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'Nature' bends to scientists by making archives free

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But only if you've got the link from a subscriber

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Research studies published in respected scientific journal Nature are now free to read online, publisher Macmillan announced today. The studies are free to read using a software platform Nature describes as "similar to Apple's iTunes," but only accessible if you have a direct link provided by a subscriber, and kept in a format that prohibits copying, printing, or downloading.

Nature says the shift comes as those who offer scientific funding are demanding that research is made free to read. Open-access project PLoS and its journals, such as PLoS ONE, have championed such an approach, and the scientific community has pushed for access to journals seen to profit off research that should be available to the public. Timo Hannay, managing director of the Digital Science division of Macmillan, says that the move will simply make it easier for researchers to do what they're already doing. "We know researchers are already sharing content," Hannay said in a statement, "often in hidden corners of the Internet or using clumsy, time-consuming practices."

The papers can be annotated, but can't be printed or copied

Institutional subscribers get access to every paper dating back to Nature's foundation in 1869, but personal subscribers can only view the archive as far back as 1997. Both groups can provide links for any papers to anyone they choose, and although the files can't be printed or copied, they can be annotated and viewed in the ReadCube desktop program.

Annette Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan's Science and Education division, says that the new scheme is a pilot that would be evaluated over the coming year, but that she thought the subscription system would co-exist with more open business models for a long time. But despite her statements and the caveats to true open access in Macmillan's new policy, this move by one of the biggest scientific journals in the industry means that anyone can technically get their hands on 140 years of peer-reviewed research — a definite win for the scientific community at large.