Nature Drops Its Paywall… But Replaces It With Insane, Anti-Research Proprietary DRM

from the screw-you,-researchers dept

We’ve written plenty about open access and how the big scientific journals profit off of publicly funded research by putting it behind a paywall, thereby greatly limiting the ability of knowledge (often paid for with our tax dollars) to be used to further discovery, research and innovation. The impact on society is tremendous, and unfortunate.

In the science realm, there are two “big” journal publishers: Nature and Science. If you’re an academic releasing a scientific paper, those tend to be the two journals you most want your papers to appear in. So, it seemed like good news when Nature claimed it was moving away from a paywall and going to allow open access to the research papers it publishes. But the details suggest that whoever came up with this plan did it for the stupidest of reasons. Nature’s own report on this change of plans kicks off by highlighting how ridiculously limited and encumbered with DRM this new offering will be:

All research papers from Nature will be made free to read in a proprietary screen-view format that can be annotated but not copied, printed or downloaded, the journal?s publisher Macmillan announced on 2 December.

Well, even that’s an exaggeration. The full press release notes that it’s not that everything will be “free to read” but rather that those who do subscribe will be able to freely “share” the works (in this annoying, limited, proprietary DRM manner). Also “100 media outlets and blogs” will be given access as well, so that they can also share the works in this annoying, limited proprietary way:

Subscribers to 49 journals on will be able to share a unique URL to a full text, read-only version of published scientific research with colleagues or collaborators in the most convenient way for them, e.g. via email and social media. Included are the world’s most cited scientific publication, Nature; the Nature family of journals and fifteen other quality science journals. This new initiative will be available to scientists and students at more than 6,000 universities and organizations worldwide, and serve the more 10 million monthly unique visitors to This sharing is intended for personal, non-commercial use. To further aid collaboration, forthcoming annotation functionality will enable subscribers to share comments and highlighted text with their colleagues.

100 media outlets and blogs across the globe that report on the findings of articles published on will be able to provide their own readers with a link to a full text, read-only view of the original scientific paper. Thousands of high-quality scientific papers will be available. Nature has published some of the leading scientific stories of our time, such as the Human Genome; the structure of DNA; Dolly the Sheep; the invention of the laser; the identification of the AIDS virus and the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer.

Is this more open than the full paywall? Sure. But, it’s such a hamfisted way of “opening up” that it makes things even more annoying. If you can’t download, copy or print the text — and you have to install annoying proprietary software — it makes it a hell of a lot harder for researchers to actually make use of the text to, you know, contribute to their own research. Of course, the announcement also notes that Nature’s owner, Macmillan, just happens to have a “majority investment” in ReadCube, the proprietary DRM platform that the company is using.

In other words, this has little to do with true open access. Instead, it’s a rather cynical attempt to pretend to be open access, while trying to pump up its own investment in some crappy DRM system. So, sure, kudos for taking a layer off the top of the paywall, but this is hardly a revolutionary step. It still seems very much designed to make it as annoying and inconvenient as possible to actually share knowledge. I mean, this is the very same Nature that, just months ago, was trying to pressure researchers from universities that had open access policies to get those universities to waive those policies when seeking to get published in Nature…

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Companies: macmillan, nature

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Comments on “Nature Drops Its Paywall… But Replaces It With Insane, Anti-Research Proprietary DRM”

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Anonymous Coward says:

What's wrong today, Mike?

Are you unable to see that this is a step forward? Papers and information are getting shared. Are they getting shared in a completely free (beer/speech) way? No. But just because something isn’t perfectly in line with your ideal, it’s worthy of scorn, huh?

If Nature mailed out DVD archives to every American citizen, you’d complain that it was bribing the USPS into taking too long to deliver them.

I’m going to start calling this site TechMolehill if you don’t take a vacation soon, Mike.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What's wrong today, Mike?

The public benefits greatly. Those who had zero access to this information now have a great deal more.

The public still has no access to the information without paying $4.00 to rent it for 48-hours or buying a subscription.

Those that have a subscription to Nature can share it with others using a limited read-only link to the PDF, which must be sent in order for it to be accessed. If the public doesn’t know it exists, and doesn’t know a person with a subscription, they still have zero access to the research without paying for it.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 What's wrong today, Mike?

