I typically announce my publications on this website, and one comment last year from a user named Jill caught my attention:
I really want to read this article and use it for my research paper on copyright law and music education. But $36?!?!? That’s INSANE! Maybe you should think about creative commons [sic]…
In an ironic twist of fate, much of that article is devoted to the use of Creative Commons. I sent Jill one of the PDF copies allowed by the publisher’s agreement, but her comment spurred me to find better ways to open access to my work.
While authors typically sign away copyright for academic publications, and I have blogged about the politics of journal publishing in music education before, authors often retain the right to make some version of their work freely accessible. The SHERPA/RoMEO website maintains a database of the accessibility policies of publishers and journals, and a post on the Chronicle’s ProfHacker blog explains the site. Most journals in my field of music education allow post-print versions (the final draft post-refereeing, often a PDF of the DOC file but not the typeset PDF posted by the journal) to be posted in 12 or 18 months. Most also allow a pre-print version (the first submission, before any editorial input) to be posted with no wait period. Sometimes peer review does not produce many changes, in which case I post the preprint version; other times I have changed the article so drastically that waiting for the embargo to expire is the only sensible option.
Sharing a post-print version can take time if you need to reassemble separate uploads of the abstract, bio, keywords, figures, and body text required for submission. For the article Jill wanted it took about an hour to reassemble the parts, add a cover page that links to the definitive version, and upload the PDF to my institution’s scholarly repository.
Authors can plan to share their work at the time of submission through several habits. I now try to assemble a post-print version at the time I sign off on the final changes, when I can easily still post everything. I take a moment to check the publisher embargo through the SHERPA/RoMEO site and add a reminder alert for every article I publish to my calendar, to remind me when the embargo lifts.
Taking time to know your embargoes rises almost to the level of a categorical imperative. While many yearn for open access, publishers already allow accessible versions to be made available. It is the author who must take action. A substantial body of scholarship currently exists in this cruel limbo—versions publishers allow to be shared still unavailable due to authorial complacence. Of course, publishers might choose this path precisely because they know authors are complacent, and publishers could offer to post open access versions after embargoes expire for authors, which might be a worthy project to pursue for those who serve on the boards of journals (additionally, publishers could post or link to embargo policies, or build in language to their copyright agreements, still more worthy projects for those in positions of power). For now, making these versions accessible is up to authors.
While charging $36 for access to an article can seem insane, it is especially so when a free version that is allowed by publishers has not been made available by the author. Without Jill’s comment, I might never have learned that my article’s embargo expired on September 22, 2013. For Jill and the many others like her, your free version now awaits you right here.