What just happened with open access at the Journal of Vision?

Vision researchers recently received an email from ARVO, the publisher of Journal of Vision, that begins:

On January 1, 2016, Journal of Vision (JOV) will become open access.

But in the view of most, JoV has been open access since its inception! It’s always been an author-pays, free access journal: all articles are published on its website and can be downloaded by anyone.

But free-to-download is not enough for open access, not according to the definition of open access formulated in Budapest in 2001. Open access means (according to this definition) the right not only to download but also to

distribute, … pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers

But JoV, which has always held the copyright of the articles it publishes, says that “All companies, commercial and nonprofit, should contact ARVO directly for permission to reprint articles or parts thereof”.

Starting in 2016, such permission won’t be required.

However, paying your $1,850 for standard publication in JoV in 2016 will not get you everything. The updated Budapest declaration recommends that journals use the license CC-BY.  But JoV‘s publisher has instead chosen to use the license CC BY-NC-ND, , meaning that articles cannot be used commercially (“non-commercial”) and that you can’t distribute bits of the article (“no derivatives”). Yet increasingly today, parts of science involve mining and remixing previously-published data and content, which the ND clause of the license prohibits (unless you get special permission). Education and journalism requires re-use of bits too; think about how many textbooks and articles on the web show just one figure (a “derivative”) or illustration from a scientific paper.

And while the non-commercial, NC clause might sound rather harmless for spreading knowledge, it is sometimes unclear what non-commercial really covers. It may prevent a university, especially private universities, from distributing the article as part of course content that a student pays for (via their tuition).

For these reasons, CC BY is the way we should be going, which is why UK funders like the Wellcome Trust and RCUK require that researchers receiving grants from them publish their articles CC BY. To accommodate this, JoV as part of their new policy will license your article as CC BY, if you pay an additional fee of $500!

What ARVO has done here is only a small step forward for JoV, and unfortunately a rather confusing step. The bigger change has occurred with ARVO’s journal Investigative Ophthalmology and Vision Science (IOVS), which was only accessible via a subscription but starting in 2016, will be CC BY-NC-ND and CC BY.

As you can see, copyright is complicated. Researchers don’t have time to learn all this stuff. And that means recalcitrant publishers (not ARVO, I mean profiteers like Elsevier) can exploit this to obfuscate, complicate, and shift their policies to slow progress towards full open access.

Thanks to Tom Wallis and Irina Harris.

P.S. I think if ARVO had only been changing JoV‘s policies (rather than also the subscription journal IOVS) they wouldn’t have written “JoV will become open access” in that mass email. But because they did, it raised the issue of the full meaning of the term.

P.P.S. Partly because JoV is so expensive, at ECVP there’ll be a discussion of other avenues for open access publishing, such as PeerJ. Go! (I’ll be stuck in Sydney).


5 thoughts on “What just happened with open access at the Journal of Vision?

  1. Alex – Thank you for the invitation to comment. You raise a number of interesting points, but I do want to stress one overarching goal of the migration to open access (from free access). To quote my recent JOV editorial: “From its inception, Journal of Vision has strived to be free, be everywhere, and be forever, as recorded on the back of the inaugural t-shirt in 2001.” We have tried to distinguish between “free access” and “open access,” but I agree with you that copyright law can be confusing. JOV and ARVO aim to be as transparent as possible about this, as well as our pricing model, which is very simple compared with many others.

    As I also noted, today many funding agencies mandate open access, and some (particularly in the United Kingdom) require not just access to the articles, but also that the contents can be copied, distributed and remixed. Our aim is to offer authors a choice while covering the costs associated with publishing a high quality journal.

    And while we understand that pricing is certainly a consideration, I must note that we vision scientists tend to write long articles; the average length of a JOV article is in excess of 15 pages. This makes the flat fee of $1,850 (with a $350 discount for ARVO members) quite cost-effective.

    In the end, researchers must publish in the journal that works best for them, whether that is based on pricing, Impact Factor, open access, reputation, time to publication or other considerations. Our aim is to offer the optimum mix of these. Thank you for sharing your views; I hope we can keep the dialogue open!


    JOV editorial: http://jov.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2427739
    ARVO open access FAQs: http://arvojournals.org/SS/openaccess.aspx

    • Thanks for the comment, Dennis! You argue that JoV provides value for cost- to help the community form its own views on the value for cost, does or will ARVO or JoV provide financial reports of any kind?
      And why will ARVO/JoV charge $500 extra for CC BY? Is it because ARVO earns significant revenue from licensing individual figures, papers, or excerpts?

  2. Alex – not a worry; we’re happy to try to answer your questions. I’m not sure that ARVO or JOV financial reporting will provide prospective authors with the type of information that will help them decide if publishing in JOV is cost-effective for them, as of course that would depend on their individual funding circumstances and goals. However, as a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, ARVO’s IRS documentation is public. As for the $500 charge for the CC-BY licensing, ARVO’s considerations included other journals and their pricing models for Gold open access and again, the aim to cover expenses across the publishing program while keeping author fees as reasonable as possible for all three ARVO journals. Above all, I want to emphasize that this is new territory for ARVO and JOV, and that ARVO’s Board will closely monitor and reevaluate the journals pricing.
    Finally, I note that ARVO, through the ARVO Foundation, has initiated a publications grant program that potential authors with limited funds may wish to look into. Details can be found at:http://www.arvo.org/foundation/Awards_and_Grants/ARVO_Publications_Grant/


  3. Thanks for the information, Dennis, and that’s great about the publication grants. I myself benefited from JoV’s fee discretion, perhaps before it was formalized, when I was a postdoc with little funding.

    Many researchers including myself are interested in continuing to support JoV even if it is more expensive than other options such as PeerJ. But this support is, in my case and others I’ve spoken to, somewhat contingent on an assessment of how reasonable the fee is given JoV’s costs for delivering the published paper and maintaining it.

    You mentioned ARVO’s IRS filings. I found the 1099 form at https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/522322462 and went through it, but unfortunately found no indication of expenses or revenue specific to JoV or even to ARVO’s journals as a whole, so it doesn’t seem to help.

  4. Hi Alex,
    I’m glad to read “in the view of most, JoV has been open access since its inception” because I felt very stupid when I recently discovered that JoV is not in fact open access, only free access. It’s good I’m not alone! I’m glad JoV is finally becoming OA, but I feel a bit gutted about all the thousands of dollars I have spent over the past decade or so thinking I was making my papers OA. I wonder if ARVO could be persuaded to offer authors the chance to make their previously-published papers CC-BY?

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