Chemistry and scholarly communications issues have a difficult, stormy relationship. Why?
Part of the problem is the disconnect between industry and academia. This exists in all areas of science but can particularly bad in big pharma and profitable trade secrets.
Another part of the problem is that professional societies, with the American Chemical Society (ACS) as a notable example, use income generated from journal subscriptions and literature index licensing costs to fund other society activities. Has the society quantified this? I'm not sure - I can say as a local section officer our small section was able to obtain several programming grants and other supplemental funds to host Science Cafes, seminars, outreach activities and the like. As an incoming local section officer I was able to attend a weekend leadership institute with free hotel, meals, and transportation costs. This was not a trivial amount of money - I estimate this totalled approx. $3,000 - $4,000 in my year as President. And I'm not counting the money our section recived from the ACS as our allotment of member dues - these "grants" all came directly from ACS HQ programs and presumably from journal profits.
While our section hosted worthwhile activities that promoted science to the general and local public, I question handing out funds this easily when libraries are struggling to pay subscription costs and maintain access to the literature. Isn't having a usable local library collection part of my outreach to my users? How can I but new ACS journals when I can't afford the ones that currently exist?
A third example of the gathering storm clouds is the New Publishing Agreement for ACS Journals released this week. It allows authors to retain copyright for copyrightable material in the article's supplemental information - generated tables, graphs and illustrations are some examples. That's about it though, for author rights. The author still has to transfer exclusive copyright to the ACS for the manuscript, as well as "all versions in any format now known or hereafter developed." It seems the ACS has tried to retain as much control as possible to protect future revenue streams.
In addition to copyright transfer there is a lengthy section on appropriate use of materials in repositories, personal websites, and classroom use. Does the ACS not realize in-classroom use is already covered by the existing rules for reserves and fair use? Apparently not, as it goes into great detail about how students can access articles for their classes using passwords and when access will end. Their stance on prior publication appears little changed, with basically any activity considered prior publication. Better be careful with those preprint submissions and precedings posts on the Nature Publishing Group website!
Want to put your ACS papers and manuscripts in the local repository? Better get out the letterhead - authors must receive written confirmation from the appropriate ACS journal editor that posting a submitted manuscript doesn't conflict with that journal's prior publication policies. They will let authors post materials mandated by funding agencies, but you better get out the checkbook, as the only route is still the Author Choice program. Last time I checked this was $3,000 an article. But hey, you'll get to fund some of our local section activities for a year. It's a bargain!
Is this progress? Yes, in that this is better than the previous ACS Copyright Status Form. Is it still protecting the revenue and the profits? You bet it is. I'm curious to see if this will be further amended with the implementation of the NSF Data Management Plans. It seems they are not sure how to support it, although I think even they realize they can't own the data. Let's hope so anyway.