Seal sets standards for open-access journals

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The benefits of open-access (OA) journals could be increased if the hopes of a new set of standards are realised. The SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access journals intends to address the confusion that sometimes surrounds the use and reuse of material published in OA journals.

Over 3300 OA journals are currently listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), hosted by Lund University Libraries in Sweden. However, it is not always clear whether a journal’s access conditions permit researchers to mine large segments of this literature or allow librarians to host material locally for preservation purposes, for example.

‘Research has shown that for as much as 75 per cent of the journals listed in the DOAJ there is no visible copyright or licensing information,’ explained David Prosser, director of SPARC Europe. ‘This means that it is unclear what readers are allowed to do in terms of use and re-use of the material.’

The seal, launched by SPARC Europe (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) and the DOAJ, is intended to indicate which OA journals offer standardised, easily-retrievable information about what kinds of reuse are allowed. ‘We hope that at the very least the existence of the seal will engender thinking around the issues of licensing and will lead to journals making the rights explicit as a minimum,’ said Prosser.

All journals that are eligible for the SPARC Europe Seal will be free to read from the moment of publication and will place no barriers between the readers and the research papers. Each eligible journal in the DOAJ will display a seal symbol and the partners intend for the journals to also be able to display the symbol on their homepages. Some journals have already been awarded the seal.

The DOAJ team is currently writing to all the publishers listed in the DOAJ telling them about the seal and about the criteria. To qualify for the seal, a journal must use the Creative Commons By (CC-BY) licence, which corresponds to the ethos of the Budapest Open Access Initiative. The journal must also provide metadata for all its articles to the DOAJ. The DOAJ will then make the metadata OAI-compliant, which increases the visibility of the papers and allows OAI-harvesters to include details of the journal articles in their services.

‘We hope that the seal will educate open-access journal publishers on the important of providing harvestable metadata for the articles they publish,’ said Prosser. ‘Many publishers have taken the large step of making their journals open access, but have failed to take the smaller step of providing metadata. By providing metadata they will increase the exposure of the papers they publish, so making them even more useful. One of the great things about the seal is that it is not just going to impose a set of standards, but it will help publishers to meet the criteria.’

Prosser believes that this initiative will benefit both libraries and readers. Firstly, he pointed out, it will make clear the licensing conditions under which the papers are published. ‘This will remove ambiguities surrounding whether a researcher has the right to download the papers, reformat them and perform data-mining on them and it will libraries to determine if they have the right to archive the material,’ he said. The second benefit that he predicts is that it will increase the discoverability of papers. ‘Providing full metadata for all articles will allow search engines to find the papers and deliver them to readers,’ he explained.

The seal has been welcomed by many in the industry. `Legal certainty is essential to the emergence of an internet that supports research. The proliferation of license terms forces researchers to act like lawyers, and slows innovative educational and scientific uses of the scholarly canon` said John Wilbanks, executive director of Science Commons. `Using a seal to reward the journals who choose to adopt policies that ensure users' rights to innovate is a great idea. It builds on a culture of trust rather than a culture of control, and it will make it easy to find the open access journals with the best policies.’