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All research papers from Nature will be made free to read in a proprietary screen-view format that can be annotated but not copied, printed or downloaded, the journal’s publisher Macmillan announced on 2 December.
“At Digital Science we have the technology to provide a convenient, legitimate alternative that allows researchers to access the information they need and the wider, interested public access to scientific knowledge, from the definitive, original source,” Hannay said.
The policy comes as research funders are increasingly mandating that scientists make their papers free to read, download and reuse in various other ways.
But, he notes, if authors prefer to share links rather than actually deposit their manuscripts in an online repository, the programme could be a step backward, because repositories host copies independently from the publisher, and those copies can be printed or saved and are generally more reusable than a screen-only file.
Thomas says that the publisher intends the policy as a pilot and will be evaluating it over the coming year.If the initiative becomes popular, it may also boost the prospects of the Read Cube platform, in which Macmillan has a majority investment.Annette Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan Science and Education, says that under the policy, subscribers can share any paper they have access to through a link to a read-only version of the paper’s PDF that can be viewed through a web browser.“To me, this smacks of public relations, not open access,” says John Wilbanks, a strong advocate of open-access publishing in science and a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri.“With access mandates on the march around the world, this appears to be more about getting ahead of the coming reality in scientific publishing.The content-sharing policy, which also applies to 48 other journals in Macmillan’s Nature Publishing Group (NPG) division, including Nature Genetics, Nature Medicine and Nature Physics, marks an attempt to let scientists freely read and share articles while preserving NPG’s primary source of income — the subscription fees libraries and individuals pay to gain access to articles.Read Cube, a software platform similar to Apple’s i Tunes, will be used to host and display read-only versions of the articles' PDFs.Now that the funders call the tune and the funders want the articles on the web at no charge, these articles are going to be open anyway,” he says.Peter Suber, director of the Office for Scholarly Communication at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says that the programme is a step forward by providing immediate free online access, in contrast to Nature's self-archiving open access policy, which still requires a six-month embargo.PDF articles can also be saved to a free desktop version of Read Cube, similarly to how music files can be saved in i Tunes.“We know researchers are already sharing content, often in hidden corners of the Internet or using clumsy, time-consuming practices,” said a statement by Timo Hannay, the managing director of Digital Science, a division of Macmillan that has invested in Read Cube.