Field of Science

Why authors are concerned

Most of the authors I've spoken with are quite concerned that their open-access articles might be edited and re-published in 'edited' books.  To get a better handle on what authors are concerned about, I'm about to distribute a survey asking for feedback.  I'll post the results and discuss them here.

(August 16:  Here's a link to the results of the survey:

Here's the main question of the survey:
Consider this situation, which other researchers are experiencing: Several years ago you published a paper in an open-access journal published by PLOS or BioMed Central. Now you discover that, without your knowledge, your paper has been included as a chapter in a multi-author book. The author list is correct but the paper's title and text have been lightly reedited. You and your co-authors are prominently listed as 'contributors' to the volume, but the original journal citation for the paper is not given or is buried in an 'Authors' Notes appendix. The book looks like a typical multi-author work; it includes a brief Introduction that describes how the chapters contribute to the field but does not mention that some or all of them have been previously published as journal papers. The book is being sold for about $100 through Amazon.

On checking with the original journal you discover that this re-publication is legal because you agreed to the required Creative Commons-Attribution (CC-BY) copyright license when you published the paper.

Which of the following statements would describe your reactions? (Choose all that apply.)
  • I would be happy to have the quality of my paper recognized.
  • I would be happy that my scientific contribution is being widely disseminated.
  • I would welcome this as another entry in my publication list.
  • I would want to have received a share of the profits.
  • I would want the collection to be freely available.
  • I would want the collection to be a high-quality contribution to the field.
  • I would want the paper's original publication to be conspicuously credited.
  • I would want the paper to be unaltered.
  • I would worry about editing errors.
  • I would worry that the editing has changed my interpretations.
  • I would worry that the book's goals may conflict with mine.
  • I would worry that my citation record will be confused.
  • I would worry that colleagues will think I've self-plagiarized by publishing the same article twice.
  • I would want to learn more about copyright options.
  • I would not have accepted the CC-BY license if I'd known this could happen.
  • In future I would not publish in journals that require the CC-BY license.
  • In future I would not publish in open-access journals.
The other questions just ask how many papers the person has published and if any of them were open access.
(I won't post the link to the survey here or on Twitter because I want to get survey results mainly from authors who have little experience with open-access.  But I'm happy to have discussion of these points in the comments here.)  I've changed my mind; here's the survey link:

(Picture below is just for the Field-of-Science header.)


  1. I would personally be okay with it; in the end, I published the paper with the goal of many people reading it, so I'm not really concerned through which venu that comes. However, any change of tite or text is absolutely unacceptable, as that is changing the contents of the text. I would also be unhappy with them shortening the text without directly modifying it, as that can sometimes really affect the flow and validity of the paper.

    1. I agree. I have no problem with distributing a paper without any change in text or content through more than one venue, such as a compendium of articles compiled by an instructor to teach a class. But even excellent editors do not necessarily get the meaning right. So editing such an article in any way that changes content has the potential to contort the authors' original ideas. That is unacceptable, especially if the authors have no knowledge about or say in the matter.

  2. I think that concealing/burying the original citation amounts to fraud, independent of the copyright issues.

    I think that listing the authors as "contributors" amounts to fraud by false endorsement. This is doubly true when the editors write that the authors approved the final manuscript (as with the Epigenetics, Environment, and Genes book), even though the editors changed the title.

    So yes, I'd be peeved, but I wouldn't be blaming the open access publishers.

    1. I'm certainly not blaming the OA publishers. But they may lose the goodwill of their authors if they don't mention the known risks of OA publishing.

    2. I'm not sure that I'd even call this a "risk" as much as a "complexity". The OA license provide simplicity for reuse at the expense of complexity for restriction. Most of the listed concerns can be addressed independently of copyright restrictions, but the process is more complicated than demonstrating ownership of copyright. If an author wants to pursue a legal strategy (as opposed to an educational strategy), then I suspect that there are laws that address the concerns that are listed above. IANAL, but I suspect that Apple press will soon be successfully sued over some of these issues... if not in the US or Canada, then in Europe or Asia.

