Monday, January 21, 2013

Set the default to open: my response to Canada's Access to Information Act Consultation

The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada is conducting a public consultation into modernization of the Access to Information Act. Comments are due January 31. Following is my response.

Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada
Consultation on Access to Information Act

January 21, 2013

Dear Suzanne Legault,

Re: Consultation on Access to Information Act

This is a response from an individual scholar and librarian who is active in the area of information policy and open access. Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this consultation. In brief, my recommendation is to set the default to open. Narrow the scope of limitations to open access to information to substantive matters of national security or personal privacy, with an empowered and sufficiently funded Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada to act as an effective monitor to ensure these limitations are respected. Expand the range of information that falls under the Act to include Cabinet confidences. Expand the entities covered under the Act to include companies that are contracted to undertake work on behalf of the federal government, and companies that receive contracts and or subsidies from the federal government.  Detailed responses to the General Questions follow.

Right of access

Question: In an environment of increasing globalization, should any person be able to obtain government held records, notwithstanding their physical presence or citizenship?

Response: yes, in an environment of increasing globalization, anyone should be able to obtain government held records, notwithstanding their physical presence or citizenship. In the spirit of open government, the default for government information should be open access to anyone, anywhere. Canadian benefit from access to information provided by other governments.

Coverage of the act

Question: Should all federal entities be subject to the Act as a matter of principle, or should some be exempt from the Act’s requirements? What criteria or principles should determine which entity is covered by the Act?

Response: the act should cover all federal entities, all entities undertaking work on behalf of the government, and all entities receiving funding of any kind from the government.  That is, when work is contracted by the federal government out to companies, the companies should also be covered by the act, exactly as if the work were being done by the government department. When a company is awarded a contract by the government, or is given a subsidy, any information relating to the contract or subsidy should be subject to Access to Information Requests and a general expectation of open access to this information.

Limitation on the right of access

Question: In what circumstances should a universal right of access be limited? Should federal institutions have the discretion to limit disclosure? If so, should they be required to demonstrate that a defined injury, harm or prejudice will probably result from disclosure? Should the public interest be considered in the decision to withhold records?

Response: Any limitations should apply to particular information, and then only for substantial reasons – information that is classified for security purposes or that cannot be released without compromising personal privacy. The default should always be open. It is essential that a watchdog such as the Office of the Information Commissioner be empowered and sufficiently funded to monitor and ensure that any limitations on access to information fall within this scope.

Cabinet confidences

Question: Should the Access to Information Act exclude records that directly inform Cabinet decisions? If the exclusion is permitted, on what should it be based? Should the Information Commissioner be able to review Cabinet confidences?

Response: Canada is part of the Open Government Partnership. It is timely to make a serious commitment to openness. Cabinet should conduct its work in the open. The criteria for keeping information confidential by Cabinet should be exactly the same for all other federal information – national security or personal privacy. This is important for the work of the government to be, and to appear to be, transparent.

Awareness and education

Question: What role can or should the Office of the Information Commissioner play in helping Canadians to become more aware of their rights under the Access to Information Act?

Response: The Office of the Information Commissioner should provide education and awareness through a variety of activities (website, information sessions both virtual and in-person), and should leverage opportunities to work with other organizations with education and awareness mandates such as schools and libraries [disclosure: I am a librarian].

Once again thanks for the opportunity to participate. I will post this response to my blog.

Heather Morrison, PhD
hgmorris at sfu dot ca
The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics

Friday, January 18, 2013

Open access innovations in the humanities and social sciences

The open access movement tends to talk a lot about sciences. Let's applaud and recognize the many scholars and initiatives leading in open access in the humanities and social sciences.

The Directory of Open Access Journals lists 1,689 journals under the Social Sciences browse:

The Social Sciences Research Network is one of the largest and most active open access subject repositories:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy was an early innovator in the creation of a scholar-led open access encyclopedia and the development of the ongoing OA via creation of an endowment fund model (still promising, but as one might guess the financial crisis slowed this approach down a little):

The Public Knowledge Project, initiated by education researcher John Willinsky, created the Open Journal Systems used by about 15,000 journals around the world, about half of which are open access:

Open Humanities Press was an early innovator in open monographs publishing:

This is a very small list - humblest apologies to all of the other important initiatives and people that are missing here. Each and every one of these initiatives is worthy of our support.

