Shareability vs. open access: A summary of the contention around Elsevier’s new sharing policy

Less than a month after the academic publisher Elsevier’s director of access and policy Dr. Alicia Wise posted the company’s new policies for sharing and hosting academic articles at every stage and on every platform, the Coalition of Open Access Repositories (COAR) countered with a statement backed by more than 2,000 organizations and individuals across the globe criticizing Elsevier for creating a policy that “represents a significant obstacle to the dissemination and use of research knowledge, and creates unnecessary barriers for Elsevier published authors in complying with funders’ open access policies,” which has sparked a very public back-and-forth with Dr. Alicia Wise.

COAR originally criticized Elsevier’s policy for masquerading as one to progress sharing capabilities, but instead working to accomplish the reverse. The policy forces embargoes of up to 48 months on some journals, requires authors to apply a “non-commercial and no derivative works” license for every article deposited into a repository, and applies to “all articles previously published and those published in the future.” The policy requires unacceptably long embargoes with 90% of the 286 journals having at least 12 month embargo period, reduces ‘re-use value’ of each article, and could put currently accessible articles under embargoes. The overall complaint was that the policy is a step in the exact opposite direction of the global movement towards open access, works to hinder any benefit of openly sharing research, and is posed as a solution for a policy that did not previously show any evidence of having a negative impact on publisher subscriptions.

Dr. Wise responded just a day later with a rebuttal that was aimed at clearing the air. The publishing company was “a little surprised that COAR has formed such a negative view and chosen not to feedback their concerns directly to us,” especially after Elsevier “received neutral-to-positive responses from research institutions and the wider research community” since the announcement of their new policy. Throughout the response article, Dr. Wise states that the embargo policies have been in place since or before 2004 when the last “refresh” came about and that the other changes have been made based on feedback by their authors and institutional partners. Many complaints in response to this rebuttal by commenters and COAR surround Elsevier’s lack of transparency about the feedback they received and the company’s use of share as a way to avoid the topic of true open access publishing.

COAR’s reply to Elsevier reiterates all of COAR’s original concerns, cites more evidence of the publishing company’s dance around being truly open access, and offers improvements that Elsevier can make to their policy:

  1. Elsevier should allow all authors to make their “author’s accepted manuscript” openly available immediately upon acceptance through an OA repository or other open access platform.
  2. Elsevier should allow authors to choose the type of open license (from CC-BY to other more restrictive licenses like the CC-BY-NC-ND) they want to attach to the content that they are depositing into an open access platform.
  3. Elsevier should not attempt to dictate author’s practices around individual sharing of articles. Individual sharing of journal articles is already a scholarly norm and is protected by fair use and other copyright exceptions. Elsevier cannot, and should not, dictate practices around individual sharing of articles.

The counter concludes with COAR offering to take Dr. Wise up on her ‘offer’ to meet with the company in order to help the publisher better understand what the research community desires, due to the many misperceptions that Elsevier believes are confusing the research community as to the real meaning of the new policy.