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Part 2: Who is the owner of open access’ publications?

Lorena Pilloni

Open access: freeing things or freeing people

In the first instalment was mentioned the framework where it’s possible for the big publishing conglomerates to be paid with public resources even thrice for the same scientific article a) by financing research institutionally, b) by paying the article processing charges —known as APC— that enterprises charge for publishing research output, and c) when publishers sell to libraries and public universities the edited contents, it is not difficult for such publishers to somehow find how to make open access cost-effective when it’s not based on a change of premises with regard to social relations on scholarly work nor on any redefinition of intellectual property in the digital age being completely respectful to copyright but also considering the need to extend access to knowledge output, in particular, that financed with public resources.

As pressure is put on academics to gift without grumbling big publishers with their work, who with unique joy own it, open access itself appears as another manifestation of the neoliberal search of freeing things and not people. Academics feel constrained to do so since their poor working conditions compel them to join institutional incentives programs (“points” programs) based on reductionist assessments, the more articles they submitted to the oligopolistic publishing circuit the better their mark.

A call to be “open-positioned” isn’t enough, facing economic and political relations that condition knowledge production and communication is necessary, as well as an attempt to give a well-thought-out answer instead of a mere utterance for opening more or less access to science processes or its output.

To bet on open access without restrictions via mandates that force authors to make their work open will hardly mean immediate opposition to the big publishers’ trade. The more they flood the market, the more their power is increased to keep imposing the rules of the game of scientific production and communication. Thus the result of open access does not necessarily favours the democratisation of knowledge.

In this general context, open access progresses with its particular characteristics in the North and with different perspectives in the South. In the North’s canonical statements (scarcely brought into question by the South) there’s virtually no reference to this work performed by academics, as authors and referees, which ends up being for free. Besides it is only in a few of such statements that explicit reference is made to an intellectual property positioning, however. Some such as Budapest or Plan S are very clear on rights and preferred creative commons license as shown in Chart 1.


Open Access Statement

Position on Copyright

Creative Commons License promotion

Budapest Declaration (2002)

“The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

Encourages CC BY license


BETHESDA Declaration (2003) and Berlin Declaration (2003)

“The author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship, as well as the right to make small numbers of printed copies for their personal use.”

Despite its not being referred to it is compatible with CC BY license.

Declaration of Salvador (2005)

The different circumstances of Latin American countries is noted and open access is presented as a route to “facilitate the active participation of developing countries in the global exchange of scientific information, including free access to the patrimony of scientific knowledge, efficient participation in the process of knowledge generation and dissemination, and the strengthening of addressing topics significantly relevant for developing countries.”Authors’ work and copyright are not mentioned but the right to have access to information and patrimony is emphasised.

Not specific creative commons license is encouraged.

SciELO (2015)

It argues that creative commons CC BY license is “the most effective to maximise information dissemination” and focuses on “freeing contents.”
For it the acknowledgement of authorship (moral rights in copyright system) will suffice.

Creative commons license CC BY. As second options it admits other licenses under the phrase “some rights reserved.”

Declaration of Mexico (2017)

Emphasising protection. It agrees with the above definitions on open access before appropriation of the South’s open resources by commercial systems.
Hence, they seek to ensure protection of academic and scientific production in open access to create, share, maintain and preserve the region’s knowledge.

The adoption of creative commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) is proposed.

Panama Declaration (2018)

The citizens’ lawful right to “produce and use science, technology and innovation” is argued.
Open access is contended in terms of the Berlin Statement.
With regard to licenses it clarifies that: “This requires encouraging the use of open licenses, especially in those researches financed with public grants and by national or multilateral funding organizations.”

No particular license is recommended.

Plan S (2018)

It is maintained that as copyright holders the author or their institution retain the work’s copyright. Permissions for reusing works ought to be established for scholarly articles without restrictions. It’s based on Berlin Statement’s definition of open access. Non-commercial licenses are explicitly rejected (cOAlition S, undated).
Protected author moral and patrimonial rights by the Berne Convention are recognised.
A policy regarding third-party content in open access works is stated (cOAlition S, undated: 4).

License CC BY 4.0 is preferably encouraged. CC BY-SA 4.0 and public domain (CC0) are also accepted.

Source: personal compilation.

Virtually in none of these the academics’ work or the social relations involved in the production of resources that will be made open are referred to. Such are assumed since all of them emphasise the freeing (in Mexico Declaration the protection) of things instead of their producers or users, by opening their access on internet. The call here is to question such approach and start introducing into the discussion the specific situation —an unequal, precarious one— in which scientific knowledge is produced and spread in different regions and institutions.

A call to be “open-positioned” isn’t enough, facing economic and political relations that condition knowledge production and communication is necessary, as well as an attempt to give a well-thought-out answer instead of a mere utterance for opening more or less access to science processes or its output.

Researchers are ignorant of which are and how do their copyright work, what’s more, little do they understand how creative commons work and what their advantages are. They keep signing exclusive copyright assignments contracts with universities and publishing enterprises

What’s more, even though the statements share definitions of open access what stands out is that while the founding statement of the North’s open access movement, Budapest, explicitly mentions the necessity to maintain authors’ control over the integrity of their works, Bethesda and Berlin both introduce more clearly the distinction between author and copyright holder. They are not necessarily the same entity and this supposes that open access is perfectly compatible with third-party copyright transfer, which in a context of great capital domination and academics’ defencelessness before such it isn’t difficult for it to result, as it does in practice, in systematically delivering copyright to the big oligopolistic enterprises. Admitting it isn’t bad. It doesn’t downplay open access. But it’s better if we keep it in mind.

