Can Gale/Cengage Sell Us the Brooklyn Bridge, too?


Last week a VERY interesting discussion was going on in the Life Scientists group on Friendfeed. I wanted to bring this conversation to a wider audience, in hopes of broader awareness of and discussion around the strengths, weaknesses, costs and benefits of open access in science and research publishing.

Blogging about Gale/Amazon & Open Access
Friendfeed: Bruno C. Vellutini: “Interesting. A friend of mine just noticed his article published on an open-access journal http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article… is for sale at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Artific… Heard of any similar cases?”:
http://friendfeed.com/the-life-scientists/bc09e847/interesting-friend-of-mine-just-noticed-his

Blogging about Gale/Amazon & Open Access
Article:
Barghini A, de Medeiros BAS 2010. Artificial Lighting as a Vector Attractant and Cause of Disease Diffusion. Environ Health Perspect 118:1503-1506. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002115
Open Access version ($0): http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info:doi/10.1289/ehp.1002115
Amazon version ($9.95): http://www.amazon.com/Artificial-lighting-attractant-diffusion-Commentary/dp/B004ED7KOS/

Key points from the conversation included:
Q1: Does this happen a lot?
Q2: Is it legal?
Q3: Is it ethical?
Q4: What is open access really, anyway?
Q5: Can we or should we try to stop it?

Q1: Does this happen a lot?

First question: Is this happening with other articles? Answer: Yes.

I found many articles from the same issue and journal. See in the screenshot there are 2,553 results? Wow. Now, not all of them are articles from the journal, a few are books with titles that include the journal title.

Blogging about Gale/Amazon & Open Access

Then I started looking at other Open Access titles. I found quite a few, but there were many that are not appearing in Amazon also. I am providing here just a couple examples to prove that this is not an isolated instance.

Article:
Barry PD, Tamone SL, Tallmon DA. Evaluation of the capture efficiency and size selectivity of four pot types in the prospective fishery for North Pacific giant octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini). Fishery Bulletin 108(1):39-44.
Open Access version ($0):
– Original: http://fishbull.noaa.gov/1081/1081toc.htm
– PDF: http://fishbull.noaa.gov/1081/barry.pdf
– Free Library (HTML/Text): http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Evaluation+of+the+capture+efficiency+and+size+selectivity+of+four+pot…-a0220135527
Amazon version ($9.95): http://www.amazon.com/Evaluation-efficiency-selectivity-prospective-Enteroctopus/dp/B003BSEDVU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1299004053&sr=8-1

Article:
Ismet Celebi, Robert A. Dragoset, Karen J. Olsen, Reinhold Schaefer, and Gary W. Kramer. Improving Interoperability by Incorporating UnitsML Into Markup Languages. Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology 2010 115(1).
Open Access version ($0):
– Original: http://nvl.nist.gov/pub/nistpubs/jres/115/1/cnt115-1.htm
– PDF: http://nvl.nist.gov/pub/nistpubs/jres/115/1/V115.N01.A03.pdf
Amazon version ($9.95): http://www.amazon.com/Improving-interoperability-incorporating-UnitsML-languages/dp/B003VMC3OU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299004367&sr=8-1

Q2: Is it legal?

Now Gale/Cengage is not just doing this with Open Access articles, of course. I found several from fee-based journals and assume that the rights were purchased to resell the articles. They also aren’t doing this just in Amazon, either. I found some of the articles being sold by Gale in Amazon also being sold in DocsToc by Highbeam Research (who are another branch of Cengage). These pieces all tend to indicate an explicit corporate policy, which again implies that their lawyers checked it out.

So is it legal? The answer is, “That depends.” Eric Jain asked the pointed and critical question, “Is the journal “gratis” or “libre” open access?” There is at least a rainbow’s worth of varieties of open access, with many different cost models, and subtle differences. I’m not going to get into the details here because a blogpost is not enough space, and I am NO kind of expert with those issues. But from what I’m seeing, like it or not, it probably is legal.

Q3: Is it ethical?

The justifiable upset among the scientists was that they were rather unhappy that someone else was commercializing their work and making money off it, when they weren’t seeing a dime of it. I know that upsets me, too, when it has happened.

Gale/Cengage aren’t the only people collecting and collating open access journals and making them available, however the other sources that I easily found do so at no charge to the end user, and appear to monetize the effort through advertising.

Access My Library: http://www.accessmylibrary.com/

The Free Library: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/

Unfortunately, this seems to be part of the price of openness. You do open work for certain reasons — perhaps you want to have faster and richer feedback on your work, more collaboration with peers, more citations. You figure you won’t make any money from the article anyway, even with a subscription-based commercial journal, and you will make more eventually through the intangibles associated with open access.

Q4: What is open access really, anyway?

While I care passionately about open access, it is not my primary focus in my work. I would like to refer you to the work of people who truly ARE experts in this.

Peter Suber: Open Access Overview: http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm

Specifically: “Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” That’s important. If it is free of most copyright and licensing restrictions, that means people can do a lot with it without breaking any laws or contracts.

