On not living up to my open access values

Two things happened in the last couple of weeks that brought home to me how much more work I need to do to really be an open access advocate.


1. Hypatia announced their Book Reviews Online site: Hypatia Reviews Online

I just got an email in the last couple of days noting that the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia has set up a separate site for open access book reviews. The site states that from Fall 2012 all book reviews will be published online, open access (I don’t know if book reviews will also be available in print in the future or not). Previously, the Hypatia website had a book review archive that went from 2000-2004, and HRO extends that from 2004-the present (there are reviews from 2013 there already).

What a great idea! I thought, when I saw the new site. Of course! Why not have all your book reviews be open access, so everyone can get a good sense of various books in a field before they consider whether or not to buy them. It could even, potentially, help book sales (though that is pure speculation on my part).

I immediately sent an email offering to review books for Hypatia.


2. I received a copyright form for a book review I recently finished writing, as well as information on how to make that review open access.

The first thing I got was an email giving me a link to choose to make my book review open access. I knew it would cost money, of course, but I was shocked at the amount: $3250. Really? For a 1500-word book review?

I think if someone could break down those random-seeming numbers that appear in open access prices for articles to show where that money is going and why they need to charge that much for a single article, I might be less inclined to simply write off such amounts as absurd. All you get as an author is a number, and a choice to take it or leave it. No explanation is provided for where that number comes from.

Obviously I’m not going to pay that kind of money out of my own pocket, and I don’t have any grant money as I’m in a teaching rather than a research position. And even if I did, I wouldn’t pay that much for a book review, but would save it for a more original and substantive contribution to the scholarly literature that more people might want to read (hopefully).

So no open access for me on that one.

How about the copyright and author’s rights for this review? Fairly restrictive, it turns out. I can, at least, post a “preprint” of the review on my own website, as well as a copy of the version accepted for publication (after editing), so long as I don’t use the exact format they use in publishing (i.e., no final page numbers, no layout as it looks in the journal, etc.). But I can post the postprint on my website only after 18 months from publication.

And further, at no time can I post the pre- or postprint of this book review on a “systematic” basis, such as on a third-party database (wording: “not for commercial sale or for any systematic external distribution by a third party (for example a listserv or database connected to a public access server)”).

I’m assuming that means I can’t post on a site like Philpapers.org or Academia.edu, where I am in the process of posting many of my other works (subject, of course, to the copyright policies governing each one).

That’s the one that really gets me–it looks like I can’t make this widely accessible, just post it on my personal website (or my institution’s website or the institution’s “intranet”). Perhaps I’m reading that wrong, but sites like Philpapers and Academia.edu do distribute works on a systematic basis, don’t they? Do they count as databases “connected to a public access server”?

I can, at least, give out final, published copies to colleagues or students, but not in any “systematic” way.


My lesson

I didn’t pay any attention at all to the open access policies of the journal when I agreed to do this book review. That’s just downright embarrassing when I think of how much I’ve tweeted and blogged and talked about the value of open access. Okay, so it’s a small thing–a short book review–but the principle should be that if the policies for distributing the article are too restrictive, I should say no.

And in the meantime, I hopefully I’ll review a book or two for Hypatia.


Your thoughts

Might I have something wrong in reading the rules for preprint and postprint publication, given the quote above? Does it makes sense to say “no” to a journal’s request to review a book based on the publisher’s restrictive policies, even if the journal is one you like and the publisher’s policies are not really under their control?

Any other thoughts?


  1. I don’t really know anything about these things, but I would have interpreted the rules about posting papers more liberally than you suggest. PhilPapers, for example, doesn’t *host* all of the papers there; often, it just provides links. So I’d think you could host the paper on your own site, and tell PhilPapers how to find it; you’d still get an entry there like everything else.

    Also, I have found that talking to the UBC copyright office has been pretty productive and helpful; they know their stuff pretty well, and are interested in helping UBC faculty to disseminate their work in a way consistent with copyright agreements. I’d suggest asking Joy Kirchner for advice.

    1. I do wonder if I’m interpreting the rules too strongly, so that’s part of why I threw this out there. So maybe you’re right, Jonathan. But I have uploaded papers to Philpapers, things like preprints or postprints that a journal allows you to do, in addition to the links to the official (not open access) versions. I do so for people who don’t have access to the paid versions, and just want the content. That’s what I think I wouldn’t be able to do with this review, given the wording. But maybe so…I am not an expert in the rules and what words mean in these contexts. You’re right to point out that talking to the UBC copyright office is a good idea, as they would know. I’ll do that after the thing actually gets published!

  2. If PhilPapers counts as a “systematic external distribution by a third party”, then it looks like you can’t upload your paper there, by the terms of the agreement. However, as you say, you can upload the paper to your own site. And once you’ve done so, you can also tell PhilPapers about it. (Often you don’t need to; it’ll find it itself.) Then somebody can find your paper there, and click on the PhilPapers link, and be taken to your website to download it. From the user’s point of view, it doesn’t matter whether the paper is hosted at PhilPapers or your own site. So if the copyright transfer agreement cares about that distinction, this should be a pretty good workaround.

    1. Good point. It does make one realize how silly the rules are, though; I mean, if I can post it on my own website, then it’s already available for everyone to see, right? It’s just a matter of making that KNOWN to others in a more systematic way.

      I will still check to see if I’m even reading these rules correctly, by asking Joy!

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