Author: OA Button

We can’t live with anything less than Open

The Open Access Button has mapped over 6,000 paywalls since it launched four months ago. We know this is just the tip of a very large restricted access iceberg and there is still so much work to do. Currently we are recruiting new student team members and a steering committee. We’ve also started developing Button 2.0 and will have exciting announcements in the upcoming weeks. To make sure you’re up to date on these follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Open Access Button seeks to make the often invisible problem of paywalls visible, but paywalls aren’t the only open access problems that need to be made more visible. The last few days alone have highlighted problems with publishers and governments that need to be made visible.

There’s the unethical and possibly illegal actions from the publisher Elsevier. Two years ago Dr. Mike Taylor blogged about Elsevier charging to download open access articles and last August Dr. Peter Murray-Rust called attention to Elsevier charging to read open access CC-BY articles. On Sunday, Murray-Rust revisited the topic in “Elsevier are still charging THOUSANDS of pounds for CC-BY articles.” Murray-Rust found that many open access CC-BY articles were labeled as “All rights reserved” and users would be charged hefty sums for permission to reprint the articles. One example that Murray-Rust noted was Elsevier charging 8000 GBP for just the permission for 100 reprints of a CC-BY article that was incorrectly labeled as “All rights reserved.” No one should have to ask permission to re-use a CC-BY paper in any way.

Authors pay an article processing charge (APC) of $500-5,000 ($3,000 is often the standard) to publish their articles open access under a CC-BY license in an Elsevier journal. So, Elsevier is doubly profiting off APCs and the large permission charges for incorrectly labeled articles. Alicia Wise, Director of Access and Policy at Elsevier, responded to Murray-Rust’s email stating that Elsevier is “improving the clarity of our OA license labeling … This is work in progress and should be completed by summer.” This means their work in clarifying their OA license will take at minimum a full year. Taylor, Murray-Rust, and many other bloggers and Twitter users have made some noise about the issue. But there’s more work ahead to keep Elsevier and other publishers accountable.


On Monday, H.R. 4186, Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act was introduced into the United States House of Representatives. Section 303 of the FIRST Act would be a leap backwards for open access to United States federally funded research articles. Some of the harms in Section 303 include embargoes increasing from six to 12 months up to three years, failing to ensure federal agencies have full text copies of their articles to archive, and a lack of clarity about what data will be made accessible and where it would be stored. Read more about the FIRST Act from SPARC here.

Paywalls are the blockade to articles, but we need to also keep our eyes open to other problems on the open access front even in areas we already think we “won” by publishing openly. As advocates we need to keep publishers and governments accountable. We need follow up by ensuring publishers are properly displaying an article’s open access and copyright status and not confusing (whether intentionally or not) their site’s users. We need to push for stronger public access to publicly funded research and fight back when governments are regressing the progress open access advocates have made.


The Open Access Button team is currently comprised of student volunteers. Most of us will soon become early career researchers, librarians or doctors, and we see the need for open access. Often younger academics are told that open access is risky or advocates call for “punk scholars” to pave the gold road first. But isn’t it more risky to let our research hide behind paywalls? To silently wait out a publisher’s year long label fix while they continue to profit off the mistake? Or to not to reach out to our elected representatives and challenge bills that will harm access?

Last week SPARC held their Open Access Meeting in Kansas City. One of the most notable presentations from the conference came from Dr. Erin McKiernan, an early career researcher working at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico. Her institution only has access to 139 journals and she has pledged to be open. During the talk, McKiernan said, “If I am going to ‘make it’ in science, it has to be on terms I can live with.” (Presentation slides here, and video available in the next 2-3 weeks here.)

Over at team Button, we’re on the same page with McKiernan. This isn’t about what is “risky” or who is “punk” enough. It is about what we can live with. We can’t live with publishers incorrectly labeling open access articles and charging users just for the permission to make copies. We can’t live with governments setting back public access to research. We can’t live with anything less than open. How about you?

Start taking action to support open access by opposing section 303 of the FIRST Act if you’re a U.S. Citizen and by joining the Right to Research Coalition.


Chealsye Bowley is a solo librarian and Master’s in Library and Information Studies student. She presently coordinates social media for the Open Access Button and will soon be transitioning into Launch Coordinator. You can follow her on Twitter at @chealsye and the Open Access Button at @OA_Button. 

Category: The Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

If someone hits a paywall in the forest, does it make a sound?: The Open Access Button

In this guest post, David Carroll and Joseph McArthur, medical and pharmacology students at Queen’s University and University College London, respectively, describe their progress on the Open Access Button, a project they hope will help the push towards a more open scholarly publishing system.

We imagine everyone reading this has hit a paywall – elsewhere. Hitting a paywall is one of those things that is immediately followed by a groan, a tear, a stiff drink or less commonly, the temptation to physically harm your computer

Everyone has experienced it and each person hitting each paywall is an indictment of our current scholarly publishing system. The indictment is that of a broken system, where people are denied access to research they need, and ultimately paid for.

About three months ago, the two of us had an idea. This idea came from our desire to bring about a more open world, but we knew we needed more tools, more information and more engagement around the issue.

This idea was a browser-based tool which tracks how often readers are denied access to academic research, where in the world they were or their profession and why they were looking for that research. The tool would aggregate this information into one place and would create a real time, worldwide, interactive picture of the problem. The integration of social media and mapping technology would allow us to make this problem visible to the world. Lastly, we want to help the person gain access to the paper they’d been denied access to in the first place. Through incentivising use and opening the barriers to knowledge, this can be really powerful.

However, we had one problem. Our respective universities don’t have the foresight to include coding in our degrees. So, armed with nothing but a blog and some enthusiasm, we took our idea to the BMJ Hack weekend on the hottest weekend of the year in London. There we found a crack team of developers to help make our dream a reality, and 40 hours later, we had our prototype.  The team of BMJ judges voted us into third place, with an editorial and a place as the BMJ’s picture of the week:

Mapping paywalls: Our prototype from the hackathon, as featured by BMJ as picture of the week

Mapping paywalls: Our prototype from the hackathon, as featured by BMJ as picture of the week

This was completely unexpected and overwhelming. What began as an idea during a chat between the two of us is now a reality and provides an amazing foundation to take our idea forward. Our current version is in the form of a bookmarklet. When this is clicked, it takes the website address, the digital object identifier and a description of the paper and records it. We also have a number of innovative (and legal) methods of providing access to papers.

Tiled Maps

Some details from the prototype map

The hack weekend was an amazing, new experience. We both come from a non-coding background but we left the weekend with an appreciation of how important coding is, and most importantly, an enthusiasm to learn. Since the Hack Weekend, the support of the open source community has blown us away. We’ve had people coming to us on Twitter, via email, offering us support and working on development issues. One example of this was as first weekend of development came to a close, we hit our first stumbling block. The problem was posted on Github and within a few hours, due to the help of a then-stranger, it was overcome. Since then, we have continued development with an amazing team of developers and we are in discussions with the Right to Research Coalition for funding to take the project forward to a launch-date of later in the year.

Each time an individual hits a paywall is an isolated incident, this is unlikely to shake the ivory tower of academic publishing. But putting these moments together using the Open Access Button, we hope it will capture those individual moments of injustice and frustration and show them, on full view to the world. Only then, by making this problem impossible to ignore, will the button begin to make a difference.

Everyone is affected by this problem, and we need your help to make this problem too obvious to ignore. If you’re interested in working with us in the lead up to our launch or if you have any questions, please join our brand new Google Group or email us.  Whether you have an eye for design, an enthusiasm for writing or anything in between, you can help us.

David Carroll and Joseph McArthur
Open Access Button Project Leads

David and Joe pictureDavid (left) and Joe (right) spend too much time as health advocates and do their actual degrees and jobs in their spare time. They can be found on Twitter at @davidecarroll and @Mcarthur_Joe
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Category: The Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments