Changes Coming For Open Access To Research In Europe

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Pressure is growing in Europe for open, free access to research results, particularly if they are publicly funded. The European Commission (EC) said this week it will propose a plan for open access soon, while the Wellcome Trust and Research Councils UK are cracking down on researchers who don’t comply with their policies.

Changes in the value chain enabled by the internet make sharing of scientific knowledge economically possible, European Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said at an 11 April meeting of the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities in Rome. Open access (OA) should apply to all research at least partly funded by taxpayers, but that holds true for all scientific and scholarly research as well, she said.

The EC is readying a communication and recommendation on the way forward on OA to research results, Kroes said. It will reflect the EC decision to make all outputs funded under the EU Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program openly accessible, she said. The proposal will also examine the role of electronic infrastructures in supporting OA, and the how to motivate researchers to share, she said.

There are limits to openness and costs associated with it, such as personal data protection, Kroes said. There may sometimes be security reasons for not disseminating research widely, and private investments to defend. “But for me, these are exceptions, not the rule,” she said. A model that dates back hundreds of years is not right for the Internet age, she said. Subscription-based access models should not continue to dominate in an era where distribution costs approach zero, she said. She urged researchers, investors and policy-makers to “tear down the walls that keep learning sealed off.”

Pockets of Opposition

The only clear foes of open access are some major scientific publishers who believe their “raw material” may dry up and their subscription revenues from non-open access journals fall once libraries need fewer subscriptions, said Kroes spokesman Ryan Heath. The European Publishers Council doesn’t have a formal policy on OA, which is a business model issue for individual publishers, said Executive Director Angela Mills Wade.

The main challenge the EC faces is to ensure that publicly funded research results “actually get deposited in OA repositories by the authors,” Heath told Intellectual Property Watch. Best practices include funders such as the Wellcome Trust, and institution mandates such as the University of Liege, which require deposit and will only take into account deposited research for performance reviews, he said.

But there is also the problem of getting publishers to offer “transition paths,” such as the opportunity to make individual articles in a journal open access via a one-time, up-front payment, Heath said. This is called a hybrid model because other articles in the same journal may stay non-OA, he said. If double-dipping – charging full subscription prices and up-front charges for the OA articles – is avoided, then the hybrid model can “offer a glide path” from a subscription-only to an OA-only scenario without necessarily affecting a publisher’s viability, he said.

In the area of scientific data, as opposed to articles, there are no entrenched business models or positions yet, Heath said. The public sector is taking the lead in making the information available and it “can be a win-win situation with publishers,” he said. They have an interest in seeing that the data underlying the articles they publish is available, curated and preserved, he said. The EC will pilot a project that asks funded researchers to make their data open access in fields where that is appropriate, he said.

eLife Journal Coming

The UK-based Wellcome Trust is preparing to launch a new digital journal, eLife, which it says will serve as a platform for speeding scientific advancement by making results available as quickly as possible, openly and in a way that helps other build upon them.

Last year, the trust published an open access policy under which authors of research papers it funds must maximise the opportunities to make their results available for free. The policy requires electronic copies of any research papers that have been accepted in a peer-reviewed journal, and are supported in whole or part by the trust, to be made available as soon as possible and, in any case, within six months of the journal publishers’ official date of final publication.

The trust said it will give grant-holders additional money, through their institutions, to cover OA charges in order to meet its requirements. The policy encourages, and, where it pays an open access fee, requires, authors and publishers to licence research papers so they can be freely copied and re-used, provided such uses are fully attributed.

The trust is also bearing down on scientists it funds to make sure they comply with the requirement to make their results publicly available for free within six months, Director Mark Walport said in a 9 April interview with The Guardian.

Currently only about 55 percent of research papers to which the trust’s funding contributes are compliant, Head of Digital Services Robert Kiley and Policy Advisor Dave Carr told Intellectual Property Watch in written comments. “It is simply not acceptable to us that nearly half of the publications we fund are blocked behind subscription walls,” they said. Proportionate sanctions are needed to ensure that trust-funded researchers and their institutions take responsibility for making their published research findings freely available in a way that guarantees the greatest possible benefit, they said. The trust recognises that some researchers face legitimate difficulties in complying, and will continue to help them address the issues, they said.

Possible new approaches might include a requirement that institutions officially confirm that all publications associated with a grant had been made OA before the final instalment is paid, Kiley and Carr said. Another might be to make future funding conditional on compliance, they said. Under that scenario, the trust would make actual receipt of any additional grant funding (for renewals or new awards) dependent on compliance for previous grants, they said. The new processes are expected to be in place by the autumn.

RCUK Draft Policy under Discussion

Meanwhile, Research Councils UK (RCUK) continues to seek feedback on proposed revisions to its policy on access to research outputs, spokeswoman Jane Wakefield said.

The councils are part of a national working group on expanding access to published research findings, which is expected to propose a plan of action and make recommendations to the governments and others, according to the draft.

In the proposed policy, open access means unrestricted, online access to peer-reviewed and published scholarly research papers. Users must be able to read those papers in an electronic format and search for and re-use content (subject to proper attribution) at no charge, the draft said.

Under the changes, open access will include unrestricted use of manual and automated text and data mining tools, and unlimited reuse of content with proper attribution, the RCUK said. The policy will require that research papers paid for by the councils be published in journals that meet their open access standards.

In addition, it said, it won’t support researchers who use publishers who embargo papers for more than six months from date of publication (12 months for research paid for by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council). The revised policy is expected to be approved this summer, according to the draft.

Dugie Standeford may be reached at

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