraining. There is thus a clear motivation for sharpening up the criteria, to avoid a future in which wolves will simply have changed their clothing. After all, as a scientist, you have to continuously meet exceedingly high expectations. Why should publishers have it any easier?

Genuine Open Access Principles

[CO] Community Ownership The Journal has a transparent community-anchored ownership structure, and is controlled by and responsive to the scholarly community.
[OI] Open Infrastructure The infrastructure for operating the Journal belongs to, and is open sourced to the community. The entire technological stack and all operating protocols are documented and made easily transferable between community owners.
[CA] Copyright to authors Authors of articles in the Journal retain copyright. The Journal assists authors in protecting their rights in case of infringement.
[OA] Open Access All articles are published open access and an explicit open access licence is used which is preferably Approved for Free Cultural Works.
[OC] Open Citations The Journal makes its citation metadata openly accessibly by actively participating in the Initiative for Open Citations.
[FF] Fee Free Submission, peer evaluation and publication are not conditional in any way on the payment of a fee from authors or their employing institution, or on membership of an institution or society.
[NP] Non Profit The Journal publisher's operations are entirely non profit.
[OF] Open Finances The Journal's finances are openly published and available for public scrutiny.
[AE] Academic Editing The editorial processes of the Journal are run by the community, and all editorial decisions are taken by active professional scientists, using exclusively academic scholarship-based criteria.

The first thing to specify is what is meant by the community. The answer is the obvious: active professional academics or associations thereof, academic institutions such as universities and their libraries, research institutes, funding agencies international research organizations and the like; this explicitly excludes organizations/corporations whose interests are not purely academic in nature.

Principles CO, CA, OA and FF are derived from the first 4 Fair OA principles, slightly sharpened.

The OI principle means that the Journal's long-term existence can be ensured by the community itself, since none of the technology behind it is proprietary or hidden behind closed doors. The codebase should be open sourced, and preferably given a non-commercial license to make corporate takeovers impossible.

For the OA and CA principles, licenses which fit the Approved for Free Cultural Works label include CC0, CC BY and CC BY-SA. With such generous terms, infringements are not expected to occur often; it is however important for the authors to know their rights and how to verify their proper application.

One can argue that OC is implied by OA, but it feels appropriate to give it a separate entry to highlight its importance for the future of academic metrics.

The FF principle is essentially the 4th Fair OA principle, with greater emphasis on absence of fees for all the workflow leading from preprint to (maintained) published material. Contrary to ill-informed interventions, this does not imply that this workflow does not entail costs. It just means that costs are covered from other sources, for example universities, libraries, voluntary author contributions etc. As explained in the notes of Point 4 of the Fair OA principles, the FF principle is incompatible with compulsory Article Processing Charges (APCs) and "Big Deals" with publishers.

The 5th Fair OA principle has here been sharpened to NP and OF. Compromise on this point, in view of recent history, is demonstrably ill-advised. Of course one could conceive of a nicely working for-profit scientific publishing market, but Genuine Open Access is clearly the preferable option.

The AE principle explicitly excludes workflows in which insufficiently-qualified personnel can take publication decisions based on for example "sales potential" or other non-academic criteria. Science must remain the business of scientists, and that includes publishing.