This article describes and explains a legal solution to embargo problems: (1) the inability to freely and publicly share your written works (2) in a way that is reasonably discoverable by search engines. It is best to avoid the dilemma by publishing in diamond, gold, or hybrid outlets that allow instant green access. But if you find yourself, as I have, with a paper in an embargoed outlet, there are ways to get around those problems.
Before detailing the problems and solution, some background may be useful. In my Open (Access) Letter to Criminologists, I explain how and why we can and should make our written works free to everyone; that is, Open Access (OA). A big part of my proposal is to publicly and freely share papers accepted for publication, known as “postprints.” That strategy is cheaper than paying to make your work OA, and sidesteps the financial accessibility problem of publishing in paywalled outlets. A downside is it requires knowing more about copyright at (potential) outlets for your work. An outlet’s copyright specifies whether, how, and when you can make a work OA. This information is needed to make OA an important part of deciding where to publish; and, after a work is accepted for publication, to legally maximize its accessibility.
To reduce that downside’s effect, I wrote a piece on Determining Copyright at Criminology Journals and created a Wiki List of Criminology Journals. That list categorizes journals from most to least accessibility:
Diamond Journals: Every publication is open access. An author, institution, or another entity is not charged a processing fee.
Gold Journals: Every publication is open access. An author, institution, or another entity pays a processing fee. Some journals waive the fee in some circumstances.
Hybrid Journals: Every publication is paywalled unless the author, institution, or another entity pays a processing fee to make it open access. Some journals make some of its publications open access without being paid to do so.
Instant Green Access: The author can make the postprint open access on their personal and other websites.
Partially Embargoed Green Access: The author can make the postprint open access on their personal website, but not on other websites until after the embargo period ends.
Entirely Embargoed Green Access: The author cannot make the postprint open access on any website until after the embargo period ends.
If you look at the Wiki List of Criminology Journals, you will see that many of our field’s (top) journals are categorized as Partially or Entirely Embargoed Green Access. The longest embargo is 36 months. Usually, the period is 12, 18, or 24 months.
An outlet is “entirely embargoed” if the copyright prohibits the public sharing of postprints on all websites. This applies to authors’ personal websites and what I refer to as, for brevity with clarity, “alternative websites.” These include CrimRxiv, Zenodo, OSF, and istitutional repositories. To my knowledge, only Wiley journals are entirely embargoed; below is an example of how the policy is communicated:1
An outlet is “partially embargoed” if it makes an exception for authors’ personal websites. Authors are allowed to instantly share their postprints on those websites — and those alone. In theory, other websites could be granted the exclusion, but I have not seen that allowed in any general publisher’s policy. For examples of the verbiage, click the footnotes following Elsevier,2 Oxford University Press,3 and Springer.4 Taylor & Francis displays the information in a simplified format:5
I can only speculate about why publishers that partially embargo postprints make an exception for authors’ personal websites. If we assume the worst intention, the difference may reflect findability. Compared to the embargoed websites, most personal websites have inferior metadata, so their contents are less likely to be prominently displayed in search engine results.6 Thus, postprints shared on personal websites are much less likely to be discovered by people searching the web. This limits their findability — an aspect of accessibility — and, by extension, their impact. That is bad for you, your organization, the public, the outlet, and its publisher. Presumably, though, some publishers deem those losses as less than the cost of entirely removing the embargo or making further exceptions.
For partially embargoed outlets, there is a legal way to combine the copyright privileges of your personal website with the enhanced findability of alternative websites:
To make your postprints (legally) free and publicly available, upload them on your personal website.
To make your postprints more findable on your public website, add links to them on alternative websites.
The embargoes prohibit you from uploading postprints on alternative websites, not from using them as a bridge to your personal website. So long as the postprints are only uploaded on the latter, you are acting within the law.
What follows is a step-by-step guide to the solution. The steps should not vary much across alternative sites.
Go to your personal website.
Upload your postprint to it with a note that it is CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0.
Copy the link for the postprint.
Login to an alternative website used to share your work.
Find the page for the publication or, if it does not exist, create one.
Instead of uploading the postprint, which would be a copyright violation, write a note or upload a file that specifies the postprint’s URL on your personal website.