Annual memberships go for as much as $2000…

Which greatly limits access to the public. Joe sixpack probably doesn’t have $2000 to donate for a yearly membership. He probably doesn’t have the $4 to afford to rent the document either, what good that will do for him.

If they had a system up where you could get read only access to the entire document without having to know someone or kiss someone’s ring, it would be somewhat helpful just for a researcher to even see if the document is something worth buying, but for the public, this is as John said…a very, very tiny step forward that doesn’t help the public at all (but might make it a little easier for researchers who know people who have access that can send them links to documents.)

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What's wrong today, Mike?

$4 an article is more than I paid to view articles outside of University before.

$4 for 48 hours read only! Not even a week? Why so cheap? Why so constrained? If I were doing research in the article’s area, I’d want to study it, find related research, dig into related information, contact peers to discuss, … 48 hours isn’t even long enough to bounce a few emails back and forth.

It’s disgusting that people not even doing science get to tell the real researchers what, and how, they can use the results of taxpayer funded research, let alone pad their own gilded nests doing it. It’s a brilliant scam. I envy the bastard who managed to pull it off. Find a bunch of people who care so much about the work they’re doing that they won’t notice what you’re doing with the result. They’ll even defend it and come to believe it has to be done this way!

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Begging AC's pardon

The concept of “open sharing of research information” isn’t about labels (“open”) nor about paywalls or DRM. It’s quite simply about open sharing of research information.

Open sharing allows researchers to build upon the work of other researchers; it allows citing the sources; it allows scouring the sources.

Anonymous Coward aims to take Mike to task because Mike doesn’t think that the “you can’t download this, you can’t print this” content isn’t “open”.

It’s not. It makes no difference whether the tool used to prevent sharing amongst researchers is called a paywall or DRM or SomeOtherMechanism.

What’s clear is that Nature is run by idiots. Pumping up your own DRM software is certainly something corporations do… but when it’s antithetic to the stated goals of sharing information, and entirely antithetic to the real goals of open information, it’s just plain idiotic.

My hat’s off to Anonymous Coward for blaming Mike for calling out Nature and using some obtuse examples of mailing out DVDs. Sorry, but DVDs are so last decade.


tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Begging AC's pardon

You haven’t even tried it, yet. I can tell by how wrong you are about how it works.

I can’t help your being ignorant of reality. We understand DRM. We understand proprietary. What we don’t understand is how you can call something like ReadCube “Open.” We’ve been through many wars like this in the recent past, and this just screams closed like all those others. We don’t understand why you insist on locking down scientific research, except you think you may somehow manage to squeeze a few more dollars out of it if you can only continue to keep it locked down.

All those people over at CERN using Scientific Linux, a Redhat Linux downstream, will not be able to use ReadCube. You continue to lock your publications away from the very people you purport to want to bring to your publications.

Hire some knowledgable technical people to explain it to you and you may understand someday.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Begging AC's pardon

So you’re saying that you haven’t tried it, either. … You should try it. Really. It’ll make you look a lot less stupid than just parroting what Mike has to say.

Fine. I went to the announcement at Nature, clicked on and was presented with “Application Error” (Mozilla Firefox 33.0 (Linux Mint 17)). No surprise. As I say, I’ve been through this !@#$ a lot of times before, so why should I expect anything better now?!?

In one of the comments at the bottom of the page is mentioned a browser based viewer for Linux and Chrome. Do you remember where and why the World Wide Web was originally invented? Why is Nature still doing this the most difficult (clunky) way possible?!?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Begging AC's pardon

You are just being argumentative now. The service is build on fragile architecture that is designed not to work with every other program. It is a hole you will be forced into where you can view the content. To me it seems like the foundation for an advertisement trap. Have you read Wilbanks and Subers comments on it?

Regarding open access. This is not insofar you have to be able to access it through predetermined sources…

You can keep on throwing strawmen about how not having used the service makes you unable to comment on the nature of it… But that is not really the context here.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Begging AC's pardon

Thanks for confirming that you still haven’t tried it, but are still willing to criticize it based on information from other people who haven’t tried it, either.

I tried it on Windows, using Mozilla Firefox and Chrome (the two applications that were said to work with it.) I usually use Linux, but I have a nice virtual machine set up for crap like this.

