Refdoc is selling our articles at a huge price without our consent


By Marie Lebert, version of 22 October 2012.

With a bibliography on the controversy from October 2012 to December 2013.


Refdoc, a service run by INIST (Institute for Scientific and Technical Information), a department of CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), is selling print copies of our articles for an outrageous price without the authors’ consent, whereas these articles are available for free in open access repositories. After finding out that some of his work was sold by Refdoc, Olivier Ertzscheid, a French professor and researcher, wrote an Open Letter to INIST on 1st October 2012. He has also gathered a number of colleagues (including me) around him, with one motto: “This must stop.” A petition was posted online by the collective group SavoirsCom1 on 15 October 2012.

Olivier’s Open Letter to INIST

Olivier Ertzscheid is a professor and researcher in information science in a French university, and a tireless advocate for open access (OA). All the articles he has published in scholarly and professional journals are in free access in OA repositories, on other websites, and on his widely-read blog. He has signed author addenda when needed, to make his work available to all as soon as it is published. Like most authors writing articles for journals, Olivier is not paid for his articles. As a professor and researcher paid from public funds, he thinks that writing articles is part of his job, and that distributing them for free is part of his job too. This is what open access is about.

To his surprise, Olivier found out on 30 September that some of his articles are sold at an outrageous price by Refdoc, a service run by INIST (Institut de l’Information Scientifique et Technique – Institute for Scientific and Technical Information), a department of CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique – National Center for Scientific Research). For a print copy of a short article, the fees are 11 euros by standard mail, 40 euros by fax, and 50 euros by express mail + 2 euros of “droit de copie” (right to copy). For a print copy of a long article, the fees are higher. There is no mention whatsoever that his articles are available for free in an OA repository run by CNRS. He has never given any permission to Refdoc to sell any of his articles – a permission that is required by French law – and he has never received any money from Refdoc.

Refdoc presently sells 11 articles by Olivier, as an individual author or with others: Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5, Article 6, Article 7, Article 8, Article 9, Article 10, Article 11.

On 1st October 2012, Olivier wrote an Open Letter to INIST, an important move because he is the first professor, researcher and author to publicly express his anger since Refdoc was launched in 2009. His open letter was also published in Rue89, with a different title. A full article by Antoine Oury was published in ActuaLitté. An article by the daily Le Figaro mentioned his open letter, while comparing OA efforts between UK and France and explaining there is still much to do on the French side, a comment everyone would agree upon. To this day (14 October), Olivier has not received any official response from Refdoc, INIST and CNRS.

My articles in Refdoc

To my surprise, while researching information for this article, I found out that two of my “old” articles are sold by Refdoc, at a price range going from 11 euros to 40 euros + 2 euros of “droit de copie”, and I am quite angry about it. I have always been an advocate for free distribution of knowledge, and have always retained copyright on my articles and books, with my work available online for free at Project Gutenberg, on and on other websites. I don’t want anybody to sell my work in my back.

The first article sold by Refdoc is an excerpt from my PhD at the Sorbonne (1999). To this day, I didn’t know I had a co-author who wrote the introductory parts. I wrote them. This PhD was three years of hard work on top of a day job, and I published a free online version in French and in English right away. I remember the journal Micro Bulletin (published by a department of CNRS) asking me to include one chapter of my dissertation in its latest issue, named “Scientific and technical information and the internet”, and I agreed while retaining copyright on my work. How did CNRS know about my dissertation? Because of the free version available on the web. I updated the chapter for the journal. I would never have guessed this chapter would now be sold for an outrageous price, whereas I donated some of my work and some of my time.

The second article sold by Refdoc is a short version of my Master of Arts about medieval Jerusalem in photography, written while strolling in the Old City or watching old photographs between two computer sessions. I was working in Jerusalem at the time, to help with the creation of the first online catalogs in a few libraries. This is hilarious to see that the copyright of this article belongs to INIST-CNRS (why? for posting a record?) and to the J. Paul Getty Trust (why? there is nothing from the Trust in my work), with “All rights reserved”. The copyright should go to Gabalda, the publisher of the journal Revue Biblique. I remember asking to retain copyright on my work, but publishers were not used to such a request in 1992. I was never contacted by Refdoc, was never asked any permission, and never saw any money coming. The full study is available for free at Project Gutenberg and in other places.

PubMed Central, DOAJ and UNESCO

Let us go back to Olivier’s findings. On 10 October 2012, Olivier found out that many articles available on PubMed Central (PMC) as “free PMC articles” are sold by Refdoc at the same price range (from 11 to 50 euros) if not more. Articles of journals listed on DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) are available in Refdoc too. We doubt that the authors and journals know anything about this.

