EU, UK Announce Plans To Open Access To Scientific Research

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The European Commission has announced plans to ease access to scientific research results, paving the way for what it hopes will be greater innovation and a higher return on its multi-billion euro annual research and development investment. And it was preceded one day by a similar plan in the United Kingdom.

Broader and quicker access to scientific papers and data will make it easier for researchers and businesses to build on the findings of publicly-funded research, the Commission said today. That in turn will give Europe a better return for the €87 billion euros it spends each year on R&D, it said.

The EC urged European Union member countries to take a similar approach to the results of research they themselves fund. It wants 60 per cent of European publicly-funded research articles to be available under open access by 2016. The EC also said it will experiment with open access to the data collected during publicly-funded research, subject to legitimate concerns about a fundee’s commercial interests or about privacy, it said.

Studies show that without access to up-to-date scientific literature, it takes small and mid-sized companies up to two years to bring new products to market, the EC said. One EU-funded study showed that only 25 per cent of researchers share their data openly, it said.

The policy also addresses other problems, the EC said in an “frequently asked questions” document. Scientific publications are often too expensive for many people and organisations to get hold of, depriving doctors, engineers and other professionals of access to critical information. This is despite the fact that public money, through taxes, paid for the work leading to the information, it said. That hampers innovation and skill levels, it said. And, because data is often not shared at all, there are risks that parallel research will waste time, money and brain power, it said.

Gold and Green

The EC will first make open access to scientific publications a general principle of Horizon 2020, its R&D funding programme for 2014-2020, it said. Beginning in 2014, all articles produced with money from Horizon 2020 will have to be accessible online under one of two systems, it said.

Publishers who make articles immediately accessible (“Gold” open access) will be entitled to have up-front publication costs reimbursed by the EC. Researchers will have to make their works available via an open access repository no later than six months after publication (“Green” access), it said.

Articles in the areas of social sciences and humanities must be made accessible not later than 12 months after publication, it said. The longer embargo is because it takes longer to recoup the costs related to the publishing process for social sciences and humanities than in the scientific, technical and medical fields, it said.

A “Matter of Principle”

When Human Genome Project results became accessible, it leveraged a €3 billion research investment into around €500 billion of economic activity, Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in introducing the new measures.

“I want more of those benefits to land in Europe,” she said. There’s a direct connection between the package and Europe’s economic future, she added. The new rules are part of a wider effort to open up what is produced with public money.

“Doing this is a matter of principle,” Kroes said. “You paid for the research – you should have access to the results.” The EC’s “strong political message” is that researchers deserve support to make their results available to all, for the benefit of all, she said.

UK First Mover

The EC announcement followed a 16 July UK government decision to accept recommendations in a 19 June report on open access [pdf] and remove the paywalls surrounding taxpayer-funded research. The response to the report is here:http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/science/docs/l/12-975-letter-government-response-to-finch-report-research-publications.

Among other things, the government agreed to deliver access through a “gold” model where article-processing charges are paid upfront to cover publication costs, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said.

The UK will also introduce walk-in rights to give the general public free access to global research publications owned by members of the UK Publishers’ Association via public libraries, it said. It will also extend access licensing now used by universities to high technology businesses for a “modest charge,” it said.

A UK delegate raised the decision today at the World Intellectual Property Organization Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), which is addressing limitations and exceptions for educational and research institutions.

Dugie Standeford may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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