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Some authors rights information and open access initiatives at Elsevier

Dean Eastbury's picture

I am often asked by authors about Elsevier's copyright policy and author's rights. These are clearly written in the Guide for Authors which can be found on each and every journal homepage, e.g. Scott Virkler, VP of Web Search Strategy at Elsevier's New York office, also explains how with millions of web searches taking place every day it would be impossible for individual authors to monitor the correct use of their work, and how by transferring copyright to Elsevier enables it to assume the burden of monitoring the use of material, while protecting the publishing process (Protecting your ideas in the Internet age)

Elsevier is currently carrying out a variety of test and learn experiments in open access across its Science & Technology division . In the Materials Science and Engineering Department we have IJSS which has 24-month delayed open access starting on 1 October 2007 (articles published after 1 October 2005 will be freely available 24 months after publication). We also, of course, publish the open access magazines Materials Today as well as Nano Today which is getting an impact factor for the first time in 2007 - both are free to all researchers

For several years Elsevier has supported and partakes in all experimentation with dissemination of scholarly research business models and has been the leading player in agreeing to World Health Organistation-lead initiatives such as Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA), Health InternetAccess to Research Initiative (HINARI) and , Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE).

Elsevier is adamant about the sustainability of research publications hence the investment in ScienceDirect which to date is US$ 400 million. Commercial corporations such as pharmaceutical companies and some oil companies, who are net consumers of research and exceptionally rich, but do not publish for commercial gain since they are using information for the development of of patents and applications. Under open access they would get all research for absolutely free at the expense of academic authors paying for publication. We know today that the food industry and of course, historically, that the tobacco industry paid for research to be published to attempt to counter research findings which they felt were damaging. At the moment the publication process, in terms of submission and peer review is not monetarised, so there is no commercial interest in the process and no threshold for entry by young researchers. Funding bodies and governments can, for political reasons, switch off funding, which may bias research that is published. National governments if they need to make economic decisions on cutting the public spending bill could make open access funding vulnerable. Ultimately science is global and without political bias - Elsevier knows that in the US, certain countries are embargoed. Open access may exacerbate the politicisation of science and so the the current model Elsevier and other commercial publishers operate supports academic freedom.


Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Dean: 

Thank you very much for bringing in the Elsevier perspective.  I have learned much from you and your colleagues over last few years.  As far as I can tell, Elsevier journals offer better deals to the authors than other journals I publish in.  For example, authors are asked to pay APL several hundred dollars to get a 3-page paper published!  By comparison, there are no fees to publish in Elsevier journals.   Talking to Stelios Kyriakides, the Editor-in-Chief of IJSS, I have also learned that there can be more than one way to effect changes.  Re-inventing wheels may be the most obvious way, but is usually not the most effective one.

This said, there is some impatience among researchers with publishers in terms of exploiting the Internet.  Some issues may require time and money.  Others might be solvable quite easily.  As an example of the latter category, I recently noticed that IJSS and JMPS offer RSS feeds.  However, the feeds only offer titles of papers, not the abstracts.  Why not?  Nature offers both titles and abstracts.

Once I find an interesting abstract in the RSS feeds, it will still take me several clicks to go to Harvard site to download the paper.  There must be a way for the software to know that Harvard subscribes to IJSS, and I as an employee can download the paper with one click!

Big publishers like Elsevier look more and more like technology companies.  The ultimate competitors are other technology companies that try to connect information with people, like Google.  As such, publishers have intrinsic interest in learning about experience of the users, and improve usability of their products.

Dear Dean,  

Please read the following article:

It addresses most of the issues mentioned in your post. 




ericmock's picture


First I would like to thank you for your post and I am sure you realize that this is basically 'hostile' territory even though there is a lot of debate among academics about this issue. 

You may have seen the CIC Provosts' Statement on Publishing Agreements ( which I posted about on iMechanica (  As I said in the post, the Penn State Faculty Senate Committee on Research had a lengthy debate about recommending that authors follow the suggestion and use the copyright addendum in the statement.  Many people were basically scared of the legal wrangling that would ensue if they demanded that a publisher accept the addendum.  What do you think would happen if someone insisted that Elsevier abide by the addendum?  This is not a rhetorical or sarcastic question; I am really interested in your thoughts.

As a small business owner and one-time very serious investor, I think I have a fairly unbiased view of the trade-offs on this issue.  However, I think your arguments for maintaining the current publishing model are not very convincing.  As with any public company, your first responsibility is to your shareholders with authors second.  There is nothing wrong with this, and is what makes a free market economy work.  However, knowing this puts your comments in a different light and I would be interested to hear how Elsevier explains opening access at their stockholder's meeting.

My interpretation of Elsevier offering 24-month delayed open access is that the company figures that the perceived goodwill will offset the minor revenue loss this causes.  Libraries and other non-profit organizations (as well as the big businesses you note) will still be paying the same for their employees to gain access.  I am sure Elsevier has studied the financial consequences of making this decision.  I would be interested to hear the results of this study.

Your argument about Elsevier being the best protector of our copyrights also is quite strange.  Why not let us decide who can best take care of our interests?  If we had the option, I would be much less skeptical regarding this argument.  How often does Elsevier actually fight another big business due to violation of an author's copyright? 

I think we all understand the differences between copyright, plagiarism, and intellectual property.  While I think we (and our employers) are all interested in carefully protecting our IP, I think we are much less interested in protecting our copyrights.  Maybe I don't understand all the issues, but I would much rather worry about enforcing my own copyrights instead of giving them up.  The only reason I have given up my copyright to this point is to get the stamp of approval of peer review for my own benefit (getting a job, getting tenure, etc.).  I will continue to play this game until I am promoted to full professor, at which point I will publish all my work in places that allow open access from day one and do not insist I give up my rights.

Saying you're protecting us from the pharmaceutical, oil, and tobacco industries also seems a little disingenuous.  Picking these industries seems a lot like PR talk.  Why not mention that you're protecting us from all the small, start-up companies that are struggling to survive and cannot afford to pay excessive amounts for access?

I would also like to point people to Reed Elsevier's financial pages at  This is the other face of the company, i.e. the one trying to make the company look good to investors.  Note that 2006 revenue for the academic publishing division was €2.236 billion ($3 billion) with operating profits at €683 million ($914 million), making operating margins 30.5% and shareholders very happy.  Also note that margins for Reed Elsevier's other business divisions were 24.2% on revenue of  €2.308 billion for LexisNexis, 14.5% on revenue of  €1.307 billion for Harcourt Education, and 17% on revenue of  €2.084 billion for Reed Business.  Net profit margin (not given for the individual divisions) for all of Reed Elsevier was 11.6% which is double that of the oil industry.  It seems to me like Elsevier is also a net consumer of research and also very (but maybe not exceptionally) rich with about $1 billion in cash reserves.

If any of these numbers are incorrect, please let me know and I will update them.

Eric Mockensturm

Zhigang Suo's picture

Peter Suber, of Open Access News, sent me his Open Access Overview.

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