Even the French version of the UNESCO WCS Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge (Budapest, 1999) is sold as much as 50 euros by express mail + 2 euros for “droit de copie”. It is available for free on UNESCO’s website and many other websites, and you can print it at work or at home if needed.

Many researchers probably have their articles sold by Refdoc. Refdoc presently includes more than 53 million documents for sale, mainly articles of scholarly and scientific journals from any part of the world. Refdoc’s main pages and interface are available in English, thus avoiding the language barrier, but the price barrier is there, as high as the Eiffel Tower.

Refdoc, INIST, CNRS and CFC

Before Olivier, little has been done.

(a) There was a lawsuit against INIST Diffusion and CFC (CFC: Centre Francais d’exploitation du droit de Copie – French Center for Operating the Right to Copy) in 2009-11 (more links below). The author won the lawsuit but chose to stay anonymous by not giving his last name. We only know he is a lawyer. CFC and INIST Diffusion were required to pay him a fine of 7,000 euros.

(b) The main French library journal, Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France (Bulletin by French Libraries), also known as BBF, found out that its articles were sold by Refdoc, whereas these articles are available for free. In January 2010, BBF asked all articles to be removed from Refdoc, which was done. Refdoc is still selling the articles of another main French library journal, Bulletin of ABF (Association des Bibliothécaires de France / Association of French Librarians), whereas these articles are available for free.

Surprisingly, Refdoc, run by INIST, a department of CNRS, goes as far as selling articles that are freely available in HAL (Hyper Articles en Ligne), the main OA repository of CNRS. INIST runs a website about open access, whereas its service Refdoc sells print versions of our articles for an outrageous price. CNRS and INIST regularly explain their commitment to free distribution of knowledge. This commitment should begin in their own departments and services.

Where does the money earned by Refdoc go? Does the money go to the publishers, again, whereas they already sold their journals at a significant price, either through a yearly subscription or by selling back issues in traditional bookstores, in online bookstores, and on their own websites? Does the money go to INIST and CNRS, two institutions running on public funds, i.e. taxpayers’ money? Why would they make profit from the work of authors who were not paid to write these articles?

For authors: This is one thing to make commercial use of our work, as specified by a plain CC-BY license, with print versions sold for a few euros to cover the costs for managing websites offering free online versions. This is another thing to sell articles for an outrageous price while promoting free access to knowledge in official statements. For readers: Please always check on the internet if there is a free version of the article you are looking for. More and more journals are in open access.

Olivier’s crusade to free all our articles

According to French legislation, Refdoc has no right whatsoever to sell print copies of our articles without the explicit consent of the author(s), including if the copyright belongs to journals, as stated in the article L. 111-1 of the Intellectual Property Law (Code de la Propriété Intellectuelle, CPI). (Please see below a few articles giving more legal sources.)

Olivier has found some support in France, and the movement is gaining momentum day after day. Olivier is thinking about taking legal action with other professors and/or researchers who checked Refdoc after reading his open letter and who, like me, found some of their own articles there. As a first step, they will try to get in touch with Refdoc, and require major changes.

On 15 October 2012, a petition was posted online in French and in English by SavoirsCom1, (a) to require the withdrawal of our articles in Refdoc if relevant, (b) to join the Group of angry authors (Collectif des auteurs en colère) requesting major changes in Refdoc’s policy.

[Please check the bibliography for the latest developments.]

Happy Open Access Week to all!

For further reading

[Now updated here.]

* Olivier Ertzscheid’s blog, to be followed daily.
* The INIST/CNRS scandal: a full overview by Rémi Mathis, 15 October 2012.
* Refdoc/INIST from a legal perspective, by Lionel Maurel (Calimaq), 15 October 2012.
* INIST: What do we do now?, about technical issues for linking Refdoc records to free online versions of articles available elsewhere, by Étienne Cavalié (Lully), 15 October 2012.
* INIST-Refdoc: Call to all angry authors, by Nicolas Gary, in ActuaLitté, 15 October 2012.
* Refdoc and Olivier Ertzscheid’s Open Letter, by Antoine Oury, in ActuaLitté, 5 October 2012.
* Lettre à l’INIST: Open Letter from Olivier Ertzscheid to INIST, 1st October 2012.
* Summary of the lawsuit against CFC and INIST Diffusion by Alexandre Moatti, 13 June 2011.
* Selling articles without the authors’ consent is forbidden by French law, a summary of the lawsuit by Émilie Gougache, 10 June 2011.
* Lawsuit against CFC and INIST Diffusion. Part One, 9 July 2010. Part Two, 27 May 2011. Part Three, 9 June 2011.
* Summary of the lawsuit against CFC and INIST Diffusion by Alain Bensoussan, 5 June 2011.

Copyright © 2012 Marie Lebert
License CC BY-NC-SA version 4.0

Written by marielebert

2012/10/14 at 14:32

Posted in Uncategorized