Jisc and Crossref issue guidance to publishers on better licensing metadata

Wouldn’t it be great if you could look up the green OA status of any journal article? What if you could easily find out, for any article, which version you can expose on an open repository, exactly when its embargo ends, and which post-embargo licence then applies?

Jisc and Crossref have worked together to issue new guidance to publishers to help bring that closer to reality.

The answer would be better than an algorithm

There are quite a few publishers that already put licensing metadata onto Crossref. Often, though, the licence they link to from there is a general “terms and conditions” page that stipulates terms of use for the publisher’s portfolio as a whole, for all versions of articles, across all stages of their lifecycle.

The T&Cs may contain sentences like “You can find out what embargo period applies by consulting the list of embargo periods for of our journals,” or “the embargo period is 12 months for most of our journals, but is different for journals X, Y and Z”. They may also say that different licensing terms apply to different journals, or even different articles within the same journal, with instructions on how to work our which one applies in which circumstances.

In other words, they often set out in English an algorithm that describes how, with patience, you might work out (if you consult enough of their web pages) what you can or can’t do with a given article.

That’s helpful up to a point, but repository teams have a lot of articles to work through: what you really need is just the answer for this article that you want to capture on your repository.

You also then want to be able to make it clear to readers and users who find the article on your repository what they may or may not then do with it – rather than just instructions for the authors about where they may post their article.

Towards a solution

Fortunately, there is a way this could be solved. Within the Crossref metadata schema are fields that allow publishers to set out licence information for each version of the article using a standard format (NISO Access License and Indicators). The fields include start dates, so a publisher can indicate the time at which one licence supersedes a previous licence (for example, when a version switches from a closed to open licence at the end of its embargo period).

New guidance issued by Jisc and Crossref sets out how publishers could helpfully populate these fields. It asks them to do so for whichever version they permit to be exposed on an open repository, such as the accepted manuscript (AM) – not just for the published version of record (VoR).

If a green OA embargo applies, the metadata should include a link to a licence that applies specifically and explicitly to the post-embargo period, so that its start date (within the metadata) can be used as the embargo end-date for that version of the article. Ideally, this should be one of the creative commons licences, as these are immediately recognisable as open licences. If, on the other hand, the publisher feels that it has to use a proprietary licence, it should still be one that is specific to the post embargo period, indicating that this version of this article may be exposed on an open repository (once the licence start date has been reached).

Machines need answers, too

Metadata along these lines would be astonishingly useful. It would mean that services like Jisc’s Publications Router would be able to include embargo end dates from a wider range of publishers in the notifications it sends automatically into institutional repositories. It would also become possible for a variety of other tools to pull these details down from Crossref into the wider range of systems used by institutions around the world.

More information

You can read the full guidance on Crossref’s site here.

[This post was updated 29 September 2020 to fix broken links to the guidance on Crossref’s site.]

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