You can take my text, but you can’t copyright my figures!
Colleagues from COAS and Plymouth Marine Laboratory and I have just had a chapter published in Elsevier’s Treatise On Geochemistry. It’s a great bit of work in my opinion, synthesising the latest knowledge on ocean-atmosphere gas exchange and the processes controlling the concentration of a wide range of trace gases in the ocean and atmosphere (so, for those of you who like this kind of thing, it covers both the kinetic and thermodynamic controls on air-sea fluxes).
or in traditional form,
R. Beale, M.T. Johnson, P.S. Liss and P.D. Nightingale, Air–Sea Exchange of Marine Trace Gases, In Treatise on Geochemistry (Second Edition), edited by Heinrich D. Holland and Karl K. Turekian, Vol 8, The Oceans and Marine Geochemistry, edited by Mike Mottl, Ch 3. Elsevier, Oxford, 2014, Pages 53-92.
Most people who will want to read this chapter, and the rest of the 13 volume Treatise, won’t be able to, unless they happen to work at an institution that has purchased access. Otherwise they will have to ask me or one of the other authors for an author’s copy (is that even legal these days? I’ve lost track). In my more rebellious days I probably would have just stuck it straight up on the web but as Elsevier is getting all RIAA on researchers at the moment I think I’d better not. Note on that: Elsev. buys up Mendeley then starts getting all uppity with other online social research sites… maybe not really about copyright at all, just a mechanism to gain market share…?
Let’s take a moment to think about the implications of the process of traditional publishing, something most researchers routinely take for granted: We sign away the copyright to our work, the text and images resulting from it at least, to a publishing house; who then restricts access to it, thus reducing the reach and impact of the work we do. Then our own institutions have to spend money we bring in from teaching students and winning research grants to get us access to our own, and other peoples work. Add to that the fact that it’s us who do the peer review for the journals and edit the books and the whole system, if you take a step back from it, looks completely insane! As Cameron Neylon has pointed out very eloquently before, the publishers had a valuable role to play, when printing and distribution of journals was a major barrier to dissemination of knowledge. Now that the internet has happened (and like the recording industry a decade ago), the publishers are thrashing about trying to find a new role in the system, or to protect their old interests through lobbying congress to legislate against open access. Bonkers.
Anyway, the point of this post is to highlight one small victory for openness that has resulted in our publication in a copyright-taking publication. For the chapter I made a series of diagrams and plots; and given the time and hassle of trying to get permission to include plots from other books and journal articles covered by copyright agreement I was b**gered if I was going to hand over he copyright to them to the publisher unless absolutely necessary. So I shared them on Figshare, along with the data and plotting scripts necessary to reproduce them. Figshare is a site for publishing figures, presentations, datasets etc. They aren’t peer reviewed, but they do receive a doi which means they’re easy to cite. Figures uploaded, I proceeded to insert them into the manuscript for the book chapter and in the caption cited their doi at Figshare, like so:
(presumably I’m breaking copyright by doing that – sorry everyone)
This got through Elsevier’s filter with out any problems. This means these figures are free for anybody (including me) to use in their publications under a CC-BY license, or update or improve upon, rather than having to ask Elsevier for permission (which may or may not be granted) or re-doing the same exercise themselves. By the terms of the CC-BY license under which everything of Figshare is released by default, I will get attribution for their use, so I’m happy too. They have since been used in our open access book on the same subject as the book chapter discussed here, which will be coming to a website near you soon to download for free!
Take that insane copyright rules!
[Edit] HEALTH WARNING: I should add that the plots I made synthesise a bunch of existing data for a book chapter so I wasn’t worried about compromising novelty of data. You may find if you tried to do this with your dataset and figures from your letter to Nature on some exciting new discovery that they might be a little less forgiving. I don’t personally see the problem, but I’m not a journal editor so you might want to check with one of them first.