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[BOAI] Re: Elsevier: Trying to squeeze the virtual genie back into the physical bottle

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad AT>
Date: Tue, 26 May 2015 13:10:26 -0400

Threading: [BOAI] Elsevier: Trying to squeeze the virtual genie back into the physical bottle from amsciforum AT
      • This Message

On Tue, May 26, 2015 at 1:08 AM, Michael Eisen <mbeisen AT 
<mailto:mbeisen AT>> wrote:
> Stevan-
> I hate to say I told you so, but .... at the Budapest meeting years ago it 
was pointed out repeatedly that once green OA actually became a threat to 
publishers, they would no longer look so kindly on it. It took a while, but the 
inevitable has now happened. Green OA that relied on publishers to peer review 
papers + subscriptions to pay for them, but somehow also allowed them to be 
made freely available, was never sustainable. If you want OA you have to either 
fund publishers by some other means (subsidies, APCs) or wean yourself from 
that which they provide (journal branding). Parasitism only works so long as it 
is not too painful to the host. It's a testament to a lot of hard work from 
green OA advocates that it has become a threat to Elsevier. But the way forward 
is not to get them to reverse course, but to look past them to a future that is 
free of subscription journals. 
> Also, I don't view CC-BY-NC-ND as a victory as the NC part is there to 
make sure that no commercial entity - including, somewhat ironically, PLOS - 
can use the articles to actually do anything. So this license makes these 
articles definitively non open access.
> -Mike


I will respond more fully on your blog: 

To reply briefly here:

1. The publisher back-pedalling and OA embargoes were anticipated. That’s why 
the copy-request Button  
<>was already 
created to provide access during any embargo, nearly 10 years ago, long before 
Elsevier and Springer began back-pedalling.

2. Immediate-deposit mandates plus the Button, once adopted universally, will 
lead unstoppably to 100% OA, and almost as quickly as if there were no 
publisher OA embargoes.

3. For a “way forward,” it is not enough to “look past the present to the 
future”: one must provide a demonstrably viable transition scenario to get us 
there from here. 

4. Green OA, mandated by institutions and funders, is a demonstrably viable 
transition scenario. 

5. Offering paid-Gold OA journals as an alternative and waiting instead for all 
authors to switch is not a viable transition sceario, for the reasons I 
described again yesterday in response to Éric Archambault 
multiple journals, multiple subscribing institutions, ongoing access needs, no 
coherent “flip” strategy, hence double-payment (i.e., subscription fees for 
incoming institutional access to external institutional output plus Gold 
publication fees for providing OA to outgoing institutional published output) 
when funds are already stretched to the limit by subscriptions that are 
uncancellable — until and unless made accessible by another means.

6. That other means is 4, above. The resulting transition scenario has been 
described many times, starting in 2001 
with updates in 2007 <>, 2010 
<>,  2013 
<>,  2014 
<>, and 2015 <>, keeping pace with ongoing mandate and embargo developments.

7. An article that is freely accessible to all online under CC-BY-NC-ND is most 
definitely OA — Gratis OA 
<>, to be exact.

8. For the reasons I have likewise described many times before, the transition 
scenario is to mandate Gratis Green OA (together with the Button, for emabrgoed 
deposits) universally. That universal Green Gratis OA will in turn make 
subscriptions cancellable, hence unsustainable, which will in turn force 
publishers to downsize to affordable, sustainable Fair-Gold Libre OA (CC-BY).

9. It is a bit disappointing to hear an OA advocate characterize Green OA as 
parasitic on publishers, when OA’s fundamental rationale has been that 
publishers are parasitic on researchers and referees’ work as well as its 
public funding. But perhaps when the OA advocate is a publisher, the motivation 


On Mon, May 25, 2015 at 11:23 AM, Stevan Harnad <amsciforum AT 
<mailto:amsciforum AT>> wrote:
Alicia Wise wrote 


Dear Stevan,


I admire your vision and passion for green open access – in fact we all do 
here at Elsevier - and for your tenacity as your definitions and concepts of 
green open access have remain unchanged for more than 15 years. We also 
recognize that the open access landscape has changed dramatically over the last 
few years, for example with the emergence of Social Collaboration Networks. 
This refresh of our policy, the first since 2004, reflects what we are hearing 
from researchers and research institutions about how we can support their 
changing needs. We look forward to continuing input from and collaboration with 
the research community, and will continue to review and refine our policy.


Let me state clearly that we support both green and gold OA. Embargo periods 
have been used by us – and other publishers – for a very long time and are 
not new. The only thing that’s changed about IRs is our old policy said you 
had to have an agreement which included embargos, and the new policy is you 
don’t need to do an agreement provided you and your authors comply with the 
embargo period policy. It might be most constructive for people to just judge 
us based on reading through the policy and considering what we have said and 
are saying.


With kind wishes and good night,

Alicia Wise, Elsevier

Dear Alicia,

You wrote:

"This refresh of our policy [is| the first since 2004... Embargo periods 
have been used by us... for a very long time and are not new. The only thing 
that’s changed about IRs is our old policy said you had to have an agreement 
which included embargos..."

