Ceased and transferred publications and archiving: best practices and room for improvement

In the process of gathering APC data this spring, I noticed some good and some problematic practices with respect to journals that have ceased or transferred publisher.

There is no reason to be concerned about OA journals that do not last forever. Some scholarly journals publish continuously for an extended period of time, decades or even centuries. Others publish for a while and then stop. This is normal. A journal that is published largely due to the work of one or two editors may cease to publish when the editor(s) retire. Research fields evolve; not every specialized journal is needed as a publication venue in perpetuity. Journals transfer from one publisher to another for a variety of reasons. Now that there are over 11,000 fully open access journals (as listed in DOAJ), and some open access journals and publishers have been publishing for years or even decades, it is not surprising that some open access journals have ceased to publish new material.

The purpose of this post is to highlight some good practices when journals cease, some situations to avoid, and room for improvement in current practice. In brief, my advice is that when you cease to publish a journal, it is a good practice to continue to list the journal on your website, continue to provide access to content (archived on your website or another such as CLOCKSS, a LOCKKS network, or other archiving services such as national libraries that may be available to you), and link the reader interested in the journal to where the content can be found.

This is an area where even the best practices to date leave some room for improvement. CLOCKSS archiving is a great example of state-of-the-art but CLOCKSS’ statements and practice indicate some common misunderstandings about copyright and Creative Commons licenses. In brief, author copyright and CC licenses and journal-level CC licensing are not compatible. Third parties such as CLOCKSS should not add CC licenses as these are waivers of copyright. CC licenses may be useful tools for archives, however archiving requires archives; the licenses on their own are not sufficient for this purpose.

I have presented some solutions and suggestions to move forward below, and peer review and further suggestions are welcome.

Details and examples

Dove Medical Press is a model of good practice in this respect. For example, if you click on the title link for Dove’s Clinical Oncology in Adolescents and Young Adults a pop-up springs up with the following information:

“Clinical Oncology in Adolescents and Young Adults ceased publishing in January 2017. All new submissions can be made to Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics. All articles that have been published in Clinical Oncology in Adolescents and Young Adults will continue to be available on the Dove Press site, and will be securely archived with CLOCKSS”.

Because the content is still available via Dove’s website, the journal is not included on the CLOCKSS’ list of triggered content. This is because CLOCKKS releases archived content when it is no longer available from the publisher’s own website.

CLOCKSS Creative Commons licensing statement and practice critique

One critique for CLOCKSS: – from the home page:  “CLOCKSS is for the entire world’s benefit. Content no longer available from any publisher (“triggered content”) is available for free. CLOCKSS uniquely assigns this abandoned and orphaned content a Creative Commons license to ensure it remains available forever”.

This reflects some common misperceptions with respect to Creative Commons licenses. As stated on the Creative Commons “share your work” website:  [your emphasis added] “Use Creative Commons tools to help share your work. Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give you permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice“.

The CLOCKSS statement  “CLOCKSS uniquely assigns this abandoned and orphaned content a Creative Commons license to ensure it remains available forever” is problematic for two reasons.

1. This does not actually reflect CLOCKSS’ practice. The Creative Commons statements associated with triggered content indicate publisher rather than CLOCKSS’ CC licenses. For example, the license statement for the Journal of Pharmacy Teaching on the CLOCKSS website states: “The JournalPharmacyTeaching content is copyright Taylor and Francis and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License”.

2. This would be even more problematic if it did reflect CLOCKSS’ practice. This is because CLOCKSS is not an author or publisher of the scholarly journals and articles included in CLOCKSS. Creative Commons provides a means for copyright owners to indicate willingness to share their work. When a third party such as CLOCKSS uses CC licenses, they are explicitly or implicitly claiming copyright it order to waive their rights under copyright. This reflects an expansion rather than limitation of copyright that may lead to the opposite of what is intended. For example, if one third party is a copyright owner that wishes to claim copyright in order to grant broad-based downstream rights, another third party could use the copyright claim to support their right to claim copyright in order to lock down others’ works. A third party that is a copyright owner providing free access today could use this copyright claim in future as a rationale for toll access. This could come into play if in future toll access seems more desirable from a business perspective.

The CLOCKSS practice of publisher-level copyright (see 1. above) is problematic because Creative Commons first release of CC licenses was in December 2002. Scholarly journal publishing predates 2002 (the first scholarly journals were published in 1665), and not every journal uses CC licenses even today. Retroactive journal-level CC licensing would require re-licensing of every article that was published prior to the journal’s first use of CC licensing.