This was originally posted to the GOAL open access list.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

UK House of Lords short enquiry into open access: my response

Update February 28: the House of Lords has released its report. Excerpt:

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has today criticised Research Councils UK’s (RCUK) for failures in its communication of its open access policy. The report says the previous lack of clarity about RCUK’s policy and guidance was ‘unacceptable’.

Update January 28 - the House of Lords just released the evidence received to this consultation. My final comments begin on page 165. 

Update January 17 - note that I am working on a revised submission to conform to the Select Committee's guidelines and to correct some potential misinterpretations.

Important addition January 17 - it has come to my attention that my section addressing maximum embargoes could be misinterpreted as suggesting a recommended embargo. To be clear, my words are meant to address the absolute maximum for disciplines in the humanities and social sciences where UK based traditional journals do not yet have experience with the common practice of providing free access to back issues. My revised recommendation reads:

On maximum embargoes: an industry norm of free back issues to scholarly society journals about a year after publication appears to be emerging. For this reason, I recommend that a year's embargo be considered as the absolute maximum across the disciplines. The current 6-month embargo in STM should be retained, and all advice to publishers should clearly indicate that the practice of allowing embargoes is to facilitate a transition to full open access, and that the eventual goal is to gradually reduce and then eliminate embargoes. Embargoes are a concession to existing publishers; the public has a right to access the results of publicly funded research with no delay. (added Jan. 17, 2013).

There will be other changes in my final revision, however this is a particularly important one to note.

The UK House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology has launched a enquiry into open access. Following is my response.

Heather Morrison, M.L.I.S., PhD
Coordinator, BC Electronic Library Network
Adjunct Faculty, University of British Columbia (scholarly communication & open access)

House of Lords
Select Committee on Science and Technology
hlscience at parliament dot uk

January 16, 2013

House of Lords Select Committee on Open Access: Call for Evidence

This is an individual submission, from an open access advocate and scholar focused on the area of scholarly communication and open access. In November 2012, I defended my dissertation, Freedom for scholarship in the internet age <> which addresses some critical issues of relevance to open access policy development.


The long-term leadership of the UK and the House of Lords in open access is acknowledged and applauded. It is recommended that researchers always be required to deposit work in UK based repositories, even when publishing work in open access venues, to ensure that UK funded research never becomes unavailable or unaffordable to people in the UK.

My research delves into mapping open access with the Creative Commons licenses, finding that, despite superficial similarities, the CC licenses are useful tools but no CC license is synonymous with open access and each license element has both useful and negative implications for scholarship. For example, allowing derivatives and commercial uses to anyone downstream will not always be compatible with research ethics requirements. A participant in a weight loss study giving permission to use a photo for a scholarly journal cannot be assumed to have granted permission for anyone to use this photo in a commercial advertisement. I recommend replacing the requirement that funded articles use the CC-BY license with a statement that when RCUK funds for open access publishing are used, there should be no restrictions placed on educational or research uses of the works.

As an open access advocate, I recommend against block funding for open access article processing fees, as this will interfere with the market, raising prices that will result in loss of support for this approach outside the UK, disadvantaging the very publishers who think that this approach will benefit them. Instead, I recommend that the UK follow the policies of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Canada’s Canadian Institutes of Health Research in allowing researchers to use their research grants to pay open access article processing fees.

I suggest providing some funding to provide infrastructure and support and/or subsidies to assist scholarly society publishers, a common practice at university libraries throughout North America, and I further recommend that the UK set aside some seed funding to fund the future, that is, the next generation of scholarly communication, overlay journals built on institutional repositories, an area where the UK is well positioned to play a leadership role.

