Over the past year, and particularly last week, the integration of our ScienceDirect platform and an external service has raised questions about whether we are charging readers to download open access articles.
The articles in question were always freely accessible to readers using our platforms; however a button linking to Rightslink, a service from CCC for ordering reprints and other reuse permissions, was appearing on every article on ScienceDirect. Rather than offering appropriate permissions for different types of articles, the same rights and permissions were offered. In some cases, these permissions were already permitted under the applicable OA licenses.
Every article on ScienceDirect had a link offering readers the opportunity to purchase additional rights which in some cases were not needed.
We never intended to charge for material or rights that should be free. This problem should not have arisen, and now that it has, we are taking all possible steps to correct it and reimburse those affected. We are immediately refunding all those we are aware of, as well as others we learn of.
About 50 customers have paid unnecessarily. Eleven of the articles were published under a CC-BY license (totaling less than $1,200) and the rest under other CC licenses or the Elsevier User License. The total value of all these orders is about $4,000.
We are stopping the means that led to inadvertent requests for payment and expect the issue to be largely resolved as a result. We readily invite users to contact us via email@example.com immediately if they find remaining loopholes.
In this article we provide insight into the many systems changes that Elsevier and other publishers are making to support growing interest in open access.
It has never been our intention to charge for material or rights that should be free. Since last summer, we've been working to enhance our open access metadata and also working with CCC to enable them to ingest and distribute our open access metadata to handle these situations correctly.
We've come to learn, however, that around 50 customers have paid incorrectly to reuse content published under one of the open access licenses we offer. Eleven of the articles were published under a Creative Commons CC-BY license (totaling less than $1,200) and the rest under other CC licenses or the Elsevier User License. The total value of all these orders is under $4,000.
We are happy to make amends as it has never been our intention to charge for material or rights that should be free. This is a problem that should not have arisen, and now that it has, we are taking all possible steps to correct it and recompense those affected. We have begun the process of issuing refunds to these customers, and have also turned these links off for all open access articles on ScienceDirect to ensure that no one else is inadvertently charged for these permissions. We are also working to ensure that none of our other platforms include Rightslink buttons for OA content until we've fully integrated our OA metadata with CCC. Overall, less than 0.15 percent of the rights and permissions orders placed through CCC for our OA content were handled incorrectly.
The systems journey
Elsevier and other established publishers are making a wide array of systems changes to support the growth in open access publishing in the international research community which we serve. We would like to share some insight into the nature and scale of these investments.
As demand for open access grew slowly at first, Elsevier published open access content on a relatively small scale between 2006 and 2012. Meanwhile, we were engaged in many stakeholder discussions and pilot initiatives to define how open access publishing can scale and support a broad array of funder and institutional policies. The good news is that since April 2013, the pace of change has accelerated in a positive way with publication of the UK national open access policy. The Finch Group gave all stakeholders a shared understanding of direction and helped choreograph changes that each need to make on our shared journey. Read about some of the latest changes at Elsevier here.
Prior to the clarity and direction provided by the Finch Group, most of our open access publishing relied on manual workarounds in the online systems that had been built over the last 15 years to support subscription publishing. This includes ScienceDirect, but also other platforms such as Cell Press, the Lancet and our society publishing partner platforms too. While these manual workarounds enabled us to start offering OA options quickly, they were never designed to scale. So when the new UK open access policies became clear, our first priority was to get our infrastructure organized to accommodate future articles.
During 2013 we invested significantly in upgrading our core metadata management systems to ensure that we have an automated system which contains a central, consistent overview of all of our open access content. In September 2013 we integrated our flagship ScienceDirect platform with this metadata to provide discovery, search, and browsing services for open access content. You can read more about those changes here.
In February 2014, internal systems were launched to enable our production department to automatically capture and syndicate this open access metadata to a wider array of systems. Our current focus is to integrate properly with third-party platforms (e.g., Rightslink) and to ensure our open access content surfaces correctly on the other Elsevier systems.
We are also working to ensure that the metadata is corrected for all of the free and OA content published prior to April 2013 under the old manual workarounds. This includes articles where an author or funding body has paid an Article Publishing Charge, content that Elsevier has decided to make openly available such as from our Open Archive journals, and miscellaneous content such as editorials in selected journals. We are now sorting this properly into a set of distinct classes, which can then be properly tagged and labeled so that each class of content can be handled appropriately in internal and external services.
So when will this all be reliable?
As anyone who has ever administered a database knows, reconstructing one with incomplete metadata is a time-consuming and largely manual process. Currently, there are still some inconsistencies in license statements and copyright lines for content due to the article's metadata even though the articles in question are freely accessible. We are updating the copyright statements on existing PDFs and in HTML and XML versions of articles too and ensuring all of our OA content includes an explicit link to the relevant license stating re-use terms. We are working through these tasks as quickly as we can with the expectation to have it completed by the summer of 2014.
We have already solved many classes of problems, but there will continue to be some bumps on this journey toward open access. We take operational excellence very seriously here, and so we are working very hard to rectify all problems.
If you spot something that is wrong, please don't hesitate to let us know. We are systematically investigating whether there are cases where customers have been charged incorrectly, and if so we will proactively reach out to anyone impacted. Again, if you have any questions or concerns, please let us know. You can contact us at any time via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elsevier Connect Contributors
As VP of Product Management, Platform and Content for Elsevier, Chris Shillum (@cshillum) is responsible for Elsevier's shared product platform. His team looks after the content management systems, access management systems and APIs that power our flagship products including ScienceDirect and Scopus. His current work includes looking into the application of text analytics and big-data processing capabilities to our products, and he is helping to define our text-mining strategy. He also represents Elsevier on the boards of key industry nonprofit organizations, including CrossRef and the International DOI Foundation. Most recently, he has been leading Elsevier's participation in the ORCID initiative and helping to ensure its success.
As Director of Access and Policy, Dr. Alicia Wise (@wisealic) leads in driving Elsevier's vision for universal access to high-quality scientific publications. She leads strategy and policy in areas such as open access, philanthropic access programs, content accessibility, and access technologies. Based in Oxford, she has a PhD in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.