Elsevier’s New Sharing Policy: How it Impacts Scholars and Open Access by Katherine Gerwig

Some Background

In 2004 Elsevier, a major scholarly publisher, introduced a sharing policy that allowed researchers to immediately self-archive their work in institutional repositories (IRs). In 2012 they changed their sharing policy so that if a researcher was to deposit in an IR which operated under an open access mandate their work was embargoed for a period of time.

What’s New?

On April 30, 2015, Elsevier released a new policy for how researchers submitting to Elsevier journals can share their publications. Elsevier is promoting the policy as an improvement over its previous policies in that it allows authors to share their publications via repositories and explicitly addresses sharing via social research sites (Mendeley, Academia.edu, etc.).

Open access (OA) advocates are proclaiming loudly that Elsevier is back-pedaling on their support of open access. The primary changes from the 2004 policy that supporters of open access have problems with are:

  • Two repositories ArXiv and RePEc are treated as special cases while institutional repositories (IRs) have to deal with embargoes restricting OA.
  • The requirement of a CC-BY-NC-ND license for OA work.
  • The policy is convoluted and difficult to navigate.
  • The policy states how authors are allowed to share their work, even pre-prints and private sharing.

Since release, Elsevier has adjusted the policy so that it would not be retroactive. Originally, the sharing policy would’ve potentially created situations where work that had previously been OA would become embargoed.

Effects of the policy

The embargo periods look like an attempt to subvert IRs regardless of Elsevier’s assertion that embargoes for IRs are necessary to sustain Elsevier’s business. As Mark Seeley, General Counsel for Elsevier, stated in the comment section of Kevin Smith’s blog post, Stepping Back from Sharing, “Mandates with short or no embargo periods represent to us, and to most other journal publishers, a competitive concern.” Interestingly, when one considers that searching directly from an IR interface is not how articles are typically discovered but rather a researcher would conduct an initial search using a search engine which provides an aggregated list of results. The article may reside in various places, yet the IR is the one place singled out for embargo.

The embargoes are in many cases longer than OA mandates allow (all Elsevier journals require no less than 12 month embargo with ranges from 12 to 48 month embargoes). Assessments such as those made by John Dupuis, that the policy is, “potentially setting authors against their funders,” have prompted Elsevier to state they will review how their journals’ embargo periods interact with funder mandates later this year.

Additionally, the requirement for authors to assign the least open of the Creative Commons licenses, CC-BY-NC-ND, to work they make OA imposes serious restrictions on how their work can be re-used. In particular, the creation of derivative works is how knowledge progresses in many disciplines. Additionally, the license is likely more restrictive than many IRs require for deposit.

Why do libraries care?

Libraries have been long-time advocates for the rights of authors, long-term preservation of the scholarly record, and unimpeded access to knowledge for everyone. This sharing policy directly impacts how authors can share their work which affects how it will be preserved and who can access it. As journal subscription prices continue to rise obstacles to open access shut out an increasing number of people.

Something to think about

While the singling out of specific disciplinary repositories with fewer OA restrictions may be seen as a step toward supporting OA communities, what about other disciplinary repositories? If other disciplines establish cultures of practice involving OA deposits to a specific disciplinary repository will those repositories eventually make it onto the list of repositories facing fewer OA restrictions than IRs?

Here are some links for more on this topic:







This post was originally written as an issue brief for the class Publishing, Knowledge Institutions and Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It has been revised and posted here as a possible topic of interest to the library community. The opinions stated are solely those of the author, and do not reflect the position of the Metropolitan State University Library and Learning Center, or the University.

About the Author

Kat Gerwig (Arndt) Information Commons Specialist

Kat Gerwig is an Information Commons Specialist in the Metro State Library and a student in the School of Library and Information Studies at UW-Madison.

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