Thursday, May 30, 2013

Authorizer -- a breach in the ACM Digital Library paywall

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the leading computer science professional society, publishes many technical journals. The articles are online in the ACM Digital Library, but one must either be a member or pay to access them.

I am nearly two years behind the times, but I just learned that, in fall 2011, ACM decided to allow authors to publish links to their Digital Library articles on their own Web sites.

ACM calls the service "Authorizer," and it enables an ACM author to publish links to their articles on their Web sites. Users who follow those links will get free copies of the articles.

The decision to make the articles available is left up to the author, but doing so is very simple. The author merely registers a free Digital Library site and completes a form giving the URL of his or her Web site. A single click generates an HTML document with links to the articles in the Digital Library. The author can put that document on their Web site as is or edit as they wish.

I asked Bernard Rous, Director of publications at ACM, how many authors had signed up reported that 1,850 authors had created 14,000 links resulting in 44,000 downloads.  That is a small percentage of the Digital Library and its authors, and ACM is going to contact authors and publicize the opportunity.

If an ACM author does not bother to Authorize their articles, they will remain behind the ACM paywall, but Authorizing access takes just a few minutes and I would think most authors would jump at the chance.  I Authorized my ACM articles in about in about five minutes and they are now available online.  I can spend a little more time, and add an abstract to each when I find the time.

I understand that that the Authorizer services is not enough to satisfy open access purists, who would prefer that the copyright remains with authors, leaving them free to place their work in the public domain or use a Creative Commons license, but it is a big step in the right direction.