OMICS Publishing Group Threatens Billion Dollar Suit Over Slanderous Blog Post

June 14, 2013

The article on the Chronicle of Higher Education titled Publisher Threatens to Sue Blogger for One Billion tells the story of Jeffrey Beall, who runs the blog Scholarly Open Access. The blog has a list of predatory or questionable publishers and journals. One of these publishers, OMICS Publishing Group from India, wants to sue Beall, and put him in jail.

“The OMICS Group’s practices have received particular attention from Mr. Beall and some publications, including The Chronicle. In 2012, The Chronicle found that the group was listing 200 journals, but only about 60 percent had actually published anything… On his blog, Mr. Beall accuses OMICS of spamming scholars with invitations to publish, quickly accepting their papers, then charging them a nearly $3,000 publishing fee after a paper has been accepted.”

The letter sent to Beall accused him of racial discrimination as well as unprofessionalism. Whether the suit is a publicity stunt or sparked by legitimate outrage is unclear, but in India it is against the law to publish “menacing” information online under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. Is pay to play content really such a contentious concept? The academics desperate to be published in legitimate journals who follow Beall’s blog would certainly say yes.

Chelsea Kerwin, June 14, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Useful Source of Open Books

May 10, 2013

The good folks at O’Reilly Media offer a roster of Open Books for your inner programmer. O’Reilly has not only navigated the open license landscape to offer these publications, but also got them digitized into e-books so they can be available to anyone with an Internet connection. Though the publisher has offered books under various open copyrights for years, it now has a concerted focus in this area.

The write-up makes sure to give credit where credit is due:

“We’re happy to have partnered with two innovative nonprofits, Creative Commons and the Internet Archive, to solve the licensing and digitizing challenges involved in bringing Open Books to readers.

“While the books listed here use various open licenses, since 2003 we’ve focused on using the licenses created by Creative Commons. O’Reilly has adopted the Creative Commons Founders’ Copyright, which we’re applying to hundreds of out-of-print and current titles, pending author approval.

“Through its Open Library project, the Internet Archive is scanning and hosting PDF versions of our open books. We posted the first book, the original edition of The Whole Internet User’s Guide & Catalog in October of 2005, as part of the launch of the Open Content Alliance (we and the Internet Archive are among the founding members of the alliance).”

O’Reilly expresses gratitude to Creative Commons and the Internet Archive, and suggests users consider donating to these initiatives. (We concur.) Check out the generous list—you might just pick up some crucial information for free.

Cynthia Murrell, May 10, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Cengage: Time to Disengage?

March 25, 2013

Thomson Reuters in “Cengage Learning Hires Restructuring Advisers” reported that a former Thomson property is arranging a modest infusion of cash. “Modest” in this context is about $430 million, which is nothing when compared to the cost of a modern text book. (“See Textbook Prices Are Inflating Even Faster Than Tuition Prices: New Boston University Classifieds for Students Makes Buying Textbooks More Affordable.”)

Cengage used to be Thomson Learning, a sprawling collection of publishing companies. Some of the firms had traditional textbooks; others had combinations of traditional textbooks and electronic versions. My recollection is that the technical infrastructure of the original Thomson Learning was quite diverse. “Diverse” publishing infrastructures in the same organization add significantly to the costs of doing business. “Diverse” is also a stuck brake on innovation because repurposing content is time consuming and labor intensive. Prior to spinning off Thomson Learning to Apax Partners and Omers Capital Partners, Thomson’s senior management were focusing their considerable talents on cost efficiencies. . I assume that the technical infrastructure issues have been resolved.

Debt can be a burden as this illustration from Shape Home Loans suggests?i Does debt enhance agility or is it a financial play disconnected from structural changes such as those described in my “Gadzooks, It’s MOOCs: The Fuss over Open Source Learning” article?

One item in the Thomson Reuters news release caught my attention:

…the company said it had borrowed $430 million, almost all of its remaining credit facility to ensure its businesses have the cash they need. Stamford, Connecticut-based Cengage has a $1.5 billion term loan that matures next year and a total of $5.3 billion of debt as of Dec. 31.