In contrast, and with good reason, in the South’s statements and declarations —apart from SciELO— a clear concerned is expressed about the region’s great inequality issues both in social terms and regarding scientific development. Therefore, unlike the North open access is explicitly sought to be placed at the front line against such inequalities. The stress, however, still is on the dimension of access without mentioning that even this dimension it’s materially conditioned by the economic and political domination relations on scientific knowledge production, communication and use. It is only in Mexico Declaration that special reference is made to the protection of editors, authors and their copyright.

Final Considerations: the age of contradictions

As declarations and discussions come and go in some countries such as Mexico institutions and journals live confusing and contradiction-riddled times with regard to academic work conditions, its assessment, intellectual property and electronic publishing in the open access age. Institutions align with statements and sign principles to encourage creative commons licenses, legal departments reject their use nonetheless, exercising their right on the Ley Federal de Derechos de Autor (Federal Law on Copyright). But indices, databases and even the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) put pressure to use them.

Additionally, researchers are ignorant of which are and how do their copyright work, what’s more, little do they understand how creative commons work and what their advantages are. They keep signing exclusive copyright assignments contracts with universities and publishing enterprises while at the same time post their works on private academic social networks such as Researchgate or in spite of not having the copyright holder’s permission (i.e. to whom they transferred the rights) but they are not even aware of that. Many in practice do not publish in open access, they welcome the opportunity of being able to have access without restrictions to the literature needed for their research notwithstanding (Bongiovani, Gómez and Miguel, 2012). And that because they do not have consistent institutional incentives for that either (Schonfeld and Wolff-Eisenberg, 2019).

Researchers are, perhaps, not so concerned for the open access thing and copyright of publications in open. They are rushed for accumulating enough points to avoid being positioned in a lower category in the institutional incentives program which helps them maintain their income higher than their precarious base salary. Publishing in a renowned journal that is worth in assessments (i.e. WoS or Scopus) and not necessarily in open is what matters most. They don’t give thought to whether this journal is published by a commercial publisher that benefits from the free work of researchers or referees, let alone call this into question.

When it comes to publications, editors and academics of universities and public research centres from the South gladly accept open access and actively promote it in our institutions and academic communities. We do not escape contradictions, however. We read in journals and electronic books “all rights reserved” in the same legal page along with name, icon and the link to the terms of a creative commons license which means “only some rights reserved.” The meaning of open access in all its dimensions hasn’t sink in: for managing our journal’s intellectual property, our relationship with authors and their works or what we’re allowing readers and information gatherers, repositories or other editors that would like to reuse the articles we publish to do.

We, editors, like to be up-to-date but amid our work overload it’s hard for us to gather information to create and base our viewpoints with regard to copyright trends in open access. It seems we’re waiting for other stakeholders such as indices or databases to tell us what to do when is our great responsibility to be informed in order to make the best decisions for our journal and institution as well as for guiding authors.

But our institutions’ commitment and support is required as well. This with regard to the conditions in which authors produce their articles and editors publish, as well as assurance of copyright policies according to an open access that not only seeks to free things but contribute to society. That means that any discussion on licenses and intellectual property has to take into account the conditions and social relations of scientific knowledge production and dissemination, our place in such processes, our work and who gets the benefit.

Ultimately, our debates should go beyond discussing which the best license is and which is not. Before reaching that point we have to reflect upon and talk about things like:

  • Who’s the owner of that which is produced (with public resources)? Who has the right to use, reuse and disseminate it? Does anyone have the right to profit from it? If so, who? Who shouldn’t have the right to profit from it and why?
  • How should the work of producers of scientific knowledge who make their works open be socially awarded? What can we do to provide worthy conditions for science production and communication to those who generate such output and processes?
  • What would happen if all barriers that hinder others from using and benefiting from our scientific output were removed? Would everyone use and benefit from it equally or would we, unintentionally, be reinforcing such inequalities for it might be expected that the big enterprises would find the way for profit while the usually excluded won’t be even able to access a computer? I mean, honestly, what can we expect from the precariousness-open access relationship?
  • Is there any way to reconcile the promotion of highest opening that seeks to facilitate access for all and to democratise knowledge with the publishing enterprises’ (which won’t disappear from the scene by the work of our good wishes not even due to our complaints) commercial purposes and desire to expand the market?
  • Do we have to leave all information equally free for all (CC BY) or are some padlocks required (CC BY NC SA)? How much do these padlocks limit/sabotage open access’ original purposes? Or is this not only about that? Are we missing something?
  • In sum, how do we effectively build an open access and open science that really aim to contribute to the furtherance of scientific knowledge and to reduce social inequalities but that don’t end up reinforcing private appropriation of social scientific output?


Bongiovani, P., Gómez, N, D., & Miguel, S. (2012). Opiniones y hábitos de publicación en acceso abierto de los investigadores argentinos. Un estudio basado en los datos de la encuesta SOAP. Revista Española de Documentación Científica, 35(3), 453-467. doi: 10.3989/redc.2012.3.903

cOAlition S (undated A), Making full and immediate Open Access a reality. Guidance on the Implementation of Plan S. Retrieved from

cOAlition S (undated B), “Ten Principles”, in Plan S. Retrieved from Declaration on Open Access (2003). Retrieved from

Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing (2003). Retrieved from Statement (2002). Retrieved from

Declaración de México a favor del ecosistema latinoamericano de acceso abierto no comercial (2017). Retrieved from

Declaración de Panamá de ciencia abierta (2018). Retrieved from

Declaración de Salvador sobre acceso abierto: la perspectiva del mundo en desarrollo (2005). Retrieved from

Schonfeld, R, C. & Wolff-Eisenberg, C. (April 15th, 2019). Open Access Publishing: New Evidence on Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors [blog post]. The Scholarly Kitchen. Retrieved from

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