SOROS: The Budapest Open Access Initiative: http://www.soros.org/openaccess

SPARC: Open Access: http://www.arl.org/sparc/openaccess/

BioMedCentral: Open Access Charter: http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/about/charter/

Public Library of Science: Open Access: http://www.plos.org/oa/index.php

Q5: Can we or should we try to stop it?

This is where things get messy. I am afraid that if people see big companies like Gale doing things they perceive as clearly unethical, like making money off of someone else’s shared work, that this will undermine the open science movement and discourage researchers from publishing in open access journals. I cannot begin to express how furious it would make me if that happened, and how profoundly it would break my heart and damage the future of science and research discovery and collaboration. While there isn’t a law, perhaps there ought to be one.

In the absence of a law saying, “Thou shalt not make money off of someone else’s work” or “Thou shalt only make money from your own labor”, there are things you can do to protect your own work.

First, there are contracts. When you are publishing an article, even for open access journals, there is usually a contract of some sort. Don’t just sign it, READ IT! If you don’t like what it says, ask questions, and try to change it.

Second, there are Creative Commons licenses. Choose the license that fits your level of comfort. You can make your work shareable and copiable, while still requiring that someone say it is YOUR work and denying them permission to make money unless they talk to you and give you permission. I am wondering if open access journals might consider applying a unilateral CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 and offering authors the option to change this.

Third, what if someone DID start selling your article? Go to Amazon or whereever the article is being sold, and add a comment including information on how to find the free version. After all, you made it free specifically so that people would not have to pay for it. Encourage the open access journals in which you publish to set up their own Amazon stores and “sell” the articles for a penny or something like that. I don’t know. What are some other ideas? Also, be sure to put a copy of your own open access work in your own web space, and use social media to spread the word. The whole reason the Amazon trick works is because their search results are so highly ranked. There were articles I searched and found the #1 link was Amazon, and the actual journal link was #8 or #10. Make it easy for people to find other options to get to your work, without spending money.

I am hoping that some people who are far more expert than I with the subtleties of licensing, intellectual property, and publishing ethics will comment and continue this discussion, either here, or at the Friendfeed page, or on their own blogs. Where did I get this wrong? What did I miss? I confess, I find much of this as baffling and hurtful as the scientists in the discussion. How do we, librarians, help with this?

8 responses to “Can Gale/Cengage Sell Us the Brooklyn Bridge, too?

  1. This also brings into question about whether NTIS should be selling PDF documents for things that can be found online for free. I make some of my LIS students find such documents that can be found for free and for fee. Yes, some people might just click the purchase PDF document for $10 or whatever from NTIS.gov to save themselves the hassle, but people should also google the documents to see if they can find them for free.

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    • YES! I was running out of steam by the end of the post, but there was more I wanted to say. That is part of what I missed. Don’t just buy it because you found it in Amazon! Ditto for ebooks. Check Archive.org before purchase.

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  2. I am pretty sure that they contacted the publisher and got permission to do this, which means that the publisher is really to blame. Seems that Cengage is a little too large of a company to be careless like this. Also, I am pretty sure the publisher gets most of the proceeds.

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    • I’d expect Gale contacted the publisher for permission for the paid journals, but I am less confident of that for the open access journals. The issue is bigger than ale, though.

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  3. The following comment was posted by the author who triggered the original question, but was attached to the wrong post inadvertently – https://etechlib.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/the-role-of-databases-in-biodiversity/ . I am copying the comment here to preserve the conversation in one location.
    ———————————————-
    As co-author of the article: Barghini A, de Medeiros BAS 2010. Artificial Lighting as a Vector Attractant and Cause of Disease Diffusion. Environ Health Perspect 118:1503-1506, I was surprised, and I wonder if Environmental Health Perspective will make an action against Amazon. Once published the article is propriety of the publisher.

    Unfortunately something similar is happening with my doctoral thesis. Impact of artificial lighting on the ecosystem (in Portugues) available in http://www.teses.usp.br/teses/disponiveis/41/41134/tde-13062008-100639/pt-br.php, although it is free to download, it was copied in 5 sites.
    Of course the author, is pleased to have his work made known, but he paid a fee to have it published and will receive nothing.

    Alessandro Barghini

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    • Alessandro, this is very very interesting, but not entirely surprising. The conversation about how academic authors are compensated by increased dissemination of their work is central to the open access debate. There is a fairly substantial contingent with the opinion that (roughly) whatever is lost by giving up control of the product is more than compensated through increased name recognition. We need more research to verify or disprove these assumptions, in order to address the questions and concerns of academic knowledge-creators. Thank you very much for this evocative pair of stories!

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  4. Gale?Cengage is the type of company that if you cause a rift, they threaten you with a lot of very legal paperwork that says if you continue, you will be sued into silence…..so generally the paperwork is enough to silence everyone.

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    • I hadn’t heard this about Gale/Cengage, but I have heard it about other companies. This type of practice particularly concerns me when it occurs in areas where free information flow is essential to the welfare of the general public, such as healthcare. I will say that when I wrote this post, they engaged in very productive and courteous dialog with me about the problem and solutions, and did indeed work to correct the situation.

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