Is this the old policy that hasn't changed changed since 2004 (when Elsevier 
was still on the "side of the angels <>" 
insofar as Green OA was concerned) until the "refresh"? (I don't see 
any mention of embargoes in it...):

Date: Thu, 27 May 2004 03:09:39 +0100

From: "Hunter, Karen (ELS-US)"

To: "' 

Cc: "Karssen, Zeger (ELS)" , "Bolman, Pieter (ELS)" , 
"Seeley, Mark (ELS)"

Subject: Re: Elsevier journal list




[H]ere is what we have decided on post-"prints" (i.e. published 
articles, whether published electronically or in print): 


An author may post his version of the final paper on his personal web site and 
on his institution's web site (including its institutional respository). Each 
posting should include the article's citation and a link to the journal's home 
page (or the article's DOI). The author does not need our permission to do 
this, but any other posting (e.g. to a repository elsewhere) would require our 
permission. By "his version" we are referring to his Word or Tex 
file, not a PDF or HTML downloaded from ScienceDirect - but the author can 
update his version to reflect changes made during the refereeing and editing 
process. Elsevier will continue to be the single, definitive archive for the 
formal published version.


We will be gradually updating any public information on our policies (including 
our copyright forms and all information on our web site) to get it all 


Karen Hunter

Senior Vice President, Strategy


+1-212-633-3787 <tel:%2B1-212-633-3787> <>
Yes, the definition of authors providing free, immediate online access (Green 
OA self-archiving) has not changed since the online medium first made it 
possible. Neither has researchers’ need for it changed, nor its benefits to 

What has changed is Elsevier policy -- in the direction of trying to embargo 
Green OA to ensure that it does not Elsevier's current revenue levels at any 

Elsevier did not try to embargo Green OA from 2004-2012 — but apparently only 
because they did not believe that authors would ever really bother to provide 
much Green OA, nor that their institutions and funders would ever bother to 
require them to provide it (for its benefits to research).

But for some reason Elsevier is not ready to admit that Elsevier has now 
decided to embargo Green OA purely to ensure that it does put Elsevier's 
current subscription revenue levels at any risk.

Instead, Elsevier wants to hold OA hostage to its current revenue levels -- by 
embargoing Green OA, with the payment of Fools-Gold OA 
<> publication fees the only alternative for immediate OA. This ensures that Elsevier's current revenue levels either remain unchanged, or increase.

But, for public-relations reasons, Elsevier prefers to try to portray this as 
all being done out of “fairness,” and to facilitate “sharing” (in the 
spirit of OA).

The “fairness” is to ensure that no institution is exempt from Elsevier’s 
Green OA embargoes.

And the “sharing” is the social sharing services like Mendeley 
<> (which Elsevier owns), 
about which Elsevier now believes (for the time being) that authors would not 
bother to use enough to put their current revenue levels at risk (and their 
institutions and funders cannot mandate that they use them) -- hence that that 
they would not pose a risk to Elsevier's current subscription revenue levels.

Yet another one of the “changes” with which Elsevier seems to be trying to 
promote sharing seems to be by trying to find a way to outlaw the institutional 
repositories’ "share button 
<>" (otherwise known as the “Fair-Dealing” Button <>).

So just as Elsevier is trying to claim credit for “allowing” authors to do 
“dark” (i.e., embargoed, non-OA) deposits, for which no publisher 
permission whatsoever is or ever was required, Elsevier now has its lawyers 
scrambling to find a formalizable way to make it appear as if Elsevier can 
forbid its authors to provide individual reprints to one another, as authors 
have been doing for six decades, under yet another new bogus formal pretext to 
make it appear sufficiently confusing and threatening to ensure that the 
responses to Elsevier author surveys (for its "evidence-based 
policy") continue to be sufficiently perplexed and meek to justify any 
double-talk in either Elsevier policy or Elsevier PR.

The one change in Elsevier policy that one can applaud, however (though here 
too the underlying intentions were far from benign), is the CC-BY-NC-ND license 
<> (unless Elsevier one day decides to back-pedal on that too too). That license is now not only allowed but required for any accepted paper that an author elects to self-archive.

Let me close by mentioning a few more of the howlers that keep making 
Elsevier's unending series of arbitrary contractual bug-fixes logically 
incoherent (i.e., self-contradictory) and technically nonsensical, hence moot, 
unenforceable, and eminently ignorable for anyone who takes a few moments to 
think instead of cringe. Elsevier is trying to use pseudo-legal words to 
squeeze the virtual genie (the Web) back into the physical bottle (the old, 
land-based, print-on-paper world):

Locus of deposit: Elsevier tries to make legal distinctions on 
"where" the author may make their papers (Green) OA on the Web: 
"You may post it here but not there." "Here" might be an 
institutional website, "there" may be a central website. 
"Here" might be an institutional author's homepage, "there" 
might be an institutional repository.