      On a broader issue, maybe the term "open access" is itself a misnomer, since it could be interpreted as "available for reading" as opposed to "available for republishing". I'm not sure what would be a better term; "public domain" is close, but not precise (because there are some restrictions).

  3. Thanks for raising this issue and for posting to Evoldir to let a wider audienc e know of this problem.

    This is similar to the issue with software. My PHYLIP package is not under any Open Source or Gnu license, but has its own "free beer" license that requires any resale or sale of access to it to be negotiated with us for some royalties.

    I wonder whether there is not an Open Access license version of some sort that allows users to freely read the paper, make copies, share those, but asks for a license fee or royalty if the paper is resold?

    My impression is that the Open Everything folks will not do this, on principle, and that opens the door to predatory republishing.

    1. The Creative Commons group has a number of different licenses with different restrictions. Not all Open Access publishers support changing the license variant, though.

      The "noncommercial" variants prohibit commercial use (so you'd have to negotiate a separate license to use it commercially), but what counts as "commercial" can be a little iffy sometimes. (Can you repost it on your blog if you're making a living from blogging? How about if you're just selling advertising to defray costs? How about if it's your host that's doing so?)

      The "no derivatives" versions stop people from re-editing the work, but they also stop people from excerpting your work, or making things like composite figures.

      I think the big issue in this case is the implied endorsement. Usually if you're listed as an author there is a tacit endorsement of the work - you consented to be part of it. However here you're not even aware the work exists, but people may think you approve of it. (Would your feelings be different about it if you weren't listed as an author of the combined work, and it was clear that it was simply a collection of good papers, assembled without the knowledge of the original authors?)

      For what it's worth, all the Creative Commons licenses, even the ones which allow modifications and commercial use, prohibit the implication that the original author endorses the republished or edited work: "You may not implicitly or explicitly assert or imply any connection with, sponsorship or endorsement by the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties, as appropriate, of You or Your use of the Work, without the separate, express prior written permission of the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties." - If a (re)publisher is implying that an original author endorses or approves of the edited, republished collection, then that's probably a licensing violation.

    2. If blogging qualifies as news reporting, using a figure on your blog would be just fine even with standard commercial licensing as fair use. The full definition is:

      17 U.S.C. § 107

      Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
      1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
      2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
      3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
      4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

      Note that being non-commercial is not a requirement for fair use.

    3. "Resold" is a problematic one, I think, since it would prevent, for example, a print-on-demand service, which I would have problems with at all.

      The scenario presented can be prevented with something like the Gnu FDL, or a non derivatives license which allows you to prevent derivatives in part of in whole.

    4. @Jane Shevtsov

      Unfortunately, US fair use laws only apply in the US. The law is different elsewhere; for example, under UK fair dealing, this would probably be illegal because the figure is a complete work in it's own right.

  4. Thank you for raising these issues. I had not considered them, but they are clearly of concern.

  5. I have blogged a substantive reply at . There has also been a number of twitter exchanges.

    For JOURNAL ARTICLES CC-NC does not prevent commercial re-use - it simply means the re-user has to pay the PUBLISHER (sometimes large) amounts of money. The transaction goes nowhere near the author. It is completely ineffectual in enforcing authors' moral rights

    I am not commenting here on CC-NC for books, films, music.

    1. CC-BY-NC means the re-user has to pay the copyright holder. This is not always the publisher. For example, PLoS ONE "authors retain ownership of the copyright of their articles" (
      The exchange would have to be with the author.

      However, if the license is CC-BY (as in the case of PLoS ONE) then there is no non-commercial restriction so neither the author nor the publisher has to be involved.

  6. Hi Rosie, Crazy issue I had never thought about, despite being a vocal OA/OS proponent.

    I have a Q: Is it "ok" for academics to use survey monkey for this purpose without an IRB? I recently did so, then realized after the fact, that my uni might consider it "human research" which would indeed require IRB application, training, approval, etc.

    Anyone know anything about this?


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