from idea-whose-time-has-come department

More than three years ago, we wrote about a growing boycott of academic publisher Elsevier, organized to protest the company’s high prices, its “bundling” of journals into larger collections, and its support of SOPA. Even though more than 15,000 people eventually signed up not to work with Elsevier, the company continues to thrive, making huge profits from the work of academics and putting paywalls between the public and knowledge. Maybe we should have guessed it would end like this. As we noted then, this was not the first or the biggest boycott in the history of open access. In 2000, 34,000 scientists from 180 nations agrees to the following:

we undertake that beginning in September 2001, we will publish, edit or review for, and personally subscribe only to, scholarly and scientific journals that have agreed to grant free and unrestricted distribution rights to all research reports originals they have published, through PubMed Central and similar public online resources, within 6 months of their original publication date.

The failure of many of them to keep this promise had a positive effect: it led to the creation of what remains perhaps the most influential open access publisher, the Public Library of Science, in existence. still today and flourishing. These two failed attempts to use boycotts to advance open access are mentioned in an article by Dr. Danny Kingsley on the Unlocking Research blog, which reports on yet another attempt to use this approach:

A long-standing dispute between Dutch universities and Elsevier has taken an interesting turn. Yesterday, Koen Becking, chairman of the board of trustees of Tilburg University, who is negotiating an open access policy with science publishers on behalf of Dutch universities with his colleague Gerard Meijer, announced a plan to start boycotting Elsevier.

As a first step to boycott the publisher, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) asked all scientific editors of a journal published by Elsevier to resign from their position. If this way of pressuring publishers does not work, the next step would be to ask critics to stop working for Elsevier. After that, scientists could be asked to stop publishing in Elsevier journals.

And here’s why Kingsley thinks the boycott this time might work:

Generally, negotiations with publishers take place at the institutional level and with representatives of university libraries. This makes sense because libraries have longstanding relationships with publishers and understand the details of licensing processes. However, the Dutch negotiations were led by the vice-chancellors of the universities. This is a national negotiation at the highest level. And vice-chancellors have the ability to demand behavioral change from their research communities.

This reveals what went wrong with previous boycotts: they were led by the researchers, who have very little leverage individually or even collectively when it comes to pressuring big companies like Elsevier. But the vice-chancellors have real power, based on the ability to instruct their respective institutions on how they should – or shouldn’t – act, including, presumably, how they spend their money on subscriptions. journals.

The Dutch seem to be serious about making open access the norm in their country. A recent amendment to the country’s copyright law means authors are now empowered by law to make the results of their research freely available licenses. As a short notice on the University of Utrecht website explains:

This means that academic staff no longer have to include the right to publish in open access in agreements with publishers. After the change in the law, they automatically have and retain this right. With the publisher, they just need to agree on the duration of a “reasonable time”.

Even without the boycott, Elsevier will therefore be obliged to agree to publish the research fully or partially funded by the Dutch government in open access after this “reasonable period of time”. Overall, now may be the time for the company to take a more accommodating approach to open access than in the past.

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Filed Under: academic journals, boycott, journals, open access

Companies: elsevier