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Forty Editorial Board Members Resign from Kluwer Journal
Posted On October 22, 2001
The Machine Learning Journal (MLJ; lost two-thirds of its editorial board this month when 40 members resigned after citing philosophical differences in the journal's restrictive distribution policies. The resigning members circulated an open letter on the Internet ( that outlined why they chose to leave the Kluwer-published journal and then subsequently offered their support to the Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR;, which was begun in spring 2000 and is based on "a new vision of the journal publication process in which the editorial board and authors retain significant control over the journal's content and distribution."

According to the open letter, the 15-year old MLJ originated when "a viable commercial publishing model was in place so that the fledgling MLJ could begin to circulate." But the Internet has changed the distribution model so that articles can easily circulate on it. MLJ has an institutional subscription fee of $1,050 and an individual subscription fee of $120. These subscription plans provide access to those who can afford them, but the fees "have the effect of limiting contact between the current machine learning community and the potentially much larger community of researchers worldwide whose participation in our field should be the fruit of the modern Internet."

In contrast, the articles in JMLR are available for free, without limits and without conditions, at the journal's Web site ( The journal is peer-reviewed and its content and Web site format are entirely controlled by the editorial board. Authors retain the copyright for the articles they publish. A hard-copy version is also published by MIT Press, which charges an institutional rate of $225 for print and electronic access, $202 for electronic access only, and $45 for print and electronic access for individuals.

Robert Holte, MLJ's editor in chief, said: "Until recently, the publisher was not very responsive to requests by the editorial board to change things to better serve the research community. In the meantime, journals such as JAIR (Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research) had shown that electronic journals could be created and run successfully entirely by the researchers themselves. The creation of JMLR along the JAIR model was a natural development. Some number of resignations were inevitable in order to give JMLR the commitment and credibility it needed to begin to establish itself."

The signers of the open letter state that their resignation from the editorial board "reflects our belief that journals should principally serve the needs of the intellectual community, in particular by providing the immediate and universal access to journal articles that modern technology supports, and doing so at a cost that excludes no one."

The author retains copyright to his or her article, subject to specific rights granted by MIT Press and the "sponsor" (the editorial board). Thus the author reserves, among other things, unlimited rights to electronic distribution and to license the work to other publishers. After the first publication, the only obligation is to ensure the appropriate first publication credit to JMLR and MIT Press. According to the letter: "We think that many will agree that this is an agreement that is reflective of the modern Internet, and is appealing in its recognition of the rights of authors to distribute their work as widely as possible. In particular, authors can leave copies of their JMLR articles on their own home page."
In addition, the signers of the letter also argue that their action is not without precedent, citing the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC; as an example where many areas in science have researchers who are moving to low-cost publication alternatives. According to the letter: "One salient example is the case of the journal ‘Logic Programming.' In 1999, the editors and editorial advisors of this journal resigned to join ‘Theory and Practice of Logic Programming,' a Cambridge University Press journal that encourages electronic dissemination of papers."
SPARC, for its part, has endorsed the circulation of this letter, stating in a publicly circulating e-mail that "it may serve as a launching pad for discussions about scholarly communication. SPARC offers its own information on JMLR (see Within the SPARC communication it also encourages two of its initiatives, Create Change ( and Declaring Independence ( Create Change is "a resource for faculty and librarian action to reclaim scholarly communication" that's co-sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and SPARC. Declaring Independence is a SPARC-published guide for creating community-controlled science journals.

Kluwer Academic Publishers has issued a press release about MLJ to respond to this situation. It reads in part:

Kluwer Academic Publishers will continue its full support of the artificial intelligence community and Machine Learning. Kluwer's commitment to the Machine Learning community includes:
  • Posting of accepted articles for free on the journal's Web site immediately upon acceptance
  • Encouraging authors to post their papers on their own Web site, prior to and after publication
  • Serving our editors, authors, and reviewers with an electronic reviewing system
  • Providing services from promotion to copyediting to distribution that ensure their work will reach the community, and reach it with a professional presentation
  • Representing the journal at conferences across all of computer science, exposing it to communities outside of machine learning
  • Maintaining the current individual subscription price of $120
  • Including in the 2002 volumes over 15% more content with a less than 5% price increase to libraries
For more in-depth coverage of this evolving topic, see the Focus on Publishing column in Information Today's December issue.

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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