Marc Couture — 2020-02-12
Note. This blog post is a summary of the last two sections of a research report, Canadian OA scholarly journals: An exhaustive survey, available from TÉLUQ’s R-libre repository. The previous post of this two-part series, a summary of the first section of the report, presents a general portrait of Canadian OA scholarly journals. Here, I discuss two more intricate types of issues I investigated in depth: those faced by non-DOAJ-indexed journals that would consider applying, and those related to copyright, more precisely the way journals display information on copyright in their websites and articles.
Issues faced by journals considering to applying to DOAJ
Since it tightened in a major way its acceptance criteria in 2014, DOAJ has become one of the most widely known and trusted organizations in the OA publishing. More than being just a vetting organization, filtering out deceptive journals, DOAJ aims at helping journals improve their publishing practice and increase their transparency. Thus, all OA journals should consider seriously applying for indexing, especially those that charge fees; nevertheless, only half of Canadian fee-charging OA journals are indexed in DOAJ.
DOAJ describes its criteria mainly in Publishing best practice and basic standards for inclusion. These concern many dimensions of publishing: article output, publication delays, website structure, peer-review. There is also a general requirement of transparency and completeness of information, as well as particular condition for student journals, that is an advisory board with a least two members with a Ph.D.
From factual information collected on journal websites, I found that than 230 non-indexed journals (62 % of total) don’t currently meet all DOAJ requirements, to which one should add a number of others for which I didn’t collect or systematize the relevant information (mention of absence of APCs, website structure, completeness of information).
For a majority of these journals, meeting DOAJ requirement wouldn’t entail too much work, for instance adding a faculty advisory board (for student journals), a mention about APCs or a CC licence (why so many university- or society-published journals acquire exclusive rights eludes me). For others, it would mean revamping or restructuring their website, which could reveal more tedious. But at least 60 journals would have to find a way to increase their article output, in order to reach the threshold of five research or review articles per year. This is no obvious task.
Canadian OA journals considering to apply for DOAJ indexing may benefit of some support to do so. Public funding agencies have programs supporting scholarly publishing and, in many cases, promoting open access. There is also Coalition Publica, a partnership between Érudit and PKP (developer of OJS), that offers among other services, “assistance meeting Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) criteria”. However, not all journals would be eligible to these kinds of support, as they must meet specific criteria, notably concerning the definition of a Canadian journal (see section 2 of report).
Issues related to information on copyright
As acknowledged by Tom Olijhoek, DOAJ’s Editor in Chief, “the issue of copyright and licensing ranks among one of the most difficult issues of open access publishing”. I found indeed problems related to information on copyright (ownership and user licence, notably) in a fair majority (76 %) of Canadian OA journals. These problems were of three types:
- missing or incomplete information;
- information not displayed in an appropriate or optimal location;
- inconsistencies / conflicting information.
I also stumbled at times upon unclear or ambiguous explanations related to copyright; these are noted in the “Comments on copyright” column of my dataset.
Missing or incomplete information
DOAJ requires journals to specify copyright ownership and their user licence, while Érudit adds copyright information in predetermined locations in its site and in the article PDFs. The results on incomplete information are thus limited to non-DOAJ-indexed journals not hosted on Érudit.
Among these 340 journals, 128 (38 %) don’t mention copyright ownership, user rights, or both. Omission of user rights (104 journals) may be viewed as a minor problem, as it simply means the default all-rights-reserved regime, something not all users may understand clearly though. Omission of copyright ownership (70 journals) is more serious, as prospective authors can’t know what will become of their rights. Note that 46 journals don’t mention copyright altogether.
Location of information
To be useful, information must be displayed where those who need it are likely to find it. Problems related to the location of copyright information can be found in both DOAC-CA and non-DOAJ-CA. The following results thus concern the 468 journals not hosted on Érudit.
- 175 (37 %) of these journals mention user rights neither in the article page nor the article PDF. This information is often located (especially in OJS) in the Submissions section of the website, aimed at prospective authors, not users. Again, due to the all-rights-reserved default regime, the problem is more serious for journals that do allow user rights, for instance through a CC licence. One speaks here of 61 journals (19 %), the situation being a little better in DOAJ-CA (14 %).
- 308 (68 %) of the 453 journals with available PDFs (individual articles or whole issues) don’t mention user rights in these. The problem here is that users may well have only this version of the article at hand when they consider using it. Like before, this is more serious for journals with user rights, that don’t fare that much better here (58 %). The problem is also widespread (47 %) among DOAJ-CA journals, even though they are encouraged to display their user licence in all versions of their articles.
- Omission of information on copyright ownership in article pages and PDFs is a bit less frequent, while following a similar pattern. This problem is far less crucial though, as it concerns primarily prospective authors, who will normally find this information in the submission guidelines, at least in journals (62 % of total) that do mention copyright ownership.
I found inconsistencies or conflicting information in 1/4 of the journals (excluding again those hosted on Érudit). Some of these can be seen as minor, as they involve information displayed in the website footer, which may be interpreted in various ways. The others, detected in 76 journals (18 % of those that display copyright information), are more serious , for instance outright conflicting information on ownership or user rights in different parts of the website or the PDFs. Inconsistencies are more frequent in DOAJ-CA than in non-DOAJ-CA (24 % vs 15 %). This may seem surprising, but can be explained at least in part by the fact that many non-DOAJ-CA journals don’t specify ownership or user rights, something required by DOAJ, and are thus less at risk of introducing inconsistencies.
I also found conflicting information in half of the journals hosted on Érudit, either between different parts of Érudit or between Érudit and the journal website. The upside here is that Érudit could centrally, for all journals concerned, resolve the first problem, as well as the problem of missing information in the article pages or PDFs, prevalent among non-Érudit journals.
In any event, any journal retained for my study may consult the info and data I collected to verify if I detected any problem in their website and, as the case may be, inform me of any error I made, that I would readily correct in my dataset and include in a revised version.