Chinese state censorship of COVID-19 research represents a looming crisis for academic publishers | Impact of Social Sciences

“Issues of censorship surrounding the publication of scholarly research in China have been prominent since a series of press reports and publisher statements revealed that works had been removed from circulation that were deemed sensitive by Chinese buyers. As George Cooper observes, evidence that Chinese authorities are conducting pre-publication vetting of COVID-19 related research, raises new challenges for publishers seeking to distribute open access research papers on this subject, as there is little ground for publishers to remove these papers from their platforms. As publisher commitments to openness collide with their obligations to operate within the legal frameworks of the countries they operate in, it is argued that COVID-19 presages an overdue discussion on the limits of openness in publishing….

It remains to be seen whether Open Access articles will escape these restrictions, as they’re disseminated freely and therefore not subject to laws, in China, restricting the sale of publications. But equally, state authorities such as the General Administration of Press and Publications could threaten publishers, as they have before, with a ban on the import of their entire output in China, unless suitable amendments are made to their Chinese-language platforms. An unexplored consequence of forcing publishers to comply with censorship demands in the case of Open Access research is that the less censorious route – refusing to make amendments to the content of journals, prompting importers to remove journals from circulation instead – would not be available. Publishers would be confronted with a binary choice: remove ‘sensitive’ Open Access articles from their Chinese platforms, or risk huge losses of revenues and access for their entire published output….”