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Elsevier Allows Open Access Self-Archiving
Posted On June 7, 2004
In a move that has stunned both the publishing community and the academic world, major journal publisher Elsevier is going to permit open access self-archiving for almost all of its journal titles. Under the new policy it will permit authors to self-archive their materials. This move will not change Elsevier's subscription model for funding.

"An author may post his version of the final paper on his personal Web site and on his institution's Web site (including its institutional repository). Each posting should include the article's citation and a link to the journal's home page (or the article's DOI)," stated Karen Hunter, Elsevier vice president for strategy. "The author does not need our permission to do this, but any other posting (e.g., to a repository elsewhere) would require our permission. By ‘his version' we are referring to his Word or Tex file, not a PDF or HTML downloaded from ScienceDirect—but the author can update his version to reflect changes made during the refereeing and editing process."

"We are not only announcing the extension or further liberalization of our policy, we are also reaffirming prior policy, to ensure that our authors' needs are being met," said Arie Jongejan, CEO, Elsevier Science and Technology.

Calling this "the breakthrough that it seems to be," Peter Suber, in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, observed that: "We may disagree about how well it matches public definitions of ‘open access,' how it weighs against other Elsevier policies, or even how much it was foreshadowed by earlier Elsevier actions. But there is no question that it marks significant progress for OA. Permission for postprint archiving is all that authors need to provide OA to the final, peer-reviewed editions of their own work. Elsevier deserves our thanks for adopting this most helpful policy."

The Budapest Open Access Initiative defines ‘Open Access' as the "free availability on the public Internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the Internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited."

Elsevier's previous position was recently articulated in the February 2004, "Elsevier's comments on evolution in (STM) publishing and reflection of open access journals for the UK," stating that it is Elsevier's copyright policy to permit authors to "post the ‘pre-print version of their articles widely, including the Web-based pre-print servers; and by posting the final version on their on their institutions' Intranets or other secure network (‘self-archiving')."

However, in a controversial article published in The Guardian on June 3, Deborah Cockerill of BioMed Central, an open access journal publisher, criticized the move saying that, "They are offering a series of limited forms of access—so partial compared with open access so that it won't threaten the subscription model." Cockerill further argued that the type of archiving that Elsevier will allow is, "in many ways useless to the majority of scientists, mainly because no one will know the copies exist at all or where to find them."

But Stevan Harnad, long time advocate of Open Access and professor of cognitive science at the University of Southampton, disagreed with this assessment and argued that: "There will be the predictable cavils from the pedants and those who have never understood the real meaning and nature of open access." And he feels, "prepared to stoutly defend Elsevier on all these counts, and to say that one could not have asked for more, and that the full benefits of open access require not one bit more—from the publisher."

As recently as this past March, Hunter stated on Nature Web Focus ( that "probably the single biggest concern traditional publishers have is that the market will not be allowed to function, and government agencies and funding bodies will decide to tip the balance in favour of open access. They can do this by dictating that all articles from research they fund must be made freely available (whether by removing any copyright protection or requiring that the articles be available at no charge to the user via the Internet)."

Further, Hunter argued, "If this happens, as a community we run significant risk of unraveling a system that has developed over centuries—and which currently does get material to those who need it on a timely and accessible basis—without putting a replacement in place in an orderly way."

In declaring the change in to this new policy Hunter explained that the market did drive this strategy because: "There was a desire in the market from many authors and many institutions to have an official record of their institution's intellectual output. We have listened and we have responded." Hunter also stated that, "Elsevier will continue to be the single, definitive archive for the formal published version."

Open access has received an enormous amount of attention over 2004 and this decision may not only be driven by the marketplace but concerns over the bottom line. In an article in The Guardian that appeared last November, Richard Wray observed that," the concept of open access—or free access to information—has already taken the computer industry by storm with the rise of the Linux operating system, but fears that it could make a serious impact on the world of academic publishing yesterday hurt shares in Reed Elsevier."

The company has not yet identified when the archiving policy will be implemented.

Robin Peek was an associate professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. She also wrote a monthly column called Focus on Publishing for Information Today.

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