It all started when I polled some librarians about recent permission fees paid for journal articles, just to have more background on current state of interlibrary loan. If permission fees were unreasonably high, it might be a data point to share if the House Judiciary Committee on the Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet considers the U.S. Copyright Office’s senseless proposal to rewrite Section 108. I expected to be shocked by high permission fees—and I was—but I also discovered something else that I just had to share.
I received a few examples from librarians regarding a particular journal. One in particular struck me. “I received a request today for a five page article from The Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and while processing it through ILLiad, the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) indicated a fee of $503.50. So that would be a $100 a page — call me crazy, but something doesn’t seem right to me with that fee. I went to the publisher’s website and the article is available for $113, just over $20 a page.”
I then asked CCC to clarify why an article from CCC was five times the cost of the very same article direct from the publisher. I received a quick response from CCC that said “Unfortunately, the prices that appear in our system are subject to change at the publishers’ discretion. CCC only processes the fees that the publisher provides us.”
I discovered that the publisher—who allegedly sets the price of the permission fee—also was used Ingenta document delivery, as an additional online permissions service. Just as the librarian said, Ingenta only charged $113 (which is still a big number for a five page article). I contacted the journal editor and asked about the difference and he responded immediately via email, “You are right that article is available for $113 from Ingenta. Just download from the Ingenta website.”
The difference in price can only be explained as a huge markup by CCC. Surely processing a 5-page article request cannot cost CCC an additional $400. Think about it. CCC is giving the rights holder $113 and taking the other $390.50. Deep pockets, right?
But wait, there’s more. I discovered that the publisher of the journal is American Scientific Publishers, a publisher on the predatory journal blacklist.* (Holy cow!) Predatory journals are bogus journals that charge publication fees to gullible scholars and researchers to publish in a journal essentially posing as a reputable publication. With no editorial board and no peer review, academics are duped into publishing with a journal they believe to be trustworthy.
Here’s where we are at. CCC is collecting permission fees five times the amount of other permission services for journal articles from likely bogus publications. Are they sending any of the permission fees collected to the predatory journal publishers? And if they are, isn’t this a way to help predatory journals stay in business? Trustworthy publishers surely would not like that. In any case, with predatory journals numbering in the thousands, CCC has discovered a very large cash cow.
For years, the CCC masqueraded as a tax-exempt organization until the Commissioner of Internal Revenue caught up with them in 1982, in Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. Now that CCC no longer files Form 990, we have limited information on its financials, but we do know that in 2011 (according to a CCC press release), they distributed over 188 million dollars to rights holders. That’s a big number from five years ago. How much money they pocketed for themselves is unknown, but I think we can rest assured that it was more than enough to jointly fund (with the Association of American Publishers) Cambridge University Press et al v. Patton et al, a four year-long litigation against Georgia State University’s e-reserve service. (They lost, but are requesting an appeal).
CCC is making a lot of money collecting permission fees, even on public domain materials and disreputable journal publications. Their profit margin could be as high as Elsevier’s! Academics are duped by predatory journals that are apparently doing fairly well financially. Libraries are paying high permission fees from the CCC unless they know to pay the predatory journal directly, keeping the predatory journal people in the black. As if the traditional scholarly communication cycle could get any more absurd!
*Some readers are concerned about the mention of the Beale blacklist. Mention of this blacklist does not mean that this blacklist is the definite blacklist. It does not mean that I believe this list is accurate or complete. My mention of this blacklist does not mean that ALA endorses this blacklist. I have no opinion on the blacklist. I work for ALA but have no power to endorse lists, vendors, products, etc. on behalf of ALA.
It is true, however, that American Scientific Publishers is on this controversial list.