Abstracts summarize the content of scholarly publications, and their wide availability acts as advertisement, boosting discoverability and drawing readers to the full text. Making the abstracts openly available thus helps scholarly publishers to maximize the visibility and impact of their journals and books; makes it easier for scholars to discover, read and then cite these publications; promotes their inclusion in systematic reviews; expands and simplifies the use of text mining, natural language processing and artificial intelligence techniques in bibliometric analyses; and facilitates scholarship across all disciplines by those without subscription access to commercial bibliographic services.
Many abstracts are already available in various bibliographic databases, but these sources have limitations, for example because they require a subscription, are not machine-accessible, or are restricted to a specific discipline. Availability of abstracts on publishers’ websites is of limited use, because this does not facilitate large-scale reuse of abstracts, because machine access is highly variable if available at all, and because 'scraping’ them off the web is problematic. Making abstracts available only for human (eyeball) reading is not sufficient. Crossref, the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) registration agency used by many publishers, has the great advantage of bringing abstracts together in a common format in one searchable cross-disciplinary database where they are available via an API.
While open access to the full text of all scholarly publications is a major goal of the Open Science movement, I4OA believes that the centralized availability of open abstracts has particular advantages and is more immediately achievable. For further discussion of this issue, see our responses to Frequently Asked Questions.
The abstract of a publication is the literary textual creation of the authors, and, therefore, falls naturally under the copyright of the author or their institution, which may subsequently be transferred to the publisher. In this regard, the abstract is no different from the full text, and differs from the bibliographic metadata of the publication and the bibliographic references it contains, which are collections of facts that cannot be copyrighted.
Regardless of the copyright owner, the normal practice of academic publishers is to make abstracts free to read. In addition to putting the abstracts of publications on their web sites outside any subscription paywall (for an example, see here), publishers may also send abstracts to abstracting/indexing services and bibliographic databases such as PubMed and Crossref, where they are made openly available (for examples, see here and here). While the abstracts republished in this way still fall under copyright, sending abstracts to such databases gives them maximum exposure and attracts readers to the full text of publications.
To clarify the situation from a legal standpoint, copyright directives permit free academic use of abstracts, for example for text mining and fact extraction purposes, without the need to obtain separate permission from the publisher. However, since the abstract is a creative work protected by copyright, third parties are not permitted to republish the text of an abstract unless the license under which it is originally published permits such republication.
The following publishers, of both subscription-access and open-access academic journals and books, have joined I4OA. Many of these publishers already make abstracts openly available by depositing them in Crossref. Others have made the commitment to start doing so soon. If you are a publisher and you want to join I4OA, please contact us by sending a message to email@example.com.
While I4OA promotes the open availability of scholarly abstracts in general, it specifically recommends submission of abstracts to Crossref. Crossref is an official Digital Object Identifier (DOI) registration agency of the International DOI Foundation. It is a not-for-profit membership organization of both commercial and not-for-profit publishers, including those with both open access and subscription policies, and a large number of publishers create and register DOIs with Crossref. Crossref members register DOIs to uniquely identify journal articles, books, preprints, and other research objects. In addition to DOIs, Crossref hosts metadata for the identified publications submitted by publishers, runs a cross-publisher citation linking service, and has an open API through which the metadata, including abstracts, can be retrieved.
Crossref is used by a large number of scholarly publishers (around 13k) and therefore provides a natural home for open abstracts. Publishers working with Crossref are already submitting bibliographic metadata and references for their works to Crossref, so that the addition of abstracts is a natural extension, and Crossref already has the capability to receive and distribute abstracts. At present however, abstracts are only submitted for ~7% of the publications Crossref records. I4OA thus calls on all scholarly publishers working with Crossref to make their abstracts openly available by submitting them to Crossref, taking advantage of this established and trusted open repository that they already support. To facilitate this, Crossref is an active member of I4OA, and can offer advice if required (check their documentation or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
In terms of copyright, opening abstracts via Crossref follows existing publisher practices of making abstracts available in abstracting/indexing services and bibliographic databases. To clarify the status of abstracts made available in their database, Crossref has published the following statement:
Crossref generally provides metadata without restriction. However, abstracts held by Crossref may be subject to copyright held by publishers or authors, and third parties may only republish these abstracts with express permission of the copyright holders.
The situation for publishers using other DOI registration agencies such as DataCite, mEDRA, and ISTIC, or those not using DOIs at all, is addressed in answers to our Frequently Asked Questions.
For publishers already using Crossref DOIs, the abstracts for new works may be submitted as part of their Crossref metadata records, while those for previously published works may be submitted by updates to the relevant metadata records. For details, please see Frequently Asked Questions.
At the launch of I4OA in September 2020, 6.6% of all works bearing a Crossref DOI, and 8.3% of journal articles (25.5% of journal articles published in 2020), had their abstracts available in Crossref.
The following figure shows the proportion of works from selected major publishers published between 2018 and 2020 that have open abstracts. Those publishers already supporting I4OA are shown in orange.
Further details are available from Crossref Participation Reports, which display the submission rate of abstracts, references and other bibliographic metadata for each Crossref member. This report, for example, shows that, at the launch of I4OA, The Royal Society (with Crossref membership number 175) has submitted abstracts to Crossref for 95% of its current content and 85% of its back files.
Note: Crossref’s schema currently doesn’t go more granular for journal publications than 'journal articles', so the journal article category also includes editorials, letters to the Editor, book reviews, errata, etc. Because these items and many book chapters lack abstracts, publishers who give DOIs to such items will typically have Crossref abstract submission rates for all their works of less than 100%. Therefore, the percentage given needs to be interpreted as the lower bound of the proportion of abstracts that are actually available.
The value of openly available abstracts of scholarly publications is recognized by a wide variety of other stakeholders in addition to publishers, including research funders, academic libraries, infrastructure providers and open science organizations. The following stakeholders have already expressed support for I4OA, and we welcome confirmation from others who support our aims, who will be added to this list. If your organization wishes to support I4OA, please contact us by sending a message to email@example.com.
I4OA, which was formally launched on September 24th 2020 during the OASPA Online Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing, arose from discussions within its sister organization, the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC) that was started in 2017, and is closely aligned with that initiative. Since 2017, over two thousand scholarly publishers, including all the major ones except Elsevier, the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the University of Chicago Press, have followed the recommendation of I4OC to make the reference lists of their journal articles and book chapters openly available through Crossref, where they are now widely used by third party applications, bibliographic data sources and visualization tools.
However, open science requires open access not only to bibliographic references but also to abstracts and other bibliographic metadata, and I4OA aims to replicate the success of I4OC by achieving a massive increase in the open availability of scholarly abstracts via Crossref.
Individuals from the following organizations collaborated to initiate I4OA:
These individuals are Helen Duce, Ginny Hendricks, Bianca Kramer, Vincent Larivière, Catriona J. Maccallum, Ian Mulvany, Cameron Neylon, Silvio Peroni, David Shotton, Cassidy R. Sugimoto, Aaron Tay, Stuart Taylor, Bryan Vickery and Ludo Waltman (coordinator).