It popped up a message to view the PDF, then showed me the first page and popped up a “you have to buy this article to get everything” message, asking for $4.00 to rent it for 48-hours, but not print it or save it.

Open access to research my ass. You only get previews of the first page and then they expect you to pay $4.00 to get the rest. It is still a paywall.

Reading the actual article on Nature, it appears (in the second comment,) that someone who has already paid for the subscription can send the link. How do you expect people to try it if you don’t even share a link to allow us to test it on our own?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Begging AC's pardon

That’s the thing, though. I’m not a shill. I’m in the tech industry and I’ve been coding since before HTML existed and was published long before academia discovered electronic publication.

What I’m pointing is the complacency of “OMG THIS SUCKS!” which is what follows every post that Mike makes, whether he, or anyone else, has actually looked at the thing in question.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Begging AC's pardon

Do you know the most efficent DRM system out there?

IT’s called Steam. It’s relatively unobtrusive, it’s easy to use, it’s convenient, and it has incredible sales.

But it’s still a DRM schema. I don’t like that fact,m but I still use it because it’s less painful than the other DRM schema out there.

Do better, man.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Begging AC's pardon

IT’s called Steam. It’s relatively unobtrusive, it’s easy to use, it’s convenient, and it has incredible sales.

Steam is the best DRM out there. If I had to give an award for the best DRM, Steam would take it. But then I’d pull it right back since Steam allows distributors to package their own, far more crappy DRM along-side Steam. I am tired of buying a game only to find SecureROM has been installed! SecureROM just doesn’t work with virtualized platforms. It will trigger its “this is a pirated copy” routines when I run it on a VM, and that is pretty much how I roll now unless the game is supported on Linux. I don’t want to set up a dual-boot or a dedicated Windows box just to play a game.

But it’s still a DRM schema. I don’t like that fact,m but I still use it because it’s less painful than the other DRM schema out there.

Steam is at most a good distribution platform (though, my cable company would argue with that, since I have to download full versions of the software and full updates from each machine I use…there isn’t really a good solid method of mirroring the software/updates so that when I download them to one system, it propagates the changes locally so as to not waste bandwidth. A P2P model for Steam distribution is really needed.

bob (profile) says:

Anti-research? Nope. It's very pro-reseach

Creating nicely formatted, edited and peer-reviewed work takes plenty of effort. Sure, the peer-reviewers are paid with early access, not money, but the rest of the staffs need cash. They’re not supported by the institutions.

There are two choices for the research establishment: reader pays for editing or writer pays for editing. In the Nature model, the reader pays and the editors strive to make the readers happy because from them all subscription revenues flow.

But the wackjobs around here probably think that we should just make all of the journals free because, well, the commons is never trashed and Communism is still doing well around the world.

Alas, this means the writer will pay for the editing and presentation. That’s bad for the writers– who will need to hire editorial staff with overhead dollars– and for the readers who won’t get any benefit from editorial guidance because there won’t be any. Every writer will automatically say, “Publish this paper, it’s great.” And if the writer is paying, the writer will get satisfaction.

The readers, though, will just get an unedited pile of mixed quality. But hey, they can say, “It’s free!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anti-research? Nope. It's very pro-reseach

There are two choices for the research establishment: reader pays for editing or writer pays for editing.

And then their is the academic publishing model,
the academics do the peer review and editing, as unpaid work, and for some journals also pay page charges, and then they have to pay to read the work as well. Oh, and they have to assign copyright and do NOT receive any royalties.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anti-research? Nope. It's very pro-reseach

Bullshit. The commercial scientific publishers are nothing more than parasites; their existence is destructive to science.

They extract huge profits by copysquatting on work that they contributed essentially nothing to the creation of, and routinely act in a manner that is both harmful to science and destructive of people (e.g. the Elsevier/Vioxx fake journal incident).

The sooner NPG, Elsevier, Pearson etc die the better. They contribute nothing but harm to the world.

– Anonymous Scientist

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Anti-research? Nope. It's very pro-reseach

To play Macmillan’s advocate for a moment:
What the publishers contribute to the model is a seive — the articles that get published benefit from them purely because of all the other junk they DON’T publish. They’re a filter, pure and simple. The problem here is that they’re attempting to not only filter what gets published, but also who reads it and how.

