Open letter to publishers

[The text of this post was updated on 27-09-2013 and 04-04-2017 to reflect a new CrossRef metadata best practice document and a change in their URI.]

Today I wrote an open letter to all scholarly journal publishers, available online here, entitled:

Open your article reference lists for inclusion in the Open Citations Corpus.

In this letter, I request that publishers open the bibliographic citation data in their journal article reference lists.  There is a growing movement to make such bibliographic citation data open – for example, Nature Publishing Group’s open Linked Data Platform now includes citation metadata for all published article references.

Provided a publisher is already depositing article references with CrossRef as part of the CrossRef CitedBy Linking service, all the publisher need to do is to inform CrossRef that it is willing for CrossRef to freely distribute these reference, for example in response to queries against the CrossRef XML API.  We will then harvest them from CrossRef and incorporate them as open linked data in the Open Citations Corpus.

Nature Publishing Group, Taylor & Francis, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (who publish Science) and Oxford University Press, as well as a number of open-access publishers, have already given their consent to CrossRef to do this for some or all of their journals.

If not already a subscriber to the CrossRef CitedBy Linking service, a publisher can register for this useful service free of charge.  Having done so, there is nothing further the publisher needs to do to ‘open’ its reference data, other than to give its consent to CrossRef.  This can be done automatically, in the submitted article metadata, or (for back numbers) by informing CrossRef directly.

Even Open Access publishers, publishing articles under a CC-By open license, need to give this specific permission to CrossRef for this to occur, because CrossRef policy is that all publishers, including open access publishers, have to opt in to any distribution of references that CrossRef makes.

For new submissions, publishers should follow instructions detailed in the CrossRef blog at, which contains the following key instruction:

“In order for publishers to distribute references along with standard bibliographic metadata, publishers need to set the <reference_distribution_opt> metadata element to “any" for each DOI deposit where they want to make references openly available.”

In this way, publishers can choose to open the reference lists for all their journals, or to do so on a journal-by-journal or on an article-by-article basis (useful for ‘hybrid’ subscription-access journals in which only some articles are open access).

To open reference lists for back numbers, publisher needs to e-mail CrossRef to express their intent,using the template shown at the foot of this post, as detailed in my Open Letter to Publishers.

I have copied this open letter to the CEOs of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), and of the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM), asking them to distribute it to their members, perhaps in association with their next Members News Letter, as CrossRef itself is planning to do later this month.

Please spread the word about this, particularly to publishers who may not be members of these professional associations.  Thanks.

= = =

Template for an e-mail to CrossRef expressing willingness to open reference lists in previously published and future journal articles.


I am writing on behalf of *** [name of publisher] to confirm that *** [name of publisher] is willing for the bibliographic reference lists within the articles in [delete as necessary:] all our journals [or] the attached list of journals be made freely available by CrossRef, for inclusion in the Open Citations Corpus. These journals are associated with the following DOI prefix(es): 10.**** [Please complete DOI prefix(es) – see footnote].
Yours sincerely [name, position, date]
= = =
Footnote: Publisher’s DOI prefixes are listed at by name of publisher.


This entry was posted in JISC, Open Citations, Semantic Publishing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Open letter to publishers

  1. *Why* does CrossRef require opt-in from CC-BY OA publishers?

    • davidshotton says:

      Because the original terms by which publishers sign up for the CrossRef CitedBy Linking service do not permit distribution of the references (thus, for example, permitting Elsevier to join). Specific permission for reference distribution from each participating publisher is thus required. I know it is a pain, but it is unavoidable, and it only has to happen once for each publisher.

  2. PLOS is in! Thanks for writing this up so succinctly.

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  11. Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP) is also participating in CrossRef’s CitedBy Linking service. SCIRP provides CrossRef citations for each article. The citations are not retrieved in real time, but updated for all articles in regular intervals and stored on the server.

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