The topic of open access to academic publications has been hotting up recently. Many of my colleagues have been enthusiastically supporting the OA movement, started by a mathematician (should look up his name and edit this) and going all the way to a very well signed petition submitted to the White House. This week the Wellcome Trust announced its commitment to open access. It’s all gathering pace.
My point here is about the complexity and bad feeling that arise from the steps taken by publishers to restrict access to papers. I needed to read a paper in a journal we do not subscribe to at Warwick, so I requested it via Inter-Library Loan. There were several restrictions attached to the electronic loan – access only for 15 days, on one computer only, and with the right to make one print copy only. These seem arcane and unnecessary – no one I know really distributes electronic copies of other people’s work more widely than they would a paper copy.
However, the real problem was the way the ILL was implemented: use of a complex application called FileOpen. And to install FileOpen one needs to actually turn off anti-virus protection as FileOpen needs to insert itself inside the code for Acrobat Reader. (And, of course, it is not Linux-compatible.) To me, it seems that forcing people to install software which messes with standard software seems to be completely the wrong message to send about trust and collegiality. And needing to use a Windows machine, and restricting access to that one machine… it all seems totally out of sync with the dynamic, trusting world of academic collaboration and research.
So I guess I will just try never to use any publication available only via FieOpen, and in particular any access-restricted publications by Wiley. The publication in question is from a very interesting volume of the Biotechnology Journal. Seems like a very good publication, but one which I will avoid looking out for in future.
There are of course important questions about how independent peer-reviewing can be managed in a way that makes sense financially. When we published in PLoS, an open-access journal, we had to obtain money to pay the publication fee, which was difficult as the original grant had already finished. (And the fact that one pays for publishing can raise issues of impartiality.) But, the more I see of how some of the large publishers are dealing with the implications of digital publication, the more I feel that the time has come for some change to the system.
Meanwhile, more and more institutions will enhance the provision of use local preprints, such as our very own eprints repository.