Journal editorial board quits over open access principle

The entire editorial board of a US academic journal has resigned in protest over restrictions that would require scholars to wait up to 18 months before making their published research more widely available on open access, or pay a fee of nearly US$3,000.

The stoush marks the latest chapter in the open access debate, which centres on the rights of academics who have their work published in commercial journals also to share their research findings in open access repositories or to publish instead in free journals with no pay wall.

Under the traditional commercial journal-publishing business model, readers and universities must pay hefty subscription fees to read about research that is often publicly funded in the first place. Copyright of the journal article is usually transferred to the publisher.

In the latest development, the editorial board of the Journal of Library Administration, published by Taylor & Francis, quit over licensing terms that editor Damon Jaggars described as “too restrictive and out-of-step with the expectations of authors”.

“Authors find the author agreement unclear and too restrictive and have repeatedly requested some form of Creative Commons licence in its place,” Jaggars was quoted as saying.

Institutional repositories

Many academic institutions have large repositories of published research available on an open access basis for anyone to read. Several funding bodies, such as research councils, have made receiving a research grant conditional on academics promising to make their research available in such an institutional repository.

Publisher Taylor & Francis stipulated that academics may put a copy of their edited journal article into an institutional repository – but only 12 months after publication for science, engineering, behavioural science and medicine.

For arts, social science and humanities journals, the waiting period is 18 months. “After much discussion, the only alternative presented by Taylor & Francis tied a less restrictive licence to a US$2,995 per article fee to be paid by the author,” Jaggars said.

“Thus, the board came to the conclusion that it is not possible to produce a quality journal under the current licensing terms offered by Taylor & Francis and chose to collectively resign.”

Journal editors

Dr Danny Kingsley, executive officer for the Australian Open Access Support Group, said the Journal of Library Administration board’s resignation was the latest in a series of resignations by editors and editorial boards in protest over licensing restrictions.

“A webpage put together by the Open Access Directory called ‘Journal declarations of independence’ lists examples of "the resignation of editors from a journal in order to launch a comparable journal with a friendlier publisher". There are 20 journals listed on the pages, with the timeline running from 1989-2008,” Kingsley wrote on her blog.

“This latest case could open the discussion and see journal editors – who have quite a lot of power – start taking up the question of allowing more permissive conditions with their publishers. We might start getting some leeway,” she said in an interview with The Conversation.

Professor Tom Cochrane, deputy vice-chancellor of technology, information and learning support at the Queensland University of Technology and a Creative Commons expert, said it was not the first time but it was unusual for a journal editorial board to quit over open access.

“Significantly, it’s in response to a charging problem which will be around for a while as business models are worked out,” he said.

“The idea of having to pay an article-processing charge of US$3,000 in a journal which is also charging a subscription fee is repugnant. It’s double dipping.”

University of New South Wales art academic Associate Professor Joanna Mendelssohn, who also edits an open access database of Australian art and design called Design and Art of Australia Online, said it was “about time universities reconsidered their relationship to scholarly academic journals, and in particular the way they have enabled a small group of publishers to make academics hostage to their commercial interests.

“We have to resist the archaic notion that unless access to journals is restricted to universities (or those libraries with subscriptions) then it does not count. It is a bit like 15th century scholars assuming knowledge was only valid if it was in Latin,” she said.

Colin Steele, emeritus fellow at the Australian National University and an expert in open book publishing, welcomed the stand taken by the Journal of Library Administration editorial board.

“It’s a very good stand because, by and large, academics who are ‘protected’ from paying for journals directly – their university libraries do – will now start questioning the economics of scholarly communication,” he said, but added that the high Australian dollar had cushioned the local debate on library subscriptions.

“Nonetheless, many editors and editorial boards are still only too happy for the multinational publishing firms to continue as they are.

“The publishers charge significantly higher subscriptions to libraries when they take over journals, even though the editors do the bulk of the work in commissioning manuscripts, organising peer review and receive little or no remuneration for that work,” he said.

“There is an obligation, particularly here for the Australian library and information journals, given the place of libraries both historically and currently in disseminating knowledge for the public good, particularly when the creation of that knowledge has been funded by the taxpayer.”

Response from Taylor & Francis

This is a response from a spokesperson for the publisher of the Journal of Library Administration, Taylor & Francis:

“Taylor & Francis is concerned to address the misunderstandings that have arisen in commentaries around the resignation of the Journal of Library Administration (JLA) board.

“JLA authors have the best ‘Green Open Access’ route option available. As for all other journals in our library and information science (LIS) portfolio, JLA authors do not have to pay an author publishing charge in order to achieve full open access from the point of publication.

“Under our LIS pilot programme, authors can freely post their (‘post-print’) manuscript immediately on publication – that is, without any embargo. For a complete explanation of our current LIS author rights policy, please visit this link.

“There is no requirement for JLA authors to pay an author publishing charge in order to publish in the JLA or to get immediate full-text open access of their articles. Taylor & Francis’ author publishing charge paid open access model, T&F Open Select, has been implemented as an option for authors to comply with the recent RCUK and Wellcome Trust mandate on those journals where there is an embargo period on author accepted version posting in a repository.

“The regrettable circumstances around the resignation of the JLA board have highlighted the complexities of the current arena. This is characterised by a range of open access models, alongside a range of licences, in the quest to meet the different requirements being set by various funding bodies around the world.

“Taylor & Francis has a range of licences designed to meet author and funder needs. We regularly review author documents, and since late last year we have been working on new versions for release. These versions will provide greater choice and more immediate clarity to our authors about the rights they retain.

– Sarah Blatchford – Regional Director Routledge-Taylor & Francis Australasia.

* This article by Sunanda Creagh, editor of The Conversation, was first published in The Conversation on 26 March 2013. It is republished under a Creative Commons licence.