23 November 2015

Getting what’s paid for, scientific publishing edition

I like open access, but I think for profit publishers can continue to have a role in the scientific publishing ecosystem. But boy oh boy, some academic publishers do make it hard for a body to support them.

Recently, two independent blog posts from two separate scientists described the same problem from two separate publishers: both were downloading a lot of papers from their academic library for research purposes, and libraries were threatened by the publishers.

In both cases, the libraries had fully paid subscriptions to these journals.

Case one from Chris Hartgerink:

I started ‘bulk’ downloading research papers from, for instance, Sciencedirect. I was doing this for scholarly purposes and took into account potential server load by limiting the amount of papers I downloaded per minute to 9. I had no intention to redistribute the downloaded materials, had legal access to them because my university pays a subscription, and I only wanted to extract facts from these papers. ...

Elsevier notified my university that this was a violation of the access contract, that this could be considered stealing of content, and that they wanted it to stop.

Case two:

I was frequently obstructed by BioOne. My IP address kept getting blocked, stopping me from downloading any further papers from this publisher. I should note here that my institution (NHMUK) pays BioOne to provide access to all their papers – my access is both legitimate and paid-for. ...

I swiftly found out that downloading more that 100 full text articles in a single session is automatically deemed “excessive” and “a violation of permissible activity”.

My reaction is to give these publishers some high level side eye.

This is mind boggling. It’s so completely at odds with people’s understanding of what you should get from paying a subscription to an online resource. If your institution’s subscription fees are paid up, you should be able to access the resource. End of story.

Additional: Nature News picked up the first half of this story and covered Elsevier’s actions. Meanwhile, Elsevier has attempted to fix the situation, but Chris Hartgerink says Elsevier’s solution is not a very good one. It imposes several restrictions on the license, and doesn’t include images, which are necessary for the research.

External links

Traditional Publishers: please stop blocking research
Elsevier stopped me doing my research

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