So if Nature publishes junk that should never have seen the light of day, they’ve failed at their purpose, and the research community should just drop them. However, if they do keep the riff-raff out, then the non-riff-raff should be perfectly happy to pay for this service, within reason. When that slides into holding the research hostage, it’s no longer within reason. It appears that in this case, they’ve tried to avoid holding the research hostage as much (they allow it to go for monitored walks) while still charging for the service in the traditional way. If their prices aren’t going up for subscriptions, then this makes sense. The new tool can’t really be considered open publishing however — that’s still limited to what was there before. This new stuff is most like a mannequin in the window of a department store — look, but don’t touch. Still useful, but only in a limited sense, and it’s a derivative product, not the actual research papers that are their bread and butter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Anti-research? Nope. It's very pro-reseach

That argument would have a lot more force if it wasn’t for the fact that peer review as conducted by the established journals is itself a farcically broken mess.


Peer review is not done by the journals; it’s done by scientists, as a voluntary / network-building task. To the extent that the publishers have any influence on what is published, that influence is negative: Nature, The Lancet etc reliably go for research that is attention-grabbing in priority over that which is important.

They don’t even do their own bloody typesetting; the formatting requirements for journal submission are insanely strenuous and time-consuming. All they do is manage a website to recieve and display the work of others, and they don’t even do that well.

Their search functions are shithouse, and their submission websites are so bad that it routinely takes more than a day to upload a 5,000 word paper.

The only thing preventing us from creating a single database, backed by the best possible search tools, which is freely available to anyone with a net connection and contains literally every single piece of scientific research ever published is because of these rent-taking copysquatting bastards.

Science saves lives; impeding science costs lives. Even if it weren’t for their frequent and blatant unethical misconduct (e.g., the sooner the legacy journal publishers die the better off we’ll all be. They are a parasite upon science.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anti-research? Nope. It's very pro-reseach

The question is how much do they spend on staff versus taking in?

Editors make about 53k a year (

Based on info from a dispute in 2010, the average cost of the Nature group subscription was 4k per year. (

4k times 6k schools, 24,000,000.

How much of that do you think goes to overhead? A quarter? Half? All?

How large a staff could that support at 60k a year?

How much have subscription prices grown in the past 4 years?

Zem (profile) says:

Only an idiot would believe that you can download something and display it on a computer screen that can’t be copied, printed or downloaded. Just delivering the document covers 2 of the 3.

Looks like the premier science magazine has just demonstrated it is run by people with no understanding of computer science.

Probably should rename the publication NatureLOL.

Anonymous Coward says:

This sharing is intended for personal, non-commercial use. To further aid collaboration, forthcoming annotation functionality will enable subscribers to share comments and highlighted text with their colleagues

So can smack DRM in your shared and collaborated works and ideas and lock it away from the people who paid for it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And that’s where the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA comes into play. It doesn’t matter how laughable a piece of DRM is, it’s still illegal to break or bypass it. That is the threat behind DRM, not the technical difficulty in breaking or bypassing it, but the fact that doing so opens you up to costly lawsuits.

Chris B (profile) says:

No benefit

I am an academic librarian, and I have tested out a couple links under this system. A link shared through social media will work (which is good), but not on a mobile device (boo!). I see this as very unlikely to increase access in any way, for the main reason that people with Nature subscriptions were already in the habit of sending PDFs to colleagues. If you want a specific article, you would either need to ask a colleague who has access or request it through your library, so nothing has actually changed in that respect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Meanwhile, proponents of AGW base their statistical evidence (the 95% figure) on mere abstractions of scientific journals without actually reading them. They even include Dr. Spencer (who was the first to calculate the global average temperature and has sent several satellites up into space from which many climatologist base their research on) in their consensus even though he has time and time again claimed that we don’t have the technology nor the empirical evidence to support the bogus claims being made by IPCC/AGW political radicals.

I suppose if the pay wall weren’t in the way of these scientific journals, this attack against those with low income for carbon emissions would be thrown out as complete hogwash.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

We all know there is better evidence for his signed theory:

“Earth and its ecosystems – created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence – are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting”

Also going for “climate change nazis” as denominations for people who believe in ACT seems less scientific and more counter-culture.

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