Finally, I present some data of relevance to the question of maximum permissible embargoes before works can be made open access. It can be argued that a new norm of scholarly journals providing free back issues on a voluntary basis, typically within a year of publication, has emerged in the past ten years. This is such a widespread and growing practice that the lack of evidence of harm to these journals is in itself evidence that a one-year’s embargo causes no harm to journals relying on subscriptions, even when all articles in the journal are made freely available. Therefore I suggest that it would be quite appropriate to set a maximum embargo of no more than one year regardless of discipline. Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this consultation.


1.         Open access to scholarly knowledge, as noted in the 2002 Budapest Open Access
Initiative, is an unprecedented public good, an opportunity to make scholarly works as useful as they can be, and an opportunity for all, including those from the developing world and poorer regions in the developed world, to benefit from and participate in a global scholarly conversation. Congratulations and thanks to the UK for long-standing leadership in the area of open access. The intent of the RCUK Open Access Policy is a welcome push towards even greater support for open access. My submission is intended to address a few areas where minor changes could substantially improve this strong leadership in the push for the next phase of open access.

2.         I have explored the question of the mapping of Creative Commons licenses with open access and have come to the conclusion that despite superficial similarities there are important differences. Therefore, I recommend against equating open access with Creative Commons licenses, and particularly with the CC-BY license. My work on this topic will not fit within the 6-page limit, but the following points feature a few highlights.

3.         The RCUK policy states:  The Research Councils will recognise a journal as being compliant with their policy on Open Access if 1. The journal provides via its own website immediate and unrestricted access to the publisher’s final version of the paper (the Version of Record), and allows immediate deposit of the Version of Record in other repositories without restriction”.

Comment: It is not sufficient to insist that a journal allows deposit in other repositories. Researchers should be required to deposit in other (UK-based) repositories for open access. The reason is that the RCUK policy applies to researchers, not to publishers or journals. The Creative Commons licenses are means by which license holders can relinquish certain rights that they have under copyright, which do not place any obligation on the licensor. If a researcher publishers in an open access journal but fails to deposit in an open access repository, then if the journal or publisher ceases to make the work open access, access to the work could be lost to the UK research community.  For example, an open access publishing company could be sold to another company which could issue the same works under toll access only, with all rights reserved, and no obligation to sell products at prices UK universities can afford.

4.         As an open access advocate, I argue that the CC-BY is not optimal as a default for open access, but on the contrary a weak and problematic license that raises the possibility of wholesale loss of open access downstream. See point 3 above regarding the example of an open access publishing company selling to another company that decides to go with a toll access model.

In addition, there are valid scholarly reasons why CC-BY cannot be used with every research article. CC-BY is not always compatible with research ethics. An example is a person whose picture is taken and published as part of a study on weight loss. The researcher’s right to publish this picture (with permission) does not give the researcher a right to grant anyone, anywhere blanket permission to re-publish the picture for commercial purposes (such as using it in a weight loss ad), as use of the CC-BY license does.

It is not uncommon for scholars to use works created by third parties in their works, in which case copyright belongs to the third party and scholars cannot grant permission to others to use these works.

Scholars may have valid reasons for preferring that NoDerivatives be specified. The quality of work reflects on a scholar in a way that can make or break a career, and a poor quality derivative could reflect poorly on the scholar. Third parties whose work is included in scholarly articles may have similar concerns about quality with derivatives.

The CC-BY provision in the RCUK policy places both scholars and journals in an awkward position, with a choice of violating the rights of others, or refraining from using works that truly are useful and could be included, just not under the CC-BY license.

For all these reasons, I recommend replacing the requirement that funded articles use the CC-BY license with a statement that with a statement that when RCUK funds for open access publishing are used, there should be no restrictions placed on educational or research uses of the works (RCUK policy point one). This should be sufficient to prevent such potential abuses by publishers as retaining rights to charge for coursepacks or for use by commercial companies, while avoiding the potential abuses of the works per se opened up by CC-BY.

5.          As an open access advocate, I argue against block grants for open access article processing charges to universities. This is an interference with the market that I consider to be against the interests of open access, and even the open access publishers that one might think would benefit from this policy, although I doubt that they would agree.

