A couple of bumps on the road to OA?

I agree with the view expressed by Ben Brumfield (Grand Text Auto, December 21, 2007):

I suspect that the OA debate will be resolved neither by authors nor by readers. The scientific publishing panelists at SXSWi this year agreed that the fight was between funders and journals.

I’d only add one minor revision, that the fight is between funders and publishers of journals.

It should be noted that funders are accepting some compromises in their approaches to this struggle.

The recent open access mandate for the NIH in the USA has involved an important compromise: it will permit a 12-month embargo on open access. See: An open access mandate for the NIH, Peter Suber, SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #117, January 2, 2008. The wording of the mandate:

The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

Heather Joseph of The Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has commented on this compromise, in Q&A with SPARC’s Heather Joseph, Joseph: NIH policy “an Enormous Step Forward”, Library Journal Academic Newswire, January 8, 2008. The question and the comment:

On another hand, some open access advocates say that the yearlong embargo is too long and could essentially set a de facto embargo period for publishers. How do you respond to those arguments?

I completely understand the concerns of those who think a year is too long an embargo period, but from a pragmatic standpoint, this was a necessary compromise. This policy represents a sea change in the parameters of the scholarly communications marketplace. We’ve gone, in one fell swoop, from information being locked up behind perpetual, exclusive distribution licenses to an embargo period limited to no longer than one year. That’s an enormous step forward. Also, the policy allows the researcher to determine the embargo period. It is not a static 12-month requirement. This puts more power in the research community’s hands to determine what they feel is best in terms of timing.

Individual researchers are not required to wait for a year. And, the embargo period could be shortened in later versions of the policy.

Peter Suber has posted this and other excerpts from the interview in: Heather Joseph on the OA mandate at the NIH, Open Access News, January 8, 2008. He has also commented on the mandate for NIH in: An open access mandate for the NIH. An excerpt, about the compromise:

The policy does permit a 12 month embargo, which I think is too long. But here’s what I said about that in August:

I wish the bill had shortened the embargo. Any embargo is a compromise with the public interest, and longer embargoes are more harmful in medicine than in other fields. But I’d much rather have a mandate than a shortened embargo, if we had to choose. The reason is simply that a short embargo without a mandate isn’t really short, since there would be no enforceable deadline for ending the embargo and providing OA. Moreover, we don’t have to choose. Shortening the embargo can be our next goal….The bill is…a significant, unmistakable gain on the most important front –the mandate– and [since the current embargo is 12 months] it’s not a loss or retreat on any front….

Note his comment that: “I’d much rather have a mandate than a shortened embargo, if we had to choose“.

An agency that has a Policy on Access to Research Outputs that involves a shorter embargo (6 months) is the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Excerpts from the section about Peer-reviewed Journal Publications:

Grant recipients are now required to make every effort to ensure that their peer-reviewed publications are freely accessible through the Publisher’s website (Option #1) or an online repository as soon as possible and in any event within six months of publication (Option #2).

Under the second option, grant recipients must archive the final peer-reviewed full-text manuscripts immediately upon publication in a digital archive, such as PubMed Central or the grantees institutional repository. Publications must be freely accessible within six months of publication, where allowable and in accordance with publisher policies. …

A major compromise is involved in the words: “where allowable and in accordance with publisher policies“.

In: OA mandate at the CIHR, (Open Access News, September 4, 2007), Peter Suber has commented:

This is a major policy with a major loophole: “Publications must be freely accessible within six months of publication, where allowable and in accordance with publisher policies.” The exception swallows the rule. Any publisher who doesn’t want OA within six months, or ever, can easily block it, and CIHR invites them to do so. But for that, the policy would be exemplary: the mandatory terms, the reasonably short embargo, the equal standing of central and distributed repositories, the willingness to pay publishing fees at fee-based OA journals, the OA data policy, and the implicit sanction for non-compliance.

The Wellcome Trust and several of the Research Councils UK have found an elegant way to close the loophole the CIHR that left open: they require OA archiving on a certain timetable, as a condition of funding, and take advantage of the fact that researchers sign funding contracts before they sign copyright transfer agreements with publishers. In short, they require grantees to live up to their funding contracts and, therefore, to transfer copyright on their funded work, if at all, only subject to the terms of the prior funding contract. If a publisher is unwilling to let the author comply with the funding contract, the author must look for another publisher. I do hope the CIHR will move in this direction at its next policy review, and close or at least shrink the gigantic loophole in the present policy.

Of course, my own view is that both a closure of the loophole in the CIHR mandate (by requiring immediate deposition of the final peer-reviewed manuscript in a suitable repository, with OA within 6 months, as a condition of funding), and a shortened embargo (a maximum of 6 months) are preferable. From this perspective, the 6-month embargo (rather than requiring OA immediately upon publication) is the only compromise being accepted.

Why accept this particular compromise? Briefly, for two main reasons: 1) Researchers should, as much as possible, be able to choose whatever journal they prefer. Acceptance of a 6-month embargo provides more options (although some major journals that require at least a 12-month embargo, or don’t permit archiving at all, would still be excluded); 2) “Green” OA (with a 6-month embargo) is likely to continue to be less costly to the researcher (and thus, to the funder) than “Gold” OA, via a journal that charges an article processing fee in return for providing immediate open access, either to the particular article, or to the entire contents of the journal. Of course, only some OA journals charge article processing fees, but they include a number of the better-known ones.

A final comment: The mandate for NIH has not yet been implemented. Nor has the CIHR policy, although it will apply to all grants awarded after January 1, 2008. The ways in which these policies are implemented seem likely to be crucially important. Stay tuned.



  1. tillje said

    For an update about the NIH OA mandate, see: Text of the NIH OA policy, Peter Suber, Open Access News, January 11, 2008. Brief excerpts:

    The new policy takes effect on April 7, 2008“.

    [The policy] “is beautifully strong and succinct“.

    See also: New FAQ for new NIH policy, Peter Suber, Open Access News, January 12, 2008.

    And, Public Access Frequently Asked Questions, posted to NIH Public Access on January 11, 2008.

  2. tillje said

    For a brief summary of guidelines recently published by The Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC), see: ERC Goes Big on OA, by Glyn Moody, Open… blog, January 13, 2008. Excerpts:

    Notice that’s into repositories immediately, and full open access within six months. But what struck me particularly were two additional aspects.

    The first was support for open data that’s one of the strongest I’ve seen so far

    There was also a nice sting in the tail, too:

    The ERC is keenly aware of the desirability to shorten the period between publication and open access beyond the currently accepted standard of 6 months

    For more detailed information about the ERC guidelines, see:
    OA mandate from the European Research Council
    , Peter Suber, Open Access News, January 11, 2008.

  3. tillje said

    CIHR’s Policy on Access to Research Outputs is Now in Effect, Ian Graham, Ph.D., Vice-President, Knowledge Translation, Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Posted February 4, 2008.

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