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Publishers cry foul over RCUK access plans

Tensions between publishers and funding bodies over open access to research papers have flared up again after the Publishers Association accused Research Councils UK of riding roughshod over publishers' concerns in a new draft policy on open access.

The policy, which RCUK hopes to adopt by the summer, stipulates that the final version of papers produced with funding from any of the science research councils must be made freely available online within six months of publication.

Research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council would have to become open access within 12 months. RCUK would hope to see this period reduced to six once publishers in these fields, which are often smaller than science publishers, were ready to make the transition.

But the Publishers Association, which represents UK publishing companies, criticised the proposals and said it had not been consulted.

It said in a statement that "more in sadness than anger, we have little option but to oppose this policy".

"No evidence or impact assessment is offered for the effect of six-month embargoes on the large majority of articles published [in] subscription [journals].

"[The policy] takes no account of the role of publishers in scholarly communication, makes no reference to sustainability or the management of peer review, offers no practical policy for funding [author-pays] open access while dictating firm and onerous requirements for mandatory deposit on short embargoes."

The association also questioned the timing of the circulation of the draft, saying it was "clearly" designed "to undermine the collaborative work of the Finch group on extending access".

That group, chaired by former Keele University vice-chancellor Dame Janet Finch and convened by the government last September, was charged with bringing publishers, funding bodies and universities together to find a way to implement open access. It is expected to report in May.

A spokeswoman for RCUK said that members of the group, among others, would be consulted.

"The research councils will seriously take on board any feedback and the recommendations from the Finch group before deciding on any final policy," she said.

The proposed six-month embargo period is shorter that the one-year period imposed by the National Institutes of Health in the US.

Open-access mandates would have been outlawed by the recently abandoned US Research Works Act. That bill was initially supported by Elsevier, but the publishing giant withdrew its support last month in the wake of a pledge to boycott the firm by more than 8,500 academics.

RCUK has had an open-access policy since 2006, but the Medical Research Council's six-month requirement was the only stipulated maximum embargo period. The Wellcome Trust, a biomedical funding body, also insists on a maximum embargo of six months.

Peter Murray-Rust, a reader in the Unilever Centre for Molecular Science Informatics at the University of Cambridge and an open-access advocate, described RCUK's policy as a "major step forward" that would provide a template for other funders and mark "the beginning of the end" for restricted access.

"It is going far further than the publishers will accept, but [by not insisting on immediate open access] RCUK is also showing it isn't behaving unreasonably," he said.

He particularly welcomed the requirement for publishers to permit data-mining and the unrestricted reuse of content.

But another prominent advocate of open access, Stevan Harnad, professor of psychology at the University of Quebec Montreal, described these two stipulations as "premature" and "over-reaching" in the absence of immediate open access.

"It is like a starving nation discussing whether it would like to have steak Milanese when it is not even getting basic grub," he said.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

• The draft RCUK policy is available here.

Readers' comments (3)

  • GRASP FIRST WHAT'S WITHIN REACH: DON'T OVER-REACH 1. It is excellent that RCUK is reducing the allowable embargo period (to 6 months for most research councils). 2. A license that formally allows more re-use rights (e.g., "Libre OA", CC-BY) is desirable, but it asks for more than just free online access ("Gratis OA") at a time when we are stiill far from having free online access. It thereby puts more constraints on authors, demands more of publishers, and those added constraints make it harder for that vast majority of institutions and funders who have not yet managed to reach consensus on adopting a Green OA self-archiving mandate of their own. For this reason, "Lbre OA" should be strongly encouraged by RCUK, but only "Gratis OA" (which automatically includes linking, downloading, local print-off, local storage, local data-mining, search-engine harvesting and search) be required. This makes it easier and more probable that universities and research institutions will be able to follow suit, adopting complementary Green OA mandates of their own, for all of their research output, whether or not RCUK-funded. It will also make it easier and more probable that other research funders will adopt similar institution-friendly mandates. Once mandatory Gratis OA prevails, it will not be long before it is upgraded to Libre OA. But first things first. Do not let the best get in the way of the good, of which there is still so very little. 3. The designated locus of deposit should be the fundee's own institutional repository, not an institution-external central repository. Central repositories and search engines can then harvest the metadata from the institutional repository for search for re-display. The reason for this is again that there are more publisher restrictions on institution-external deposit than on institutional deposit, and at this time when there is still so little OA and so few OA mandates, it will make it easier and more probable that universities and research institutions will be able to follow suit, adopting complementary Green OA mandates of their own, for all of their research output, whether or not RCUK-funded, if their researchers do not need to do multiple institution-external deposits or to face needless extra publisher restrictions. http://bit.ly/DepLoc 4. The optimal Green OA Mandate, ID/OA -- Immediate Deposit, Optional Access -- is identical to the RCUK Mandate in every respect except that it stipulates that the deposit itself must be done immediately upon acceptance for publication, rather than only after the allowable embargo period has expired. This means that users will see the metadata immediately, and can already make automated eprint requests to the author for single copies for research purposes during the embargo. 5. Repository deposit should be officially stipulated as the sole mechanism for submitting publications for research assessment as well as for submitting publication lists for RCUK research proposals. Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Lariviere, V., Gingras, Y., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLOS ONE 5 (10) e13636 http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/18493/ Harnad, S. (2009) Open Access Scientometrics and the UK Research Assessment Exercise. Scientometrics 79 (1) http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/17142/ ______ (2011) Open Access to Research: Changing Researcher Behavior Through University and Funder Mandates. JEDEM Journal of Democracy and Open Government 3 (1): 33-41. http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/22401/ ______ (2011) What Is To Be Done About Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications Resulting From Federally Funded Research? (Response to US OSTP RFI). Technical Report , Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton. http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/23080/ Sale, A., Couture, M., Rodrigues, E., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2012) Open Access Mandates and the "Fair Dealing" Button. In: Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online (Rosemary J. Coombe & Darren Wershler, Eds.) http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/18511/

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  • PS See also: The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog, Yet Again: Research Works Act H.R.3699 http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/867-guid.html

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  • I take this response a healthy sign that the RCUK is moving in the right direction. In my view (see http://occamstypewriter.org/scurry/2012/03/18/elsevier-the-research-works-act-and-open-access-where-to-now/), RCUK has not quite gone far enough, especially in terms of defining how Open Access publications will be properly funded but hopefully that is something they will work on during the consultation period.

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