Bronze and Delayed Open Access: What can we do about these?

If you haven’t yet taken a look at this recent PeerJ Preprint entitled “The State of OA: A large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles” it is worth a read.

Among the more interesting findings was that for 2015 the percentage of open access papers is now at 45%. A pretty shocking percentage that will have some important implications for librarians and library budgets. In the words of advice to librarians by of one of the paper’s authors, Heather Piwowar: “Use this data to negotiate with publishers: Half the literature is free. Don’t pay full price for it.”

There are a fair number of other interesting tidbits as well, including this fascinating look at the open access categories favoured by publishers:

Pub OA categories

Interesting to see how little Gold adoption there is. Elsevier’s – one of the largest open access publishers – ratio of Gold to Hybrid is especially interesting. So is Wiley’s lack of publications in both of these categories.

The part that of this paper that really stuck with me though was the labeling of the Bronze Open Access category and the fact that it makes up the largest amount of open access publications. 17.6% of all articles in 2015. Compared to 11.3% Gold, 9.4% Hybrid, and 6.3% Green.

Bronze OA is defined here as articles that are “free to read on the publisher page, but without a license” (i.e. an open license like creative commons), but also later as “not published in journals listed as OA in the DOAJ”. Now, these two definitions don’t overlap perfectly. For example, it’s possible that a journal has an open licence but is not indexed in DOAJ (The reverse can’t be true since DOAJ requires an open licence). However, I can only think of one example of a journal like this…. and it was just accepted to DOAJ, so it no longer counts. So can work with this definition of Bronze for now. Examples of exceptions will be few and this paper is still a preprint!

It looks like Bronze OA is made up of these further subcategories:

  • Delayed OA journals
  • Open editorial content
  • One-off articles or issues made open by journals
  • Non-DOAJ indexed journals – “Hidden Gold” journals

It’s nice to see Delayed OA journals get categorized. They weren’t addressed in the original Green/Gold distinction, which has resulted in some confusion especially my own.

The authors of the paper raise a number of points and questions about Bronze in their Discussion that is worth quoting entirely:

Interestingly, we found that the majority of OA articles are Bronze—hosted on publisher websites without an open license. This is surprisingly high given that Bronze is relatively little-discussed in the OA literature, and suggests that this OA category deserves further attention from the OA community. In particular, Bronze OA may be significant in a policy context, since, unlike other publisher-hosted OA, Bronze articles do not extend any reuse rights beyond reading, making them Gratis OA. Much more research is needed into the characteristics of Bronze OA. Is Bronze disproportionately non-peer-reviewed content, as seems likely? How much of Bronze OA is also Delayed OA? How much Bronze is Promotional, and how transient is the free-to-read status of this content? How many Bronze articles are published in “hidden gold” journals that are not listed in the DOAJ? Why are these journals not defining an explicit license for their content, and are there effective ways to encourage this? These and other questions are outside the scope of this study but may provide fruitful insights for future OA research and policy. (Piwowar et al, 2017)

These are all important questions. Bronze articles having a lack of an open license mean that the publisher still controls the copyright and your reuse of these articles is likely limited. e.g. You probably will be unable to host these articles elsewhere, add them to a coursepack for students, or modify them in any way. Gratis OA instead of Libre.

This also means, as pointed out by the authors, that it is unclear exactly how transient the free-to-read status of this content is. Will these articles suddenly slide behind a paywall in the next couple months? After a decade? I’ve noticed Sage journals do this a lot. Free access to journal articles is always opening and closing. It seems to change every few weeks.

How big of a problem are these potentially-temporary, Gratis OA articles? Obviously it’s better they are open rather than closed, but they don’t match with the original ideals of the open access movement. Bronze OA being the largest OA category – consistently if you look at the below chart (What a great paper) – is another way we are headed toward open access being a half-revolution.

OA over the years

Let’s take another look at Delayed OA journals right now though. These are especially present in medical and health fields. In fact, it is so ingrained, I’ve actually had a few researchers at my institution express surprise when they found out not all closed access journals open up their papers after an embargo.

A lot of these Delayed OA journals submit their free-to-read articles  – after the embargo period – directly to PubMed Commons to archive.  This suggests the free-to-read status of these articles have a bit more of a permanent status. Although the copyright still resides with the publishers and they are still very much Gratis OA.

Curious that there don’t seem to many publishers that have looked into changing the copyright license of their articles after the embargo period to encourage sharing and reuse. It could be under the publishers more restrictive copyright for the first 12 months and then a CC-BY article afterwards. Large publishers could do this with their digital archives, opening up all that information for text and data mining.

However, as it has become very clear over the last few years. Copyright policies have become a large stumbling block for the open access movement. A change in copyright after a certain date could prove to be very confusing to users and authors. For example, the copyright of Rockfeller University Press Journals, which change from a “no mirror hosting websites” publisher license to a CC-BY-NC-SA license after 6 months:

Weird C license

I still think Delayed OA journals changing their copyright to an open license could work though! Perhaps not a ‘after six months it changes’ kinda license like the above, but instead they change the license on the PDF directly. The one with the publisher license disappears from their website after the embargo period and it is replaced with one with an open license.

(Some might object that this will create some citation issues as the ‘version of record’ will have been changed, but I think there are ways around this. You could have the copyright statement as apart of your watermarking so that it changes automatically)

Another thing I would like to see is a database for Delayed OA journals. Right now it is impossible to search across Delayed OA journals to discover their embargo period. You can use Sherpa/Romeo to acquire information about a journal’s Green OA archiving policies and if they have paid OA options, but there is no information about if they become open access on the publisher website after a set time period.

The only way to find out if a journal is a Delayed OA journal is to go to the journal page and dig through their policies yourself. As someone who does this often so that I can activate full-text in our library link resolver, I can tell you this information is not easy to find.

Imagine if we had a Delayed OA Database that was similar to DOAJ. This database would contain only Delayed OA journals and you could search across all of them from full-text access. It would also have the embargo and licensing information for each journal, so you could tell a journal fits with your funder’s open access policies. Maybe this database would even work best as a subset of DOAJ so that one could search across all open access articles in one place.

It could even be required that entry into this Delayed OA Database requires that a journal’s post-embargo open access articles have open licenses. Or at least that they would have to commit to keep them open. This Could help solve the temporary and Gratis OA problems with Delayed and Bronze OA in general. It would be similar to how DOAJ has helped encourage Gold OA journals to adopt creative common licenses and more consistent practices.



About Ryan Regier

Doing Library Stuff. Follow me on twitter at: @ryregier
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2 Responses to Bronze and Delayed Open Access: What can we do about these?

  1. Pingback: Weekly digest: the latest news on topics important to Open Pharma – Open Pharma

  2. Pingback: Open Access and MEDLINE | A Way of Happening

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