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We can’t live with anything less than Open

The Open Access Button has mapped over 6,000 paywalls since it launched four months ago. We know this is just the tip of a very large restricted access iceberg and there is still so much work to do. Currently we are recruiting new student team members and a steering committee. We’ve also started developing Button 2.0 and will have exciting announcements in the upcoming weeks. To make sure you’re up to date on these follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Open Access Button seeks to make the often invisible problem of paywalls visible, but paywalls aren’t the only open access problems that need to be made more visible. The last few days alone have highlighted problems with publishers and governments that need to be made visible.

There’s the unethical and possibly illegal actions from the publisher Elsevier. Two years ago Dr. Mike Taylor blogged about Elsevier charging to download open access articles and last August Dr. Peter Murray-Rust called attention to Elsevier charging to read open access CC-BY articles. On Sunday, Murray-Rust revisited the topic in “Elsevier are still charging THOUSANDS of pounds for CC-BY articles.” Murray-Rust found that many open access CC-BY articles were labeled as “All rights reserved” and users would be charged hefty sums for permission to reprint the articles. One example that Murray-Rust noted was Elsevier charging 8000 GBP for just the permission for 100 reprints of a CC-BY article that was incorrectly labeled as “All rights reserved.” No one should have to ask permission to re-use a CC-BY paper in any way.

Authors pay an article processing charge (APC) of $500-5,000 ($3,000 is often the standard) to publish their articles open access under a CC-BY license in an Elsevier journal. So, Elsevier is doubly profiting off APCs and the large permission charges for incorrectly labeled articles. Alicia Wise, Director of Access and Policy at Elsevier, responded to Murray-Rust’s email stating that Elsevier is “improving the clarity of our OA license labeling … This is work in progress and should be completed by summer.” This means their work in clarifying their OA license will take at minimum a full year. Taylor, Murray-Rust, and many other bloggers and Twitter users have made some noise about the issue. But there’s more work ahead to keep Elsevier and other publishers accountable.


On Monday, H.R. 4186, Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act was introduced into the United States House of Representatives. Section 303 of the FIRST Act would be a leap backwards for open access to United States federally funded research articles. Some of the harms in Section 303 include embargoes increasing from six to 12 months up to three years, failing to ensure federal agencies have full text copies of their articles to archive, and a lack of clarity about what data will be made accessible and where it would be stored. Read more about the FIRST Act from SPARC here.

Paywalls are the blockade to articles, but we need to also keep our eyes open to other problems on the open access front even in areas we already think we “won” by publishing openly. As advocates we need to keep publishers and governments accountable. We need follow up by ensuring publishers are properly displaying an article’s open access and copyright status and not confusing (whether intentionally or not) their site’s users. We need to push for stronger public access to publicly funded research and fight back when governments are regressing the progress open access advocates have made.


The Open Access Button team is currently comprised of student volunteers. Most of us will soon become early career researchers, librarians or doctors, and we see the need for open access. Often younger academics are told that open access is risky or advocates call for “punk scholars” to pave the gold road first. But isn’t it more risky to let our research hide behind paywalls? To silently wait out a publisher’s year long label fix while they continue to profit off the mistake? Or to not to reach out to our elected representatives and challenge bills that will harm access?

Last week SPARC held their Open Access Meeting in Kansas City. One of the most notable presentations from the conference came from Dr. Erin McKiernan, an early career researcher working at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico. Her institution only has access to 139 journals and she has pledged to be open. During the talk, McKiernan said, “If I am going to ‘make it’ in science, it has to be on terms I can live with.” (Presentation slides here, and video available in the next 2-3 weeks here.)

Over at team Button, we’re on the same page with McKiernan. This isn’t about what is “risky” or who is “punk” enough. It is about what we can live with. We can’t live with publishers incorrectly labeling open access articles and charging users just for the permission to make copies. We can’t live with governments setting back public access to research. We can’t live with anything less than open. How about you?

Start taking action to support open access by opposing section 303 of the FIRST Act if you’re a U.S. Citizen and by joining the Right to Research Coalition.


Chealsye Bowley is a solo librarian and Master’s in Library and Information Studies student. She presently coordinates social media for the Open Access Button and will soon be transitioning into Launch Coordinator. You can follow her on Twitter at @chealsye and the Open Access Button at @OA_Button. 


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