What’s in it for me? The basics of open access, open research, copyright, Creative Commons.

As many of you will know, I am an advocate for the scholarly conversation taking place on the backchannel that is social media. In fact, as so aptly put by The Research Whisperer’s post:

There was a time when I used to leave people alone about their social media engagement.
Whether they wanted to get involved or not, that was their business. Who was I to say otherwise?
Oh, how things have changed.

…I’ve become That Person.
I’m the one who goes: “So, do you have a Twitter account? Have you set up your Google Scholar profile? Have you put your work in the university repository? Really? It’s easy to get started, and can be so much fun, and these are the professional benefits… [5 mins of waxing lyrical]… would you like me to help you get started?”

Yes. As much as face-to-face scholarly conversations, seminars and workshops, mentoring, and even informal corridor chat form an important part of the transfer of knowledge and building of research culture, I often feel this:

Indeed. After two years of finding my scholarly voice on Twitter and using it as a space for informal learning, I am still surprised – and excited by – the wealth of tacit knowledge gleaned from just 140 characters. Who would have thought?

One of the backchannel conversations that I have followed is around the practice of open research. I am inspired by the new wave of researchers (including @protohedgehog – see his excellent post Open access wins all of the arguments all of the time,  and @emckiernan13 – see her inspiring talk Being open as an early career researcher) who are passionate advocates for advancing science in this way. I became aware of open access a few years ago, but had always thought that that did not really apply to me, and had not realised that open research was so much more. Rather, I had every intention of just placing my research into my institutional repository, and was aware that most research sits behind paywalls – but my thoughts were always: so what, most researchers are affiliated to universities who pay the access fee anyway right?

It was only when I started interacting with open academics via social media that my thinking changed – and I had not even fully realised the implications of these conversations until about a month ago:

I was recently part of a conversation (a real-life conversation this time, not one over the internet) around the copyright laws of publishing. We spoke about all manner of the minutiae of copyright as it applies to scholarly work, and it was eye-opening to hear that there were people present who had not realised that they had signed copyright of their work over to the journals that they had published in. It was heartbreaking too, considering that these were all people who had wanted to share so much more of their work in different forms, but whose hands were now tied by copyright law. It was only right at the end of this conversation that open access publishing and Creative Commons was mentioned as an alternative path. However, there seemed to be very little buy-in from those present, as if it was something to be regarded skeptically and not applicable when you are too busy doing ‘real’ research. I immediately recognised this thinking, as I had previously thought so too. The kind of thinking that stems from not being aware of what this all really means, of what the possibilities really are. I was surprised by how little academics really know about how the publishing process works, and also how much things have changed (even as recently as this past year).

This, of course, led me back to my twitter-community, as I knew they would be sympathetic to my frustrations: 

It was only after posting these tweets that it dawned on my that I had been participating in conversations on the backchannel that these people had not been a part of…they had not been there in the seemingly-frivolous arena that has changed the way I work. I have actually been there with the very wave of researchers advocating open research practices through scholarly to-and-fro on Twitter. Thank you Twitterverse! I am endlessly fascinated by the fact that social media has empowered me to have a voice. 

I have previously posted a little about my thinking on open access, and Creative Commons: 

However, I had not recognised that what I thought was common practice and knowledge was actually the collective voice of this conversation that I am a part of:

As such…this blog post was borne:

So, here we go:

1. What is the difference between traditional subscription publishing, green open access, and gold open access?







2. What are the advantages of gold open access publishing?



3. What are the disadvantages of gold open access publishing?

The main drawback is the Article Processing Fee (APC) that is charged by journals for publishing gold open access. Traditional subscription journals are free to publish in, but charge a fee to the consumer for access. Publishing open access means that the researcher pays an APC to publish in the journal (after peer-review and acceptance, do not confuse this with predatory journals!), which makes the article free for the consumer to access. This APC is particularly high for hybrid journals (traditional journals that allow researchers to choose to publish an article open access for a fee), and this is especially true for high-impact journals. Newer open-access journals are usually free (or cheaper) to publish in, but their impact factor may be lower. It is important for researchers to be aware of this, and to make wise choices as to where they publish.

4. What is the difference between traditional copyright, and Creative Commons?

Traditional subscription publishing usually involves ‘all rights reserved’ copyright law. The researcher generally signs copyright over to the publisher, meaning that the work cannot be reproduced anywhere else.

Gold open access papers are always automatically published under a ‘some rights reserved’ Creative Commons licence, which the researcher retains. There are currently six different Creative Commons licences:


5. What is open research?

Open research is the practice of opening up the full research process. This includes sharing data, pre-prints, open peer-review, and open access publishing.

There are some exciting open research possibilities as used by new publishing platforms such as The Winnower (which can also generate DOIs for blog posts!), and PeerJ ($99 lifetime publishing!). It is definitely worth a browse of their sites for more information as to how they are turning the world of research on its head.

This is a conversation stay up-to-date with.

6. Finally, what’s in it for me?

Call me an idealistic PhD scholar, but I still get excited about sharing my own work! I have the opportunity to retain the rights to all my own work under a Creative Commons licence, and the possibilities thereof are endless. Being able to disseminate my work by blogging about it in depth once it is published, to create derivative works, and to be open about my research process are game-changers.

For the moment, my aim is to use the hybrid model of publishing open access in high impact factor traditional journals by paying the APC. I know this is not a perfect solution, but it is pragmatic for the stage of my career that I am in, as it opens up the best of both worlds for my research. 

Whilst I do not believe that we are quite there yet with journals such as The Winnower and PeerJ, it is great to witness how quickly things are changing in the academic publishing world. Of course, there is always healthy debate around the best way to do things…but I adore that there are passionate researchers fostering this conversation, and ultimately, forging the way for us all. 

The internet has given us the tools to share our research with the world, in real-time, and I cannot see a good reason why we should not all be doing that! 



More resources:

OpenCon2014 youtube videos

So you want people to read your thesis? from the Australian Open Access Support Group