One reason is because the way these grants have been set up encourages high prices for article processing fees. It is highly unlikely that other countries will follow the UK’s lead on this. The UK is aiming to protect a positive balance in trade, while for virtually every other country, the incentive is in the opposite direction, i.e. for most countries scholarly publishing involves a negative balance in trade, and propping up the existing system is counter-productive.

If prices for open access article processing fees are inflated due to the RCUK’s generosity, this is a disincentive for voluntary initiatives to support article processing fees. Ross Mounce recently released some research illustrating a 5% increase in BioMedCentral’s open access article processing fees over the past year. This is above inflation, and for library subscriptions, an increase of this amount would be sufficient to trigger a “review before renewal” decision, and possibly cancellation. In other words, RCUK’s generosity in its support of open access via article processing fee publishers may actually cause a drop in support for this publishing model from outside the UK. What I recommend is the approach of the NIH and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, that is, allowing researchers to use grant funds to pay open access article processing fees, but not providing targeted funds. This is an approach that provides support in a manner that allows the market to do its work. 

6.         To support scholarly societies in making a move to open access, I recommend subsidizing scholarly and university press publishing either directly through block publishing grants or indirectly through providing infrastructure support for their publishing. Direct subsidy is much more cost-effective than indirect subsidy through APFs. One example of such a program in Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Aid to Scholarly Journals, and the Synergies project that has provided support for Canada’s social sciences and humanities journals to move online and facilitated the move to open access for a number of these journals. In North America, it is common for university libraries to provide hosting and support services for journals local faculty are involved with, an option that facilitates high quality open access publishing at a modest cost. 

7.         Fund the future. To prepare the UK for leadership in scholarly communication in the future I recommend providing some seed funding for the most transformative possibility for scholarly communication reported by Houghton and Oppenheimer in 2009, that is, building an overlay journal system on top of institutional repositories. Britain’s strength in institutional repositories makes the UK a natural leader in this area. UK-based mathematician Timothy Gowers recently posted about a new system that will make it easy to create overlay journals with arXiv, suggesting that this approach may be feasible much sooner than most of us had thought:

8.         On maximum embargoes: an industry norm of free back issues to scholarly society journals about a year after publication appears to be emerging. For this reason, I recommend that a year's embargo be considered as the absolute maximum across the disciplines. The current 6-month embargo in STM should be retained, and all advice to publishers should clearly indicate that the practice of allowing embargoes is to facilitate a transition to full open access, and that the eventual goal is to gradually reduce and then eliminate embargoes. Embargoes are a concession to existing publishers; the public has a right to access the results of publicly funded research with no delay. (added Jan. 17, 2013).

           The following is intended to illustrate why the permitted embargo should be no more than 1 year at absolute maximum for journals in the social sciences and humanities that do not yet have experience with free access practices. (Added Jan. 17, 2013). This practice of making back issues free is widely practiced by traditional publishers. There is no evidence that providing this access has caused any harm to the publishers. The large and growing number of journals following this practice supports my assertion that this is becoming the standard.

On March 16, 2004, traditional not-for-profit publishers in Washington, D.C. made a commitment to the Washington D.C. Principles For Free Access to Science - A Statement from Not-for-Profit Publishers <>, through which "representatives from the nation’s leading not-for-profit medical/scientific societies and publishers announced their commitment to providing free access and wide dissemination of published research findings".

The publishing principles and practices supported by this group include:

“3.  As not-for-profit publishers, we have introduced and will continue to support the following forms of free access:…

The full text of our journals is freely available to everyone worldwide either immediately or within months of publication, depending on each publisher’s business and publishing requirements”

In other words, this very traditional group of scholarly society publishers committed, back in 2004, to making their journals freely available either immediately or within months of publication. There are a number of indications that this is now a common practice. There are now more than 8,000 fully open access scholarly journals, and many more that provide free access to back issues on a purely voluntary basis, frequently with a 12-month delay.

