Copyright for Chemists: A Failed Test of ACS Articles on Request

The recent article Copyright for Chemists led to this comment from dzrlib:

Are you aware that the ACS provides the corresponding author with a special URL that can be posted on an institutional website which allows 50 downloads during the first year after it first appears and unlimited downloads after the first year?

The ACS Publications Articles on Request program entitles corresponding authors some possibly useful options for distributing their papers post-publication:

  • "… a link that provides for up to 50 free e-prints of the final published article during the first 12 months following online publication."
  • Unlimited access to reprints via the link 12 months after publication.

It sure sounds like a step in the right direction.

A Simple Experiment

I decided to put the ACS Articles on Request service to the test. Several years ago I served as the corresponding author on a paper in J. Med. Chem. Given that this paper was published more than one year ago, would it be possible for me to expose the unlimited free download link?

Articles on Request: Fail

After numerous attempts from a variety of angles, I was unable to learn how to gain access to the Article on Request link for my paper.

My first stop was Articles on Request homepage. The main body describes the service but says nothing about how to get the link. A sidebar to the right (mixed with advertising) contains a links panel:

CS Authors and Reviewers

One of these links points to the Author & Reviewer Resource Center. A link on this page to the RightsLink service, although encouraging, contained no information on obtaining the Articles on Request link; it remains uncertain whether this was even the right service, which appears to be provided for authors to petition ACS for reuse rights separate from Articles on Request. A link to "ACS Articles on Request" merely brought me back to the Articles on Request homepage from which my search started.

A number of other links on the Author & Reviewer Resource Center seemed promising but had nothing to do with getting the unlimited download link to my paper.

I also checked my paper's homepage. Under "Tools" to the right, I saw a link to "Rights & Permissions". Could this be what I was after? No. This was nothing more than a link the the ACS RightsLink service.

I decided to try my profile page (you'll need to be logged in to see yours):

My Profile

Again, nothing about obtaining Articles on Request links. The Member Benefits link shows which journals I can access, but nothing about papers I've authored.

I could find no information, either by browsing the ACS site or by using Google on how to get the Articles on Request link to my paper. However, this search did turn up an article from Kevin Smith, the Duke University Scholarly Communications Officer, criticizing the current ACS Publications copyright policy.

No doubt somewhere ACS has posted the documentation for corresponding authors describing how to use its Articles on Request service, but despite honest attempts, I was unable to find it.

Shaky Ground

A link allowing unlimited downloads of my paper must exist somewhere (or can be made to exist). For that matter, such unlimited download links may be available for any paper published by ACS more than one year ago. If so, why is it so hard to find any information on actually using the Articles on Request service?

The Articles on Request program clearly represents an effort by ACS to respond to increasingly loud demands for toll-free access to the public record of chemical research. Nevertheless, the lack of clear, easily located documentation renders the service useless in any practical sense.

This failure only serves to underscore the shaky ground authors and the scientific community stand on by continuing to tolerate exclusive copyright transfer to journal publishers such as the American Chemical Society.