10 Jul 2007

Open Choice takes a beating

I've been impressed with the way that publishers have begun the shift to open access with schemes such as Springer's Open Choice, offering authors the choice to have their article made open access in an otherwise subscription journal, depending on the payment of a fee ($3000 for Springer).

Stevan Harnad has criticised Open Choice, arguing against double payment (readers and authors in effect paying for the same article), and what Stevan sees as the way that paying for open access publication is a distraction from self-archiving.

Now, Open Choice is being criticised from another front: researchers such as Peter Murray-Rust who are keen on open access publication, but who find that Open Choice does not quite meet the usual standards they expect of open access.

Peter Murray-Rust has resigned from the editorial board of a Springer journal in protest at the way that Open Choice is working. In particular, he is concerned at the lack of visibility or explanation of Open Choice, other than just a small logo
as well as the way that Springer retains copyright to the articles (Open Choice articles seem to be © Springer, although information on the Springer site states that "if authors choose open access in the Springer Open Choice program, they will not be required to transfer their copyright to Springer"). One of his real concerns is about the transparency of permissions to reuse the work, a criticism that has also recently been raised about self-archiving with the battle cry, 'Free is not open!' (it is unusual to see Stevan and Jan Velterop, Springer's open access champion on the same side of an argument). Jan has responded to Peter, to which Peter has replied, clarifying his worries.

One thing that Peter noted really did surprise me. Although readers can access Open Choice articles without charge, on the page there is a link that invites readers to 'Add to shopping cart'. There is also a 'Request Permissions' link, which if you follow tells you that "To request reuse of content from this Springer Science+Business Media journal, please e-mail Springer Rights & Permissions directly at permissions.heidelberg@springer.com for assistance". No mention of Open Choice.

Click the link to 'Add to shopping cart', and you are told that you can purchase it (for $32 in this case). I thought that it was unlikely that a reader would really be able to proceed with the purchase of an article that is actually open access, but I got all the way to being asked for my credit card details with no warning that I was about to pay for something that was free! This problem of people paying for articles that they could access for free elsewhere is an issue with self-archiving, but it really shouldn't be possible when the publisher has already been paid by the author!

As if criticisms of double payment weren't bad enough, this appears to be triple payment (subscribers to the journal, authors, and readers of the individual article who purchase it without realising it is open access). I wonder how many readers have made this mistake, if any? I take no delight in highlighting this criticism of Springer, as the blind spots in their implementation of open access are surprising considering Jan Velterop's genuine dedication to the cause of open access (his blog is called The Parachute, because 'it only works when it is open'). I'm sure that Jan will be working to fix these glitches in Open Choice.