The extent of this practice may be best viewed in the Electronic Journals Library (EZB). The EZB is a collaborative project of 589 libraries, based in Germany that collects both subscription and free "scientific and academic full text journals". EZB currently includes 38,066 journals - close to 30,000 more titles than are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, which is limited to fully OA journals. Among the 30,000 journals are a very large number of journals that voluntarily provide free access to back issues, with no policy requirement. Details about the EZB can be found here:

A quick scan of the journals participating in the US-based Highwire Free hosting service illustrates that a 12-month embargo is very common for the society journals participating in this service:

The number of journals voluntarily contributing to PubMedCentral has been growing steadily, from 410 in March 2008 to 1,464 at the end of 2012. Of these, over 1,000 voluntarily provide all content for immediate free access. Data is from The Dramatic Growth of Open Access:

A key point is that this data illustrates that a great many traditional scholarly journals have made the decision to provide free back to their journals with a minimal embargo period, with one year being common, and no embargo at all being not at all unusual. Many such journals made this step with some concern about the potential impact on their subscriptions and revenue. If there had been dire consequences for such journals, there would be plenty of data today to demonstrate that providing free access after a brief embargo harms subscriptions. No such data has ever been brought forward to my knowledge. Providing free access to back issues appears to be rapidly becoming the norm for scholarly journals, and so I recommend a maximum embargo for OA policy of 12 months.

Thanks once more for the opportunity to participate.

Heather Morrison, PhD
Freedom for scholarship in the internet age

Following are details about the short enquiry from the House of Lords' website

This short inquiry will focus on the implementation of the Government Open Access policy.

The Committee will consider a range of concerns including:
  • embargo periods;
  • arrangements for article processing charge (APC) funds;
  • international issues; and
  • risks for learned societies.
The Committee expect to produce an output in mid-February, to inform the development of Research Council UK’s policies.
The Committee has issued a targeted call for evidence to key stakeholders for this short inquiry, any party interested in submitting written evidence should contact the Clerk to the Committee on hlscience at parliament dot uk. The deadline for submissions is Friday 18 January 2013.

Learn about the commons - for free!

The November 12 issue of ephemera: theory & politics in organization, focuses on the commons and their im/possibilities, is open access.

In other words, those with limited means can learn about the commons, while as per my previous post, learning about austerity is for those who can afford $18 per article:

Although individual open access issues are far too common to warrant mention every time, it is useful to consider the contrast. Open access to this kind of work is possible, happening, and even common. If you want to publish a special issue on austerity, you can find a venue to make it open access.

Learn about austerity - if you can afford it

In the what-were-they-thinking department: the November 2012 special issue of the Journal of European Popular Culture focused on austerity is available for purchase at $18 per article. That's $144 for the issue. For articles with titles like "popular culture and anti-austerity protest" and "protest and video activism". Well, at least the 1% can afford this.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Comments on JSTOR's Register and Reading and Early Content

Comments on JSTOR's Register and Reading and Early Content (response to post on Omega Alpha Open Access)

Register and Read and similar programs raise for me huge privacy flags. Libraries have gone to considerable efforts to ensure that the searching and reading behaviour of individual scholars is NOT tracked.

Register and Read looks more like a sales tactic for JSTOR's pay-per-view than a sincere attempt to move towards open access or expanded access. Researchers can access a few articles, but if they want to be able to keep them on their hard drives and make full use of access under Register and Read, they must purchase a copy. In other words, it's only free if it's not all that useful, or the number of real free articles online is actually much, much smaller than what JSTOR portrays.

Open access is literature that is digital, online, free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions (Suber, Overview). Register and Read does not remotely meet this definition.

Kudos to JSTOR for releasing public domain content on September 6, 2011 (not long after Aaron Swartz downloaded JSTOR content).

Suggestions for improvement:

Link to the early journal content from the JSTOR main page - where it is, it is not easy to find.

Work with journals to provide free access to back issues. The journals participating in Highwire Free are a good model. A large portion provide free access to back issues, often after one year:

As for Register and Read, I would suggest ignoring JSTOR altogether. Get in touch with the authors of articles you wish to read and ask them to put them in their institutional repository - the amount of work this would take wouldn't be much different, but there would be a world of difference in the results. JSTOR Register & Read gets you limited access to an article, just for you; if the author puts the article in their IR for open access, it is freely available to anyone, anywhere.


