Eddy Verbaan: First, authors must include a rights retention statement in their submissions to journals and conference proceedings. This is the same statement that is required by the Wellcome Trust, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).
Secondly, authors automatically license the university to disseminate their Author Accepted Manuscript without delay under the CC BY license via our repository. This is accomplished in our new policy by expanding on provisions already available in our staff IP policy and our student terms and conditions, which stipulate that our authors own their copyright but that they give the university a non-exclusive royalty-free licence to use their work for certain purposes. The new policy simply defines one of those purposes.
Lastly, the policy provides a mechanism for our authors to opt out of the requirements for immediacy and licensing if necessary.
Eddy Verbaan: We started exploring a rights retention policy when discussions around the UK-SCL initiative first emerged. From the outset, it was clear that rights retention is closely aligned with our university’s ambition to be the world’s leading applied university, and with our library strategic plan which includes a goal to advance open research. We already knew that Open Access is vital for the kind of university we are, as it helps us to share our research beyond academia with the people and organisations that we work with as an applied university. Making open access immediate, rather than after a delay, can play a role in increasing the reach and impact of our research.
Our local groundwork, collaboration and coalition building to advocate and prepare for rights retention reduced our dependence on the realisation of a UK-SCL. We had investigated how a UK-SCL aligned Open Access policy could be implemented, prior to the new UKRI policy, which put us in a good position to seek approval for a new institutional policy this year (2022). Watching and learning from the innovation of Edinburgh and Cambridge gave us more confidence to do so.
Eddy Verbaan: In a nutshell, we reached the agreement by working through existing governance structures and by aligning with existing strategic activity. It helped that earlier in the year we had proposed and gained approval for an Open Research position statement and that Wayne Cranton, our Dean of Research, and Nick Woolley, our Director of Library and Campus Services, were members of the UUK and JISC groups working to achieve sector level Open Access agreements with publishers.
Our primary forum was the existing Open Research Operations Group. This is a cross-university group that reports directly to our Research and Innovation Committee and which I chair as the library’s Head of Research Support. The group has representation from relevant stakeholders including the researchers, the library, research administration, and IT services. Early discussions about and support for UK-SCL first emerged in this group.
When we felt there was a strong case for action, we went to the Research and Innovation Committee to ask for support to propose a rights retention policy, which – given our work up to that point – we were able to articulate quite clearly. Support was given, and we convened a small task-and-finish group with members from the Open Research Operations Group, supplemented with colleagues from HR and legal services, whose contributions would prove to be vital. We created a risk register, explored how rights retention fits with employment contracts as well as with publishing agreements and consulted with the trade union. We also wrote a paper presenting the case for rights retention, which included a draft policy and recommendations for implementation. This was brought back to the Research and Innovation Committee who approved our proposal.
The main area of concern centred on questions of procedure and practicalities, such as informing co-authors. We were able to address these concerns by developing detailed guidance, including email templates, and through the provision of library support.
Eddy Verbaan: The main challenge was mindset, reaching a fuller and shared understanding of risk and reward, and establishing for example that there was nothing mutually exclusive between rights retention, version of record, and a healthy publishing industry.
It certainly helped that at the start of the process, we agreed on a set of design principles within which our task-and-finish group was going to work. The most important of these was that there should be as little administrative burden on our authors as possible, so as to avoid unwelcome workload and to maximise engagement with the new policy. We were confident that not only could we achieve this for rights retention, but that by actually taking this policy direction we were keeping things simple for authors.
Of course, our main challenge is yet to come. We have translated strategy to policy, which now in turn requires implementation as practice to then achieve impact. The main risk we identify here is that our authors may not feel sufficiently confident or empowered to include the rights retention statement in their submissions, or that they would not see the benefits of doing this. Our next action will be to communicate the why’s and how’s of our new policy to our university’s research community.
