Free For All? Myths of Open Access

I got a paper accepted a few weeks ago 🙂 All good – especially as it had been more than s year since my last paper was accepted. There’s a ‘publish or perish’ culture in UK academia at the time of writing, so I was more than a bit pleased that one of my papers had made it into a journal.

This week, I got an email about the publication process – it opened my eyes more widely to the publishing system we have in academia , and I thought I would use this blog post to dispel some of the myths surrounding journal publication, at a general, and more specific level.

Myth One – Authors get paid for papers This one seems quite popular among my non-academic friends. The myth is that every time I write a paper, the journal that accepts it pays a fee to the authors in order to publish it – they buy the copyright to it, if you like. This is very much not the case. I get no money from publishing journal articles. The copyright for the article (which strictly speaking belongs to the university, in common with all the intellectual work I produce while I work there, like lectures and workshop materials) is signed over to the publishers around the time of acceptance.

Myth Two – The University gets paid for publications . This myth is a bit more complicated, because within it, there is a kernel of truth. The university is given government money according to the quality of the publications produced by its staff. But, indirectly, the university pays the journal companies large sums of money, in order to have access to journal articles produced by its staff, to populate its libraries.

Myth Three – Authors have access to their own papers . Another tricky one. Unless I delete the original files, I do of course have access to the text that I wrote. But I only have access to the published paper to the extent that I, or the university, pay for that access. At a previous university this access was not forthcoming.

The journal I recently got a paper into allows by default, for me to have a link to send to 49 colleagues free of charge. This is beyond what most journals usually provide. I should, in fairness, as first author, divide this quota by the paper’s seven co-authors. After, and only after, an embargo period, I am allowed to place it in the university repository ( and thereby link to it for free on my own websites). Unless, that is, I pay a fee. I can pay for special access, so that my paper is accessible free-for-all, and I am allowed to link to it on my website. As I understand it, from the publisher’s website, the charge for this is £1 788 per article, for the journal in question. I won’t be choosing this option, and don’t know of any post-docs in a position to do so. If you are in this position, please let me know….

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So, open access certainly doesn’t seem synonymous with free-for-all, as things stand. Of course, I recognize that someone has to pay for article production, and definitions of what counts as ‘intellectual property’ are beyond the scope of this post. That aside, at the moment, with my papers stuck behind expensive journal subscription pay walls, however much I write, not much good is being done for either the academic or public dissemination of scientific knowledge. I publish or I perish. But who reads?

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One thought on “Free For All? Myths of Open Access

  1. Sian – you CAN get some financial recompense for all your efforts though. You should register with ALCS (http://www.alcs.co.uk/#) which is the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society for the UK. They are basically who Unis etc pay money to when they photocopy copyrighted work (I think) and then all that money gets distributed to authors (of books, journal articles, newspaper articles etc) based on how much they have produced and where it has been published. They hold money for 3 years so you can claim for the last three years royalties, and then it updates every year.

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