A blog on statistics, methods, and open science. Understanding 20% of statistics will improve 80% of your inferences.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How my open access article is for sale at Amazon for $5.16

*UPDATE*: Amazon has removed the e-book. Emanuele Pasqualotto found 117 additional articles for sale as kindle e-books, see this list

When you publish in Open Access journals, most will make your work available with a CC-BY license. A CC-BY license gives whoever wants to re-use your work the right to do so, in any way they can think of – even commercially. It’s the best way to make knowledge freely available.

I published an open access article consisting of a primer on calculating effect size in Frontiers in Cognition in 2013. The article is quite popular, with over 200 citations according to Google Scholar, and I’m really happy people find it useful. I was nevertheless a bit surprised to see someone was selling my article as a Kindle e-book on Amazon for $5.16. I feel that if someone sells a book with my name on the front cover, they should at least let me know.




My main problem here is that people are fooled into buying something they can get for free with just a mouse click. Some (unidentified) individual is probably getting the 35% profit margin, but Amazon is really the one making this possible, and they are getting the remainder of the 65% of the sales price. Although it is Amazon’s right to make money this way (after all, we have companies selling bottled water for $2, which is almost the same thing), it’s a bit weird, and I would say that even though it’s legal, it’s not desirable.

There’s not much I can do about this, but there was something I could do. Amazon makes it very easy to self-publish e-books. Frontiers allows you to download an EPUB version of my article. This means you can simply fill out some forms, and publish your own e-book on Amazon. In 3 minutes, I was able to sell my own open access article for the lowest possible price Amazon would allow.




I’ve made it as clear as possible that this e-book is also available for free:




It’s interesting to experience the negative emotional response when you see someone making money of something you’ve shared with a CC-BY license. Even though it’s legally allowed, and rationally, the CC-BY license still the best way to share scientific knowledge, it was unexpected and felt abrasive that someone would publish a book with my name on the cover without telling me. 

All that was probably needed for me not to get upset was a better realization that publishing open access CC-BY allows for such practices, and the more rational realization that CC-BY will be best for society, despite these silly attempts of single individuals to make a direct profit by selling my work.

16 comments:

  1. If you really don't want this, you can publish it as CC-BY-NC (NC=non-commercial). But then you also exclude non-dodgy commercial use of your 'product'. (E.g. a private tutor who includes some of your sections in a self-made reader on power analysis and who does want to earn a living while teaching people the joys of stats). Things like this just happen. Paraphrasing a famous Dutch philosopher: each advantage has its disadvantage.

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  2. Isn't it required as third (commercial) user to at least refer to the license when 'redistributing' the information? As stated in the CC guidelines: "You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made", it is only mentioned that you are the author.

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    1. I think this is a good point. I suspect though that the license link and other info is probably included somewhere on that Amazon page, just not very visible?

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    2. I had a quick look around the page and inside the free sample. The cover page contains the DOI of the original article but I can't find any link to the license or info about what changes were made.

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    3. It's not a requirement that Amazon tells, somewhere on the site, what the license is. It is a requirement though that the proper license is included in the eBook. And the only way to find out whether that's the case, is buying the eBook.

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    4. Well the first few pages are accessible. It doesn't seem to be in there. Of course, perhaps they put it at the end for that reason?

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  3. I think this is seriously wrong. I don't care if it's legal, it doesn't strike me as ethically right. The analogy with bottled water is flawed in my view. Drinking water is precious and much of the world population have no access to it. Not that your knowledge isn't precious too but most people can live without it - unlike water.
    Bottled water usually comes from springs or whatever. It may not be much different from tap water in 1st world nations (although depends on the tap) but at least these companies have some reason to argue that it might be different. I don't think Amazon has much to go on here.

    I am grateful for people pointing out the advantages of CC-BY licenses but I am unconvinced that they are best. Clearly NC licenses are a bit in a grey area as to what counts as commercial use. I think Wikipedia or educational uses count as fair use to me. If the justice system doesn't support that (and I suspect it actually would in many situations), then I think there is a big ugly loophole with CC-BY licenses to be filled here so that stuff like your situation doesn't happen.

    As Richard pointed out, you didn't work for free. You were paid (presumably) by the taxpayer to write that article. The taxpayer then paid an exorbitant sum to make this open access. And now some tax-dodging corporation (and to a less extent some unknown private person?) make money off of it? This is just screwed up.

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  4. CC BY-NC-SA is the way to go imo. When publishing applied work I would try to separate the reusable knowledge and the write-up. I.e. publish paper under CC BY-NC-SA and code or data under CC BY.

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  5. Another unintended consequence of the digitalization of print resources is that professional associations and publishers, who make digital versions available, monetize the digital copies--and they can be very expensive. This means that students and scholars have to spend a lot of money to acquire background publications related to their areas of interest. One partial way around this is for scientists and scholars to put up their own digital copies for free access on ResearchGate.net.

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    1. Need to remember that ResearchGate is a for-profit venture capital backed company that is using your work for commercial gain and contributing nothing towards its creation or publishing on the front end and nothing after the fact. Good for ResearchGate investors, not so good for science.

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  6. I'm not a lawyer, but in some places (the UK, Canada, France, Germany, to some extent the US), the moral rights of the author remain and can still be asserted independently of the license. For example, there's a right that the work isn't distorted in a way that damages the originator's reputation, and arguably this does that. In many cases, moral rights can't be waived. CC licenses are supposed to preserve moral rights. So legally, I think you have at least one formal approach you could take that would preserve the integrity of the Creative Commons licensing.

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  7. Some funders (mine included - Wellcome Trust) require CC-BY licence for all publications from their funded work.

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  8. Section 4 of CC-BY states that:

    "When You Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work, You may not impose any effective technological measures on the Work that restrict the ability of a recipient of the Work from You to exercise the rights granted to that recipient under the terms of the License."

    The use of Amazon DRM violates this clause of the license, and consequently the license to republish was terminated for the person in question (see section 7a). In the absence of an applicable license, publishing is a copyright infringement.

    Assuming you are the copyright holder, you can report the infringement to Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/reports/infringement

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