The latest imbroglio in libraryland concerns Elsevier's updated policy for depositing articles into institutional repositories (IRs). For many years authors in Elsevier journals could deposit their articles into IRs immediately upon acceptance, now they will have to wait to do after the embargo period has lapsed (which is in many cases more than 12 months.)
Obviously this move is to protect Elsevier's subscription revenues, and is what a rational capitalistic business should do. If immediate deposits to IRs represent--or could potentially represent--a threat to subscription revenues, the only thing to do is to ban such deposits. Elsevier's claims that, in fact, this is all about "unleashing the power of academic sharing" is the thinnest and most unconvincing of window dressings. The people behind the Coalition of Open Access Repositories were certainly not convinced, as they responded to Elsevier with a successful petition campaign to challenge their policy.
Long-time open access advocate Michael Eisen hit the nail on the head by arguing that there is a fundamental incompatibility between using business-minded subscription journals to achieve the social good of open access. Eisen's rhetoric about the venality of publishers becomes tiresome, and he understates the work involved in stewarding the scholarly record. But that's all rhetorical flash, easily dismissed. On the logical incompatibility between open access and business imperatives, he is spot on.
What's to be done? As ever, the root source of change lies in the academic reward system that currently values publication in subscription journals. This value system percolates into public policy, which also rewards such publications by permitting embargo periods and unquestioningly trusting the integrity of the peer review system. Our sense of what constitutes a publication, and what constitutes reward and evaluation, can only change in the academy. For one worthwhile perspective on how things should change, check out this post by Dr. Marius Buliga.