On Oct. 11, 2012, the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) debuted its Open Access Solutions, a set of services aimed at supporting publishers in managing their journal content through the CCC’s RightsLink platform. While the services are labeled as open access (OA), content in journals using Open Access Solutions is not necessarily OA. Instead, RightsLink provides publishers with the ability to set licenses, permissions, and access criteria at the article level rather than by journal title or by publishing organization. This more granular approach to OA has the potential to assist publishers in complying with research funders’ policies and in experimenting with different pricing structures for author processing charges, but a more granular approach to OA also has the potential to add confusion to the already murky landscape, particularly for authors and readers.
OA Business Models and RightsLink
In recent years, traditional publishers and new OA publishers alike have been testing various possibilities to see which models work the best to meet demand for free and openly licensed content while still bringing in revenue.
Article processing fees (APCs) and hybrid closed/open journals—along with various permutations of each—are the current frontrunners. Article processing fees, sometimes referred to as OA fees, require authors to submit payment once a manuscript has been accepted to allow publishers to recoup costs. Fees range from nominal amounts to several thousand dollars, depending on the journal and other publisher-specified criteria such as association affiliation or membership status. Hybrid journals are OA at the article level rather than by journal title; such journals include a mix of open and closed articles, depending on whether authors have paid the specified fees or requested certain permissions.
Publishers are just beginning to figure out what models they prefer for each journal and how to administer the processes needed to collect payment from authors, assign appropriate licenses, and maintain payment and license information on a per-article basis. The tasks can be cumbersome. The CCC’s Open Access Solutions is geared at publishers grappling with these issues. Services are offered via its RightsLink platform to support workflows by giving publishers the ability to have granular, article-level control over their pricing structures and rights.
As Roy S. Kaufman, CCC managing director of new ventures, explained, “Until price and rights variation starts, you won’t have a truly robust Open Access [business] model.” Kaufman explained that the tools provided through RightsLink are designed to let publishers “try everything simultaneously”—for example, a publisher could create a scenario in which a single journal could apply a Creative Commons attribution license (CC BY) to some articles, a Creative Commons attribution/noncommercial (CC BY-NC) license to other articles, and a Creative Commons attribution/no-derivatives (CC BY-ND) license to still others. Reuse rights vary widely among these three licenses: CC BY allows for full use, reuse, and remix rights with attribution, while articles with the other two licenses are subject to restrictions. CC BY-NC is limited to noncommercial uses, so it restricts usage such as reprinting figures from articles in blog posts on any external sites that run advertisements. Likewise, CC BY-ND restricts all types of derivative work including translations.
While these distinctions may seem small, they are becoming important to research funders. In recent months, the Wellcome Trust, a major funder of scientific research, updated its OA policy. Beginning April 2013, all articles produced in connection with their funding that have incurred an OA publication fee must be released under a Creative Commons attribution license (CC BY), which includes full rights for anyone to freely use, adapt, or create derivative works—including for commercial purposes—as long as credit for the original is properly attributed.
As explained on the Wellcome Trust’s FAQ pertaining to its updated OA policy:
We believe that the full research and economic benefit of published content will only be realised when there are no restrictions on access to, and the reuse of, this information. We believe the goal must be to unleash that content whilst still allowing publishers to recoup their costs in an effective market.
From a funder perspective, CC-BY achieves this aim, and has now emerged as the standard license for open access (OA) publishing by commercial and non-commercial publishers who recoup their costs from publication fees and other revenue streams.
Moves such as this one by the Wellcome Trust are propelling many publishers, even those not currently shifting to an OA framework, to figure out ways to accommodate such policies if they wish to continue to accept articles funded by organizations with similar OA mandates.
RightsLink and PubMed Central
In addition to handling some of the behind-the-scenes workflows tied to publication fees, RightsLink includes a second component, an application that sits on publishers’ websites that can grant on-the-fly certain types of usage permissions and charge for those permissions. For example, The New York Times website uses RightsLink, from directly within NYTimes.com, to enable readers to request and pay for various types of reprints.
The CCC has adapted RightsLink for the OA environment by applying it to select third-party repositories such as PubMed Central (PMC). Much of the content in PMC is subject to traditional copyright restrictions; only a small subset of materials are included in the OA subset. For publisher-specified materials carrying traditional copyright or Creative Commons licenses with restrictions (CC BY-NC or CC BY-ND), publishers using RightsLink can charge for additional permissions or usage rights, such as reprints for their materials deposited in PMC. Kaufman noted that “getting RightsLink on content in PubMed Central allows publishers a new way to monetize.”