Elsevier distances itself from open-access article

The publisher Elsevier has disassociated itself from an article by a trade association it belongs to that condemns proposed open-access mandates in several US states.

May 22, 2013

Elsevier is the only scholarly publisher among the membership of NetChoice, which seeks to “tear down barrier to eCommerce”, and whose other members also include Facebook, NewsCorp, eBay and Facebook.

The latest instalment of a series of blog postings aimed at “tracking the worst internet laws in America” sees NetChoice attack bills recently introduced into the state legislatures of California, Illinois and North Dakota that would establish open-access mandates for publicly-funded research.

The posting also targets the directive on open access recently published by the White House, which tasks all federal research funding agencies with establishing their own open access mandates.

The article says such mandates would “deny in-state professors the opportunity for high-profile publications in paid journals, decreasing their chances for exposure and career advancement”. They would also “make it harder for in-state universities to attract and retain professors and researchers keen to publish their work in paid journals”.

The proposals would also “set a precedent for state control over creative productions where any government employees played even a minor role” and could see states asserting copyright over items such as “a violin professor’s sheet music or audio recordings”.

The posting was highlighted by Peter Suber, director of the Harvard University’s Open Access Project, on his blog. He describes the arguments as a “crude bolus of false assertions and assumptions” and compares their “motivated distortion” to that of the Research Works Act: a bill to outlaw open-access mandates introduced into the US Congress in late 2011.

Elsevier’s initial support for that bill prompted thousands of academics to sign a pledge, known as the Cost of Knowledge, to boycott the company.

But Elsevier’s vice-president for global corporate relations, Tom Reller, said no one at the firm had seen NetChoice’s offending article before it was posted. He described its language as “strange, sloppy and not ours”.

He said Elsevier had expressed to NetChoice its “serious concern about the tone and content” of the posting and the “lack of transparency in the process by which [it] was developed”.

Mr Reller added that NetChoice had confirmed the article was written by its executive director “without specific review or input from its members”, and had agreed to put a statement on its website clarifying that its content “does not necessarily represent the views of all of its members”.

In a blog posting on 15 May on the Elsevier Connect website, Mr Reller says Elsevier supports open access, but believed that “legislative mandates such as the inflexible, one-size-fits-all post-publication embargo periods proposed in [California] are not economically sustainable for publishers and will undermine the peer review system”.


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Reader's comments (1)

What I don't understand is why a multi-billion dollar publisher allowed this group to speak for it at all. As noted in the article, Elsevier is the only academic publisher in the NetChoice group, and so the only NetChoice member that would be expected to have any view at all on the California, Illinois and North Dakota open-access bills. That being so, who else but Elsevier would write the group's ludicrous position on these bills? And even if someone outside of Elsevier wrote the anti-OA language on the NetChoice site, how could they possibly have done it without at least Elsevier's consent? There are only two possibilities here. Either Elsevier knew exactly what was going on here, and is hiding its anti-open lobbying behind other companies. Or, which I would prefer to believe, NetChoice really is run as incompetently as suggested here, and as a result it's positioned itself on OA in a manner than its only relevant member disapproves of. If the latter is true, as we all hope, then surely the only rational response from Elsevier is not merely to "express its serious concern about the tone and content”, but to withdraw immediately from the group that has so harmfully misrepresented it. Whatever pro-open propaganda Elsevier might put out with its right hand is completely undermined by what it's left hand is doing. It's time for them to step up if they are serious about moving away from the anti-open position that has characterised them for most of the last decade. If they tolerate NetChoice's behaviour, they might just as well save their PR dollars, because they're not going to achieve anything.

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