Understanding Elsevier’s open-access licence, part 4: who owns copyright?
“I have discovered a new nugget of information in my ongoing quest (part 1, part 2, part 3) to discover what the licence terms are for author-pays Gold Open Access articles in Elsevier journals. You will recall from way back in part 1 that Elsevier’s own ‘Sponsored Articles’ page doesn’t include that information. A while after I posted that, they added a link to this page. It was initially broken, then briefly mended, and now seems to have been completely removed again — hardly a sequence of actions that conveys a powerful desire for transparency. However — and thanks to Alf for pointing this out in a comment — Elsevier also at some point after my initial article added a link in the middle of the text of the Sponsored Articles page: ‘Sponsored Articles have a specific set of user rights – for more information, please follow this link.’ I clicked that link, only to find — you couldn’t make this up — that this link is now also broken... Anyway — since finding out what the terms are from the web-site is such a dead loss, there is another approach to take, and that is talk to an author who has published, or is considering publishing, a Sponsored Article. I found such an author in David Roberts, and this was his experience: ‘I emailed Elsevier to ask them what sort of copyright transfer one has to sign when choosing their gold open access option...’ ‘Dear sir/madam ... If I pay for my article to be sponsored so that it is ‘available to non-subscribers’ on Elsevier’s ‘electronic platform’, what copyright notice do I sign? Elsevier is giving the article away – that is to say I have paid for the costs associated with the article – does Elsevier still own the copyright, and, more importantly, is the file allowed to be hosted anywhere else? Or, to put it another way, what is the legal status of the published article, and what future-proofing is there to maintain that free access in perpetuity?’ David quotes Elsevier’s reply (with permission): ‘I can advise you to sign your copyright form as normal. Please choose the option that most applies to you. If you choose to pay for open access, your paper will be freely available to all on Science Direct only for all time.’ David quite reasonably comments: ‘So even if one is paying for the article to be open access, Elsevier still own the copyright to the article. I find this somewhat outrageous.’ And finally notes: ‘In parallel with the above email, I emailed Alicia Wise, Elsevier’s Director of universal access. I received a reply, but I’m still waiting to hear from her if I can make that one public...’ So the upshot is that when you publish a Sponsored Article with Elsevier, you give them $3000 and the copyright. No wonder no-one is choosing this option.”