Re: copyright and open access in biodiversity publishing

From: Donat Agosti <agosti_at_AMNH.ORG>
Date: Sat, 26 Feb 2005 14:53:05 +0100

Hi Stevan

Here my answers to your questions. Strangely enough, our community is
much more behind closed walls than others.


> My own question is this (because it is not clear from what you wrote
> below):
> (1) How much of the copyrighted biodiversity information is in (1a)
> refereed
> journal articles, (1b) databases, (1c) books?

-> 98% journals (almost all are in one or the other way refereed, 2%
books, 0.5% databases, which might come up in future.

> (2a) For what is in journals, the solution is the standard OA solution:
> The author simply self-archives a supplementary draft of the refereed
> paper in his own institutional OA Archive. There is no copyright
> problem.
> 92% of journals give it the green light, and for the other 8% there
> is the solution of self-archiving the preprints plus corrections.
> (Of the 13 journals with "systematic" in their titles that I found
> in the Eprints Directory of Journal Self-Archiving policies, 12/13
> were full (postprint) green and the last was pale (preprint) green!:
> .)
> Hence if an author publishes in a Systematics journal that has given him
> the green light to self-archive, yet the author doesn't bother to do the
> few keystrokes it takes to self-archive, *don't blame the publisher* for
> the fact that we lack open access to that article or those biodiversity
> data! We must blame *ourselves* for that!

--> this is, where we seem to be different. The print (Figure 1) in my
publications refers to those, which do neither allow open access nor
self archiving. For example, the highly successful Zootaxa, does not
allow to make pdfs online accessible, unless USD20 per page are being
paid (Each author will be given a free e-reprint (PDF) for personal use
(printing a copy for own:
Similar for all the major journals we use to publish.
This is even stranger, as publications of descriptions are some sort of
legal documents, that is no species name is valid, unless the name is
published in a publications which has some minimal circulation (among
other criteria), and thus descriptions should be accessible to
everybody. For that reason, we are in general not interested in the
entire publications, but only specific sections out of it.

Probably our solution could look dramatically different. All the
descriptions of taxa are highly structured, and thus one might switch
from traditional publications to a complete online system, including
review, which would feed into open access databases linked to the
catalogue of live, which are regulated by the various International
Commissions on Nomenclature of organisms.
This might be the outcome of projects sponsored among other through the
US NSF digital library program, which awarded a grant, for example, to a
consortium of the American Museum of Natural History, U-Mass, Ohio State
and University of Karlsruhe a grant into developing a mark schema to
deal with systematics publications (see for various schemas
along the same line).

The titles with systematics in it are only a very small fraction of the
journals we actually use, and from the ones in the list actually only
one in our field, though from its rank an important one. On the other
hand Zootaxa which now becomes the most important publisher in
systematics, and Sociobiology for social insects and related organisms
do not allow self archiving at all.
I agree though, for at least the green journals, the authors should do
their work.

> (2b) For what is in databases, it seems to me it is the authors who are
> entirely at fault: There is no reason they should be putting their data
> *only* into copyrighted databases. On the assumption that they seek and
> get no revenue from their data (do they?), here too, the solution is to
> *also* self-archive it. Their institutional OA archives are just as
> capable of archiving data as of archiving papers, and both will be
> OAI-interoperable and harvestable, etc.

-> see 4

> (2c) For what is in chapters contributed chapters to edited volumes (for
> which chapter-authors likewise seek and expect no revenue) the solution
> is similar to that for journal articles, except the author needs
> to be more insistent about self-archiving in signing the copyright
> agreement.
> (3) For full-length books by authors, I have to plead nolo contendere.
> Is the author at "fault" for seeking royalty revenue from his research
> writing? Who is to see. Each of us makes a decision form his conscience,
> and all we can do is try to persuade authors that since these monographs
> are hardly best-seller material, their chances of revenue are negligible
> compared to the loss of research usage and impact that results from
> putting a price-tag on access.

-> It seems that several factors lead to copyrighted books. Generating
some revenues to be able that one is generating funds for the
institution (sort of ridiculous argument talking about monographs and
science salary involved); loyality to his publisher with whom one has
long ties; signing of copyright agreement without thinking of its

> (4) As to trying to persuade database providers to give-away their
> products: I am sceptical. Where producing it has required an investment,
> and one that was made for the sake of eventual royalty revenue, they
> will have no more interest in giving away their product than any other
> producer of a product or service for sale. It is only the original
> data-provider (if he seeks no revenue) that can change this, by
> providing a free supplementary version. We are tilting at windmills if
> we hitch the fate of OA to the magnanimity of either publishers or
> database providers. Our trump is the fact that we researchers are the
> original data-providers, and we have no revenue interests.

-> I agree - that's why we want to be the dataprovider AND have the best
possible data base, so we control both and can keep our parts in open
access (ie It is interesting to see, what is going to
happen when Harvard University Press is eventually to release a new
database of the ants of the world, which covers exactly what we have in
our database (which in itself is one which includes next to 19,000 names
of ants another 150,000 names of bees, wasps etc., and finally is being
part of a global database of species of the world (e.g. Global
Biodiversity Information Facility).

Donat Agosti
Received on Sat Feb 26 2005 - 13:53:05 GMT

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