For example, the copyright statements of volume 1 dated 1990 on the PDFs of the CLOCKSS-triggered Journal of Pharmacy Teaching read: “Journal of Pharmacy Teaching, Vol. l(1)1990 (C) 1990 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved”. This suggests that all authors in this journal at this point in time assigned full copyright to The Haworth Press, although actual practice was probably more complex. For example, if any authors were working for the U.S. federal government at the time, their work would have been public domain by U.S. government policy. Any portions of third party works included would likely have had separate copyright. Even assuming the simplest scenario, all authors had and transferred all rights under copyright to Haworth Press, the authors would retain moral rights, hence it would be necessary to contact all of the authors to obtain their permission to re-license the works under Creative Commons licenses.

The idea of journal-level CC licensing is at odds with the idea of author copyright. This confusion is common. For example, the website of the Open Access Scholarly Publisher’s Association Licensing FAQ states: “one of the criteria for membership is that a publisher must use a liberal license that encourages the reuse and distribution of content” and later “Instead of transferring rights exclusively to publishers (the approach usually followed in subscription publishing), authors grant a non-exclusive license to the publisher to distribute the work, and all users and readers are granted rights to reuse the work”. If copyright and CC licenses really do belong to the authors, then journal-level Creative Commons license statements are incorrect.

Even more room for improvement

The above, while leaving some room for improvement, appears to reflect best practices at the present time. Other approaches leave even more room for improvement. For example, in 2016 Sage acquired open access publisher Libertas Academica. The titles that Sage has continued can now be found on the Sage website. The Libertas Academica titles that Sage no longer publishes can be found as trigged content on the CLOCKSS website. However, the original Libertas Academica website no longer exists and there is no indication of where to find these titles from the Sage website.

Titles that were formerly published by BioMedCentral are simply no longer listed on the BMC list of journals. For example, if you would like to know where to find Gigascience, formerly published by BMC, you can find information at the site of the current publisher, Oxford. A note on the SpringerLink page indicates that BMC maintains an archive of content on its website. However, if you look for Gigascience on the BMC journal list, it simply is not listed. It would be an improvement to follow the practice of Dove and include the title, link to the archived content, and provide a link to the current publisher.

Solutions? Some suggestions

If journals and publishers were encouraged to return copyright to the authors when a journal is no longer published, or a book is no longer being actively marketed (in addition to using their existing rights to archive and make works freely available), then authors, if they chose to do so, could release new versions of their works. For example, a work currently available in PDF could be re-released in XML to facilitate text and data-mining, or perhaps updated versions, and authors could, if desired, release new versions with more liberal licenses than journal-level licenses that must of necessity fit the lowest common denominator (the author least willing or able to share).

Education, among the existing open access community, and beyond is needed. First, we need to understand the perhaps unavoidable micro level nature of at least some elements of copyright under conditions of re-use of material. For example, if a CC-BY licensed image by one photographer or artist is included in a scholarly article written by a different person that is also CC-BY licensed, the moral rights, including attribution, are different for the copyright holder of the image and that of the author of the article. In academia, attribution and moral rights are essential to our careers.

The intersection of plagiarism and copyright is different in academia. If one musical composer copies another’s work, copyright law is likely the go-to remedy. If a student presents someone else’s work as their own, academic procedures for dealing with plagiarism will apply, regardless of the copyright status of the work. For example, the musician using a public domain work need not worry about copyright but the student using a public domain work without attribution is guilty of plagiarism and likely to face serious consequences. Evolving norms for other types of creators (amateur or professional photographers, video game developers) may not work for academia.

For CLOCKSS, a statement that all triggered content is made freely available to the public, and that additional rights may be available for some works, with advice to look at the work in question to understand re-use rights, would be an improvement.

Your comments and suggestions?

This is an area where even today’s best practices are wanting, and the solutions / suggestions listed above are intended as an invitation to open a conversation on potential emerging practices that may take some time to fully figure out. Peer review and suggestions are welcome, via the comments section or e-mail. If you are using e-mail, please let me know if I may transfer the content to this post and if so whether you would like to be attributed or not.

This post is cross-posted to my Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics scholarly blog and forms part of the Creative Commons and Open Access Critique series. Comments and suggestions are welcome on either blog.