Back in November, I was among the many authors to receive an email from Emerald Group Publishing, touting the publisher’s “commitment to protecting your work,” and announcing their use of the Attributor service to track down “unauthorized copies” of “my” (really more theirs, now, as I only retain some limited rights) work and issue “legally-binding takedown notices.” Emerald asked for my cooperation by providing my personal/institutional/corporate web addresses (presumably for exclusion from the search).
This was much discussed in the blogosphere while I was busy getting a concussion: see Dorothea Salo (multiple posts), and Charles W Bailey if you need the rundown. Basically, Emerald decided to use this weird Attributor software that was intended for mass-media use in order to try to clamp down on free-roaming e-copies of their articles. This, while unpalatable to some, is technically their right. Then I guess they decided that they could spin this in a way that would appeal to academics, and sent out that strange email that had some reeling and others just ignoring.
Among the questions in response were: Will anything bad happen if I don’t reply with my URLs? Will anything bad happen if I do? Why are they calling it *my* copyright, when they took it from me? Am I going to get in trouble for self-archiving in my subject repository, since they didn’t ask for those URLs? Should I send them URLs of other places (e.g. course websites, subject repositories) the article is posted, to try to get those excluded from the search since I’m okay with them, or is that just asking for trouble? I’m not sure when the response rate to the Emerald Attributor email was, but I’d guess it was low due to a combination of people being unsure of what it meant and people feeling like it was unnecessary spamminess regarding articles from projects that were long ago “closed out” as far as the authors were concerned.
At the time, I wondered if the omission of subject repositories (e.g., PubMed Central, RePEC, E-LIS) on Emerald’s list of URLs to collect was an oversight. Emerald is, after all, a RoMEO “green” publisher with no embargo period, who states outright, “We do not restrict authors’ rights to re-use their own work.” I haven’t personally published with Emerald in a few years now, but when I did, my friendly editor didn’t seem to balk at my hand-scrawled confirmation of my understanding of my self-archiving rights on the copyright transfer form.
However, about a month later I was advising some authors in copyright negotiation with Elsevier, in which an editor refused to allow archiving in a subject repository (e.g., PubMed Central) without a specific deal between a mandating funding body and the publisher. I was therefore forced to conclude that I was just naive in my reaction to Emerald’s apparent distinction about archiving location and there is some publisher strategy afoot that is accepting deposit in IRs yet creating barriers to use of subject-based repositories.
This is a troubling distinction in my eyes. I work in health research in Canada and our funders are so relatively small (compared with the US NIH) that our needs are often overlooked/left out of publisher policies and deals. Not allowing our authors to archive their articles in PubMedCentral Canada may inhibit discovery of their works, as (unlike items in our IR) PMC Canada articles should be discoverable via any PMC portal. It’s also a potential blow to smaller genre subject repositories that are unlikely to be included in such deals. Further, these distinctions make archiving yet more complicated for researcher/authors to navigate (perhaps this is the point).
In this example, the Elsevier editor pointed to the CIHR policy (which applied to the authors and was used as their rationale for wanting PMC Canada deposit). This policy, however, was written before PMC Canada was up & running and thus does not absolutely require deposit there. Elsevier – among other publishers - seems well aware of what they can get away with, and where. Had this been an NIH-funded project, it would be deposited in PMC. I hope CIHR clarifies their intentions regarding deposit location with a policy revision soon, because the “preference” for PMC Canada does not provide authors with the necessary leverage to convince publishers that they must deposit there, instead of only in their IR.