SfN removes exclusive license requirement for eNeuro

Using the open letter to the AAAS as a template, this last Saturday (August 16), I drafted a letter to the Society for Neuroscience about their new open access journal, eNeuro. As with the AAAS letter, the letter to SfN is open for anyone to read, comment on, or sign. Early in the editing process, Fabiana Kubke (@Kubke) brought it to my attention that eNeuro‘s policies stated that while authors would retain copyright, they would be required to grant an exclusive license to SfN as part of their publishing agreement. SfN would then publish articles under a Creative Commons license. Together*, we wrote a paragraph objecting to the requirement for an exclusive license:

Our first concern relates to the copyright policy of eNeuro. The journal’s policy states that authors will retain copyright but must grant the Society an exclusive license to publish. An exclusive license is in conflict with the tenets of open access, as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), and does not reflect the aims of the Creative Commons licenses to allow reuse. The policy is also vague on the specific rights authors, their institutions and third parties have under the terms of this exclusive license, including whether they are allowed to deposit the publisher version of their article in open repositories or personal websites, or permitted to deposit an HTML version on sites that would allow updating, commenting and translations of the article. These rights must be preserved for articles to be BOAI-compliant open access.

This paragraph, along with a related question I posed on Twitter, generated a lot of lively discussion, leading to this important post by Justin Kiggins (@neuromusic). I admit, I may be wrong that an exclusive license violates the legal terms of CC licenses (see, however, this comment from Charles Oppenheim @CharlesOppenh). And I am still not sure about the reading of BOAI in this context. Putting the legal arguments aside, however, I think most of us agreed that an exclusive license is not only not necessary for open access publishing, it is a bad deal for authors and is not in agreement with the values of open access:

I asked for suggestions on how to rewrite the paragraph in the open letter to clarify. Michael Eisen (@mbeisenoffered this:

Our first concern relates to the copyright policy of eNeuro. The journal’s policy states that authors will retain copyright but must grant the Society an exclusive license to publish. We understand that eNeuro will then license the content under a Creative Commons license that allows reuse, but the policy is vague on the specific rights authors, their institutions and third parties have under the terms of this exclusive license, including whether they are allowed to deposit the publisher version of their article in open repositories or personal websites, or permitted to deposit an HTML version on sites that would allow updating, commenting and translations of the article. More importantly, we think that asking authors to grant any kind of exclusive license to a publisher is unnecessary, confusing, and undermines the spirit of open access.

That last line nails it. I would have been happy to include this paragraph in the open letter. But then I noticed a comment from Liz Silva (@lizatucsf), asking where in eNeuro‘s policies it said ‘exclusive license’. She couldn’t find it. Confused, I checked the policies page again and sure enough, she was right – it was gone. Justin Kiggins confirmed he had seen the exclusive language as late as the night before (August 17). I pulled up the Google cache (hat tip to Michael Carroll @nucAmbiguous for that suggestion). The previous copyright policy clearly said ‘exclusive’: SFN_eNeuro_cacheHowever, if you visit the current policies page, you’ll see that the copyright policy is nearly identical but the word ‘exclusive’ has been deleted. SfN made this change voluntarily, without us sending the letter. I do not know for sure what caused SfN to do this, but I commend and thank them for their decision. I see this as a win for open access.

This action shows that people within the leadership of SfN are listening, and I hope they will continue to do so, because there are still several things we would like them to change about eNeuro. Most importantly, we are asking for them to make CC BY the default license and price all CC licenses equally. Please read our open letter for more details, and please sign if you agree with our recommendations (a huge thanks to everyone who has already contributed feedback and signed!). You do not have to be a neuroscientist to sign the letter; you just have to believe that open access should be done right.

*Update added Aug. 19: I should note that Fabiana originally suggested similar language to that later suggested by Michael Eisen (that the exclusive license is “not in the spirit of open access”). I pushed for something stronger, so if this language was too strong, the fault lies with me.

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