Elsevier: bumps on road to open access

Academic seeks to gather examples of cases where open access article fees have been paid but content remains behind a paywall

March 27, 2014

An academic is asking researchers and librarians to send him more examples of cases where open access article fees have been paid to the publisher Elsevier but the article in question remains behind a paywall.

The call has been made by Peter Murray-Rust, reader in molecular informatics at the University of Cambridge, after Elsevier admitted it had charged some people to reuse articles published with open licences.

On its Elsevier Connect website, the world’s largest publisher of science, technology, engineering and mathematics journals admits that it has erroneously charged 50 people a total of about $4,000 (£2,400) to reuse content published using licences permitting free reuse.

It pledges to refund the people concerned since it has “never been our intention to charge for material or rights that should be free”.

It says it has been working since last summer to fix technical glitches that have arisen since last year’s rise in demand for open access after the implementation of Research Councils UK’s open access mandate. It admits that inconsistencies remain between the copyright statements on articles and their open access licensing terms, but it expects the problems to be resolved by the summer.

“We have already solved many classes of problems, but there will continue to be some bumps on this journey toward open access,” it says.

But, on his blog, Dr Murray-Rust, a critic of Elsevier’s approach to open access and data mining, dismisses the response as inadequate: “This problem is of similar seriousness to faulty electrical goods where responsible companies will advertise in the national press [to alert customers to the problems].”

He says the issues were first reported two years ago to Elsevier, which deserves “no sympathy” for its predicament. He has asked David Willetts, the universities and science minister, “whether there is a case for formal legal or government action”.

He also cites examples of articles for which the Wellcome Trust has paid the open access fee but that are behind a paywall. He asks readers to contact him with more.

“We want to publicise all those potholes [on the road to open access],” he says.


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