But do Elsevier's legal beagles ever stop to ask themselves what this all 
means, in the online medium? If you make your paper openly accessible anywhere 
at all on the web, it is openly accessible (and linkable and harvestable) from 
and to anywhere else on the Web. Google and google scholar will pick up the 
link, and so will a host of other harvesters and indexers. And users never go 
to the deposit site to seek a paper: They seek and find and link to it via the 
link harvesters and indexers. So locus restrictions are silly and completely 
empty in the virtual world.

The silliest of all is the injunction that "you may post it on your 
institutional home page but not your institutional repository." What 
nonsense! The institutional home page and the institutional repository are just 
tagged disk sectors and software functions, of the self-same institution. They 
are virtual entities, created by definition; one can be renamed as the other at 
any time. And their functionalities are completely swappable or integrable too. 
That too is a feature of the virtual world.

So all Elsevier is doing by treating these virtual entities as if they were 
physical ones (besides confusing and misleading their authors) is creating 
terminological nuisances, forcing system administrators to keep re-naming and 
re-assigning sectors and functions, needlessly, and vacuously, just to 
accommodate vacuous nuisance terminological stipulations.

(The same thing applies to "systematicity" and 
"aggregation," which I notice that Elsevier has since dropped as 
futile: The attempt had been to outlaw posting where the contents of a journal 
were being systematically aggregated, by analogy with a rival free-riding 
publisher systematically gathering together all the disparate papers in a 
journal so as to re-sell them at a cut-rate. Well not only is an institution no 
free-rising aggregator: all it is gathering its own paper output, published in 
multiple disparate journals. But, because of the virtual nature of the medium, 
it is in fact the Web itself that is systematically gathering all disparate 
papers together, wherever they happen to be hosted, using their metadata tags: 
author, title, journal, date, URL. The rest is all just software functionality. 
And if the full-text is out there, somewhere, anywhere, and it is OA, then 
there is no way to stop the rest of this very welcome and useful 

The Arxiv exception. In prior iterations of the policy, Elsevier tried 
(foolishly) to outlaw central deposit. They essentially tried to tell authors 
who had been making their papers OA in Arxiv since 1991 that they may no longer 
do that. Well, that did not go down very well, so those "legal" 
restrictions have now been replaced by the "Arxiv exception": Authors 
making their papers OA there (or in RePeC) are now officially exempt from the 
Elsevier OA embargo.

Well here we are again: an arbitrary Elsevier restriction on immediate-OA, 
based on locus of deposit. The Pandora's box that this immediately opens is 
that all a mandating institution need do in order to detoxify Elsevier's OA 
embargo completely is to mandate immediate (dark) deposit of all institutional 
output in the institutional repository alongside remote deposit in Arxiv (which 
is already automated through the SWORD software 
<>). That completely moots all Elsevier 
OA embargoes. Yet another example of Elsevier's ineffectual nuisance 
stipulations consisting of ad-hoc, pseudo-legal epicycles, all having one sole 
objective: to try to scare authors of doing anything that might possibly pose a 
risk to Elsevier's current revenue streams, using any words that will do the 
trick, even if only for a while, and even if they make no sense.

What's next, Elsevier? "You may use this software but not this 

The Share Button. Although it never defines what it means by "Share 
Button" (nor why it is trying to outlaw it), if what Elsevier means is the 
Institutional Repository's copy-request Button 
<>, intended to 
provide individual copies to individual copy-requestors, then this too is just 
a software-facilitated eprint request.

Whenever a user seeks an embargoed deposit, they can click the Button to send 
an email to the author to request a copy. The author need merely click a link 
in the email to authorize the software to send the copy.

So does Elsevier now want to make yet another nuisance stipulation, so the 
Button cannot be called a "Share Button," so instead the name of the 
author of the embargoed paper has to be made into an email link that notifies 
the author that the requestor seeks a copy, with the requestor's email alive, 
and clickable, so that inserting the embargoed paper's URL will attach one copy 
to the email?

Elsevier is not going to make many friends by trying to force its authors to do 
jump through gratuitous hoops in order to accommodate Elsevier's ever more 
arbitrary and absurd attempts to contain the virtual ether with arbitrary 
verbal hacks.

There are more. There are further nuisance tactics in the current iteration of 
Elsevier's charm initiative, in which self-serving restrictions keep being 
portrayed as Elsevier's honest attempts to facilitate rather than hamper 
sharing. One particularly interesting one that I have not yet deconstructed 
(but that the attentive reader of the latest Elsevier documentation will have 
detected) likewise moots all Elsevier OA embargoes even more conveniently than 
depositing all papers in Arxiv -- but I leave that as an exercise to the 

So Alicia, if Elsevier "admires [my] vision," let me invite you to 
consult with me about present and future OA policy conditions. I'll be happy to 
share with you which ones are logically incoherent and technically empty in 
today's virtual world. It could save Elsevier a lot of futile effort and save 
Elsevier authors from a lot of useless and increasingly arbitrary and annoying 

Best wishes,

Stevan Harnad

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