Several observations:

First, this type of cash crunch in publishing is likely to become more common. I wrote a story for Online Searcher about the impact of online learning. There is also a chorus of “if you are smart, you can skip college” echoing around Kentucky. What if the online learning and the “you don’t have to go to college” blend? Companies depending upon the traditional purchasing patterns in education may find that new revenues are not sufficient to keep up with old revenue losses.

Second, the spillover from a Cengage-type of problem will have cascading effects. Examples which come to mind are revenues flowing to such organizations like Ebsco Electronic Publishing, ProQuest, and Wolters Kluwer. These companies are in the education food chain. If Cengage flu becomes contagious, these firms will face some additional financial challenges.

Third, the authors who provide content to the textbook giants have to be paid. With the shift to online courses, some of these authors may take their “fame” and their content and go a new direction. It is now possible for some textbook superstar authors to try to become celebrities. If Google needs knowledge, the company just hires the superstar. Won’t the same approach become possible in the online learning space? Maybe an existing textbook company will corner this market? I am not sure  traditional textbook companies have the agility necessary to pull off a slam dunk.

Fourth, the online services like Thomson Reuters’ WestLaw and Reed Elsevier’s LexisNexis may also feel the impact of a shift. On one hand, these systems could gain new content from disaffected textbook publishers and, therefore, more revenue pulling information. On the other hand, traditional online services have been caught flatfooted by the surge in online educational content and may be too late to ride the new revenue train.

Net net: Is it time for customers of Cengage to disengage? A larger question is, “Will the professional publishing and professional online services be able to adjust to yet another sapping of their life blood?” Changes are coming. Many of these shifts will not be gentle, kind, or slow I fear.

Stephen E Arnold, March 25,2013

Journal Authors Choose Open Access Lite

February 25, 2013

I suppose this is good news for the traditionalists. The weekly scientific journal Nature has found that “Researchers Opt to Limit Uses of Open-Access Publications.” The wheels are slowly creaking toward a consensus in academia that publicly-funded research should be freely available. However, recent data indicates that even authors who publish in open-access journals desire at least some control over the ways content is used.

Open-access advocates accuse such researchers of failing to understand how publishing licenses affect research papers, and that if they only knew, they would all opt for the least restrictive Creative Commons license, the CC-BY license. They also suggest that free papers should carry their licenses attached, making the re-use parameters crystal clear. I have to say that last part seems like common sense.

One open-access journal, Scientific Reports (which, by the way, is put out by the same publisher as Nature), maintains a licensing system with three levels of restriction: the CC-BY, the more restrictive CC-BY-NC-SA, and the even more limiting CC-BY-NC-ND. Records show that about 95 percent of their authors chose one of the latter two, with 68 percent picking the most locked-down option. (See here for descriptions of all the Creative Commons licenses.) Are these choices really the result of ignorance?

Ross Mounce of the Open Knowledge Foundation in Cambridge thinks offering researchers a menu of licenses leads to the reflexive choice of the most restrictive option. However, the issue might not be so simple. Journalist Richard Van Noorden writes:

“Many publishers are also arguing against CC-BY, concerned in part about the loss of income if others can resell open-access works. Indeed, the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, a global trade organization based in Oxford, UK, is working on an alternative open-access licence that does not allow commercial or derivative use in reprints, abstracts or adaptations, but explicitly allows text-mining and translations.

“The problem is that adding restrictions to the re-use of work — even with good intentions — can create complex legal issues, explains Martin Hall, vice-chancellor of the University of Salford in Manchester, UK, and a co-author of the ‘Finch report’, an influential study on open access commissioned by the UK government.”

Here’s a link [PDF] to that Finch report, in case you’re curious. Yes, like anything involving legal distinctions, the issue is easily complicated. However, it will benefit us all if publishers, researchers, and open-access advocates can see their way through this thorny thicket. Together.

Cynthia Murrell, February 25, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Open Access Gains Momentum

October 8, 2012

We have good news for fans of open access to scientific research: Nature reports on the landmark “Open-Access Deal for Particle Physics.” The agreement covers the entire field of particle physics, which is already more open than other sciences—most non peer-reviewed papers are posted on the preprint server arXiv. Also, subscription-journal publishers and researchers have been making deals here and there to free up some peer-reviewed versions.

The Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3)has been negotiating with publishers for six years to make almost all particle physics articles free on journal Web sites. Reporter Richard Van Noorden writes:

“So that individual research groups do not need to arrange open publication of their work, the consortium has negotiated contracts with 12 journals that would make 90% of high-energy-physics papers published from 2014 onwards free to read, says Salvatore Mele, who leads the project from CERN, Europe’s high-energy physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, and home of the LHC [Large Hadron Collider]. According to details announced on 21 September, six of the journals will switch their business models entirely from subscription to open access. It is ‘the most systematic attempt to convert all the journals in a given field to open access’, says Peter Suber, a philosopher at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and a proponent of open access.”

SCOAP3 aims to make the transition without affecting grant funding or the way researchers publish. Publication is to be funded through the organization by the pledges of libraries, funding agencies, and research associations. Publishers must now reduce their subscription prices to offset this funding so libraries don’t effectively double-pay. Unfortunately, the deal could still fall through if, upon reflection, libraries decide to bail on their commitments.

Particle physics has some advantages in this realm that other disciplines lack, like a limited pool of journals and a central coordinating organization (CERN). If all goes well, though, this deal could possibly set a precedent for other scientific fields. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Cynthia Murrell, October 08, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Europe Goes Open with Research

August 17, 2012

Europe appears to be changing the way publishing licenses operate with releases of open-access policies from two groups that may set the pace for the entire country.

The European Commission and Research Councils U.K. both recently adopted requirements concerning open-access policies for journal articles. The EC will require journal articles based on research funded through its Horizon 2020 program to be accessible for free either online immediately upon publication or in a repository after an embargo period. Research Councils U.K. adopted a similar policy which will apply to all publically funded research in the U.K., beginning with papers submitted in April 2013.

An article from Chemical and Engineering News, “Europe Opens Up,” tells us more about the changes:

“When an author pays a fee for immediate open access, the U.K. policy requires the author to get a liberal publishing license. The license allows others to modify, distribute, and build upon the work, provided they credit the original author.

The EC encouraged all other member states to take similar steps for research funded by their domestic programs, setting a goal of having 60% of European-government-funded research freely accessible by 2016.”

The rest of Europe will likely be encouraged to follow suit by these groups. We think this is an interesting pressure applied to professional publishing outfits, but are curious to see if the exploitation of scientific results will make science move faster.

Andrea Hayden, August 17, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Elsevier Ethics?

August 8, 2012

Ah, pay to play. That’s the way to stimulate objective information, all right. A blog out of the Unilever Cambridge Centre for Molecular Information rails against such a move in the long-windedly titled post: "Elsevier Replies About Hybrid #openacess; I Am Appalled About their Practices. Breaking Licences and Having to Pay to Read ‘Open Access’."

As many of our readers know, scientific authors pay traditional publishers hefty "processing charges" to have their work made available to readers for free ("open access"). An outdated and, some say, unfair system, this way of doing business is at least transparent and well understood. Now, Elsevier’s Division of Universal Access has come up with the "hybrid open access."

Blogger Peter Murray-Rust, wondering exactly what sort of creature this hybrid could be, asked the Division’s director for clarification. Among his discoveries: obfuscation is alive and well. Also, Elsevier is clearly refusing commercial re-use and distribution of these works, violating, according to Murray-Rust, the authors’ Creative Commons CC-BY license. (There is some debate in the blog’s comments section about whether this is indeed a legal violation; clearly it is a moral one.)

Murray-Rust reproduces the director’s answers and comments on each—well worth checking out. He concludes with this analysis:

"Elsevier’s appalling practice speaks for itself. There are only the following explanations:

  • Elsevier break licences knowingly and deliberately charge for ‘open access’. (Readers will remember that Elsevier also created fake journals).
  • Elsevier are incompetent or uninterested in running Open Access properly.

"I predict that Universal Access will plead ‘this was an isolated mistake; forgive us and we’ll correct it’. Rubbish. It is not acceptable to charge people for things they have no right to charge for. It is unacceptable to break licences. Whatever the motives it shows that at best they don’t care. It’s morally the same as ‘sorry I knocked you down because my brakes didn’t work.’"

Elsevier certainly got this blogger’s hackles up, and for good reason. Creative Commons licenses exist to benefit society, and it is more than a little irritating for a publisher to play fast and loose with the rules.

Cynthia Murrell, August 9, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext