Friday, 18 July 2014

Taylor & Francis Open Access Survey: translating values into licences

Guest post from Alex Green, Transformation Project Co-ordinator, Wellcome Trust

Last month saw the publication of the 2014 Taylor & Francis Open Access Survey. Combining responses from just over 7,900 authors who published with Taylor & Francis in 2012 (9% of the total), this represents the opinions of authors from across the world in roughly the proportions they have published with Taylor & Francis – although my inner data geek really wants to get hold of the full dataset to apply some weighting to the under-represented authors of East and South East Asia.

The Taylor & Francis survey shows strong support for open access (OA) publishing by authors and a clear belief in its benefits compared with traditional publication, which has increased from the 2013 survey. 70% of respondents also disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘There are no fundamental benefits to open access publication’, up 10% from 2013.

However, when read alongside this evidence of increasing widespread positive attitudes to OA publishing, the findings on licensing are striking. In particular, the preference for more restrictive licenses seems at odds with the attitudes and values expressed by authors in response to the Section 1 questions on that topic. For example, in Question 5, 71% of authors were happy for their work to be re-used without prior knowledge or permission for non-commercial gain provided they receive attribution. This is equivalent to a CC-BY-NC licence, but only 18% of authors selected this licence as their first or second choice when answering Question 6 (see graphic below).

Question 5

Question 6

This mismatch between author attitudes and licence preference seems common to nearly all responses. Again in Question 5 authors seem concerned about commercial reuse of their work without prior knowledge, with 65% disagreeing that it is acceptable. However in Question 6, 47% selected Copyright Assignment as their first or second preference for licensing making it the second most popular licence along with Exclusive License to Publish. Having assigned copyright away, authors would have little control over any commercial reuse, not least by the publisher they have assigned the copyright to.

There are several hypotheses we could explore to account for this seeming contradiction. Looking down the results for Question 6 there is a clear drop off towards the bottom of the list for ‘preferred licences’. It would be interesting to know if these options were always presented in the survey in the same order that they are presented in the report. If so, we may be seeing response order effects (Krosnick and Alwyn 1987), but unfortunately full details of the methodology are not openly available along with the report. 

The contradictions between responses may also be partly due to a degree of satisficing, an effect where respondents choose adequate answers rather than optimal answers because it is easier to pick the first acceptable, or most familiar, option than fully evaluate all options (Simon 1957, Krosnick 1991). This could be leading to selection of the more familiar Copyright Assignment and Exclusive License to Publish over the various Creative Commons licence combinations.

Finally, it’s probably relevant to note that the definition boxes provided to respondents at the start of the survey gave explanations of different modes of OA publishing, repositories and text- and data-mining but not the differences between the licences. These aren’t always easy to grasp, especially when completing a survey at speed – I don’t mind admitting that I had to check with a colleague on the exact differences between the various licence options. Perhaps, as Dr David Green, Global Journals Publishing Director said in the Taylor & Francis press release, there is still ‘much work left to do in simplifying our policies and documentation so that our author communities are in no doubt as to what their OA options are’.


  1. Thanks for writing about the survey. Just to clarify a couple of the points you mentioned, the order was randomised for every respondent and full definitions for each licence was given next to the relevant option in Question 6 (e.g. ‘Attribution (CC BY) This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation’). The definitions were taken primarily from the Creative Commons website bar copyright assignment and exclusive licence to publish, which we defined. We also included a link to the Creative Commons webpage on licence options, in case anyone wanted to browse further. Whilst they were in the survey, we didn’t include the licence definitions in the report charts (so those here - as it would have made them very cluttered.