For me, taking over as Editor-in-Chief of JOT is no small matter. The most recent editors — Oscar Nierstrasz and Jan Vitek — have done sterling work in establishing JOT as a well-read reference for substantial computing research, a job that Bertrand Meyer and Richard Wiener began before them. JOT continues to fill an important role in computing: an open-access journal with rigorous standards. In most senses, my job is to strive to continue Oscar and Jan’s sterling work. After all, when the JOT formula isn’t broken, why break it?
Of course, no such formula can be perfect, because the world around us changes: habits change, needs change, and attitudes change. It is the latter aspect which I wish to address in this, my first editorial. Research, at its best, is intended to benefit mankind: when, instead, it is hidden behind paywalls, its purpose is obstructed. JOT is therefore an open-access journal: whoever you are, whatever your status is, wherever you are in the world, you can read the research we publish in JOT without hindrance.
But JOT has one vestige shared with traditional journals: when authors publish their research in JOT we ask them to transfer the copyright of their paper over to us. What this means is that JOT is then the legal guardian of the paper: anyone who wishes to distribute or alter it — even the original authors — has to ask JOT for permission to do so. This was done with the aim of ensuring that JOT maintained the definitive home of the research and JOT has the legal right to prevent people duplicating (or, worse, plagiarising) the research we publish.
Attitudes in recent years have shifted. Authors want to publish copies of their papers on the homepages, in university paper repositories, and other online paper repositories. It is reasonable for them to ask why, if they put in the effort to perform and write-up the research, they should lose the legal right to post copies of their paper where they wish to.
In consultation with the JOT Steering Committee, I therefore believe that JOT should move to a world where we no longer require authors to transfer copyright to us. There are several possible models for how we might go about this, and we are opening up this discussion to the JOT community, seeding it with an initial proposal. With luck, we will put the new process into place later in the (northern hemisphere) summer.
Our initial proposal is as follows, based in part on the approach taken by similar journals such as PLOSOne and LMCS. Instead of requiring authors to transfer copyright to us, we propose that authors whose papers have passed JOT’s peer-review process are required to place their papers under a Creative Commons license before their paper will be published. Doing so will give everyone — including JOT — the right to host copies of their paper. We intend giving authors the freedom to choose between between the Attribution CC BY or Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND licenses. Broadly speaking, the former would allow anyone to distribute (possibly altered versions of) the paper; the latter would allow anyone to distribute, but not alter, a paper. In both cases, the right to distribute the specific version of the paper accepted by JOT is irrevocable: it will be publicly available for all time. We would request that all copies the authors place on other sites use the JOT template so that JOT is properly credited as the publication that put the effort into reviewing and publishing the paper, but this will rely on author’s goodwill, rather than any legal mechanism.
Please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below or by contacting me directly. I would like whatever process we come up with to be as good as it can be, and that is most likely to happen when the JOT community puts its collective brain to the task!