Heather Morrison

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

A simple definition for open access: a proposal to open the discussion

This post proposes a shift from the detailed BBB definition of open access to Peter Suber's brief definition, as follows: Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions (from Suber's Open Access Overview).  


In my dissertation, I map and analyze the relationship of open access and various Creative Commons licenses and conclude that OA and CC licenses, despite superficial similarities, simply do not map, and that attempting to equate OA with a particular CC license such as CC-BY is highly problematic for scholarship.

For a journal, I argue that the best way to express a journal's open access status may well be the default Open Journal Systems (OJS) statement, which reads: this journal provides immediate open access to its content on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge.

This is an open definition in a very important sense: it leaves room for scholars to consider, and experiment with, exactly what open access can or should mean, or do for scholarship. We should be articulating the commons - engaging in thinking about what a knowledge commons might mean - not jumping to a quick technical solution such as a particular CC license (acknowledging that the CC licenses, all of them, are valuable tools for scholars). Some of the elements that we should consider in articulating the commons include:

  •  the traditional concept of reciprocity that is an expectation with gift-giving in many various societies, as reported by Mauss;
  • developing a sustainable knowledge commons could benefit from the research of Ostrom, for example the importance of developing community expectations and sanctions in sustaining a commons; and,
  • expanding the limitations of western concepts of ownership through incorporating concepts from traditional knowledges.  

Why not CC-BY?

The Creative Commons Attribution Only (CC-BY) license superficially looks exactly like the BOAI definition of open access: works that are free online and free for re-use. However, a careful examination of the legal code, discussion with the Creative Commons community, and analysis of scholarly works and how businesses could interact with scholarly works licensed under Creative Commons, demonstrates that it is not wise to equate open access with CC-BY. To help make the shift, the following dispels a few myths about CC-BY.  

Myth: Creative Commons licenses are for works that are free of charge to users, just like open access is meant to be.  

Fact: Creative Commons licenses are not specific to works that are free of charge; they can also be used for works that are toll access.  

Myth: CC-BY is needed so that we can do text and data-mining.

 Fact: CC-BY is not necessary, sufficient, or desirable for text and data-mining.

Why CC-BY is not necessary for text or data mining: any work that is posted on the web without technical or licensing restrictions preventing mining (such as the use of norobots.txt or locked-down PDF files) can be used for text or data mining. This is how search engines work!

Why CC-BY is not sufficient for text or data mining: a CC-BY license can be used for a work that is technically not fit for text or data mining. There is nothing in the CC-BY license that says the licensor cannot use norobots.txt on the same webpage, for example. A CC-BY license can be used with image files that are useless for text or data mining.

Why CC-BY is not desirable for text or data mining: the attribution element is problematic for data and text-mining involving large numbers of files. Public domain - or perhaps no CC license at all, just relying on fair use - may be better.

Myth: once a work is released under a CC-BY license, it will remain open access for all time.

Fact: it is correct that a CC-BY licensed copy will remain CC-BY licensed, even if the licensor changes the license downstream. However, this is only useful for scholarship if the CC-BY licensed copy is retained in a location where future scholars can access it, such as an open access archive. Otherwise, a CC-BY licensed copy may be on someone's computer somewhere, but for someone who does not have access, this is not helpful. An open access publisher can change their mind and change all of their works from open to toll access, with no notice requirement. This could easily happen if one publishing company is sold to another.  

Myth: there is an emerging consensus on the adoption of CC-BY.  

Fact: as of summer 2012, only 28% of journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals used any kind of CC license, and only 11% used CC-BY (Suber, SPARC Open Access Newsletter 164). Outside of the fully open access journals listed in DOAJ, CC-BY is even less common. All faculty OA permissions policies specify that works are not to be sold for a profit, strongly suggesting that faculty themselves do not support giving away their work for others to sell, as CC-BY licenses do.

This post is a very brief summary of select points from my dissertation Freedom for scholarship in in the internet age section, Open Access and Creative Commons, downloadable from here - see p. 49 - 63. 

This post is part of the Creative Commons and open access critique series

Respectful comments and questions are welcome and encouraged.