Elsevier's Latest Brilliant Idea: Adding Geoblocking To Open Access

from the how-about-no? dept

We’ve just written about a troubling move by Elsevier to create its own, watered-down version of Wikipedia in the field of science. If you are wondering what other plans it has for the academic world, here’s a post from Elsevier?s Vice President, Policy and Communications, Gemma Hersh, that offers some clues. She’s “responsible for developing and refreshing policies in areas related to open access, open data, text mining and others,” and in “Working towards a transition to open access“, Hersh meditates upon the two main kinds of open access, “gold” and “green”. She observes:

While gold open access offers immediate access to the final published article, the trade-off is cost. For those that can’t or don’t wish to pay the article publishing charge (APC) for gold open access, green open access — making a version of the subscription article widely available after a time delay or embargo period — remains a viable alternative to enabling widespread public access.

She has a suggestion for how the transition from green open access to gold open access might be effected:

Europe is a region where a transition to fully gold open access is likely to be most cost-neutral and, perhaps for this reason, where gold OA currently has the highest policy focus. This is in stark contrast to other research-intensive countries such as the US, China and Japan, which on the whole have pursued the subscription/green open access path. Therefore one possible first step for Europe to explore would be to enable European articles to be available gold open access within Europe and green open access outside of Europe.

Blithely ignoring the technical impossibility of enforcing an online geographical gold/green border, Hersh is proposing to add all the horrors of geoblocking — a long-standing blight on the video world — to open access. But gold open access papers that aren’t fully accessible outside Europe simply aren’t open access at all. The whole point of open access is that it makes academic work freely available to everyone, everywhere, without restriction — unlike today, where only the privileged few can afford wide access to research that is often paid for by the public.

It’s hard to know why Elsevier is putting forward an idea that is self-evidently preposterous. Perhaps it now feels it has such a stranglehold on the entire academic knowledge production process that it doesn’t even need to hide its contempt for open access and those who support it.

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Comments on “Elsevier's Latest Brilliant Idea: Adding Geoblocking To Open Access”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Long past time for the US government to mandate in law that all research funded with tax payer grants will be released in full in the public domain, open access, and remain either unpatented or patents to be granted solely to the government in repayment of the trust of grants for the furtherance of future research. After all, it’s bought and paid for by the public, the public should directly benefit without greedy gatekeepers who only live high off the public trough.

That would permanently pull the teeth of such vipers as Elsevier. With prejudice.

hamillhair (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s interesting, because I worked in engineering academic research in the UK until very recently and have published a few papers with Elsevier (since they own all the big journals).

One of the requirements of the UK funding councils (public bodies) was that all research must be published open access. Part of the conditions for getting our research grant was that we had to allocate funds to cover the costs of publishing open access, precisely because it is publicly funded and must therefore be publicly available.

The other thing that we used to do was just upload the unpublished version to the university’s institutional repository. The content was basically identical to the public version, but not covered by copyright and covered in highlights and unformatted, so you could read that version and just cite the published version.

It is a matter of great confusion to me as to why these kind of paywalls exist in academia at all. All the papers I’ve written I want to be read as widely as possible and as many copies to be made as possible so more people read them. As a researcher, “protection” does not help me at all. Unless I wanted to patent it or something, but then why would I publish at all?

Daydream says:

If you're not sure about piracy...

If you’re still uncertain whether you should pirate stuff as a matter of principle, if you think that starving creators rightfully deserve to be compensated for all their hard work…

Just remember that ‘geoblocking’ is a politically correct way to say ‘we discriminate against people based on their country of origin’.

And I’d be very interested to know how much Elsevier pays to authors when people pay to download their publications.

Mc says:

Re: If you're not sure about piracy...

And I’d be very interested to know how much Elsevier pays to authors when people pay to download their publications.


The job of scientific publishers is:
– to take papers written by government-payed scientists, optionaly even have them pay for submissions,
– hand those papers to other public-money-funded scientists to review and ensure they are good quality (for free)
– put the pdf online and charge (again) public institutions hundred of thousands of dollars for access or individuals about $30/pdf.

Every cent in this process goes exclusively to the publisher.

(Scientific publishers are among the most profitable companies in the world)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: If you're not sure about piracy...

“Just remember that ‘geoblocking’ is a politically correct way to say ‘we discriminate against people based on their country of origin’.”

Correction: discriminate against people depending on where they happen to be sitting. Nobody will check your passport before blocking you from accessing Hulu after you land in a foreign airport, for example, though as a tourist I’ve made use of a free trial or 2 while I’ve been in the US.

PaulT (profile) says:

It’s always fascinating to me that not only do these kinds of people insist on applying things that really haven’t worked in other industries, but they insist on making the same mistakes. Even if it worked, that kinds of “border” between different regions will be circumvented constantly by people angry at having different access depending on where they happen to be seated at the time. As with video geoblocking, it only makes sense if you ignore the fact that people travel, and I can imagine that European scientists who regularly travel outside the continent will be annoyed very quickly at different kinds of access and circumvent them quickly.

Tom Mink (profile) says:

Prestigious international campuses

Since the big thing these days is for universities to establish international cooperatives with other schools or even full blown satellite campuses, geoblocking is going to play merry hell with library IT departments. As bad as it is for collaboration in general, the visiting professor whose VPN resolves to a foreign IP is gonna be pissed when they can’t participate in a departmental discussion

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