Eddy Verbaan: We have issued a call to action ‘publish with power, retain your rights’ – a variation of the cOAlition S campaign slogan – and articulated the benefits for researchers as follows:
1. Authors achieve immediate and wide dissemination without restrictions
2. They retain more rights over their own work
3. They also retain the freedom to publish where they see fit
4. Whilst automatically complying with all external open access requirements
The first and foremost benefit for the institution is that we improve the communication of our research in line with our open research ambitions and our ambition to be the world’s leading applied University. For us, a key message is that improving the reach of research improves potential impact, in particular beyond academia. For example, a researcher in criminology may be better able to influence probation practises if their research is freely available online, preferably in the places where probation practitioners are active.
Secondly, because rights retention means that our authors will automatically comply with all external open access requirements, there is a clear benefit for the institution in satisfying our funders’ conditions for funding.
It is perhaps also a question of future-proofing. We know that the open access policy for the next national research assessment (REF) will be aligned with UKRI’s new open access policy and will therefore be based on Plan S principles. Introducing REF-compliant author behaviour now, will make sure this behaviour is already embedded by the time the new REF policy actually comes into force.
Eddy Verbaan: Each institution will have its own peculiarities and unique challenges. But based on my own experience in my own institution, my top tips would be:
1. Understand risk and reward. Don’t get bogged down in what could go wrong, but be realistic about the likelihood and severity of potential issues. Perhaps you will find that the benefits outweigh the risks, as we did!
2. Learn from good practices but be confident you can do things as an institution – don’t wait for others to take the lead. Even the UK-SCL initiative would require institutions to implement the policy locally. We certainly benefited greatly from the thinking and exchange of the UK-SCL community and what we saw being developed at Edinburgh and Cambridge.
3. Foster a coalition of stakeholders willing to work together and come on a journey with you. We had already built a network of open research champions by the time we decided to go down the institutional rights retention route, and they have already proven invaluable in advocacy for rights retention.
I also have a bonus tip: keep it simple. In essence, rights retention is actually straightforward. Although many people will keep telling you this is a complex issue, it doesn’t have to be. You can still boil it down to a few key benefits that are achieved with just one simple action.
More questions about the new Research Publications and Copyright Policy at Sheffield Hallam University?
Paul Rigg: The Open Access facets of Birkbeck’s new Open Research policy currently apply only to “short-form” publications; that is, a) peer-reviewed, original articles appearing in journals or online publishing platforms (including review articles) and b) peer-reviewed conference papers accepted by journals, conference proceedings with an ISSN, or online platforms publishing original work.
Where a publication is not accepted in a fully OA journal/platform which meets licensing and technical criteria or is participating in a Transformative Agreement, the College requires authors to retain certain rights to their work. This is so it can be shared via the Green open access route with no embargo, under a CC BY licence. The researcher must include the following statement in the funding acknowledgement section and in any letter or cover note accompanying the submission: ‘for the purposes of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any author accepted manuscript version arising from this submission’.
Paul Rigg: In 1823, the College’s founder Dr George Birkbeck set out his vision: ‘now is the time for universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge’. That statement continues to underpin the mission and culture of the institution and will be one of the principal foci when we celebrate our bicentennial. Rights retention is a key element of our new Open Research Policy and having the policy in place before this anniversary is one of the ways we are re-energising our mission for the 21st Century.
One of the benefits of rights retention is the easing of the increasing “policy stack” in Open Access. With Plan S applying to UKRI- and Wellcome-funded authors, and REF rules to a broader swathe of researchers, the College felt that clarification and distillation were necessary to give a few clearly defined rules applying to as many people as possible.
We also want to show our solidarity with other UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs); Birkbeck is at the forefront of open access through our diamond platform, the Open Library of the Humanities, and has long been part of a group carefully considering the implementation of a UK Scholarly Communications Licence (UKSCL). As “big deals” with publishers become unsustainable for many, Open Access is becoming increasingly important to enable researchers to read, and build on, the work of their peers. As a relatively small but mission-driven institution, Birkbeck is potentially in a better position to pivot than many larger HEIs.
Paul Rigg: A data policy was being developed concurrently with a new open publications policy, so combining these into an overarching open research policy made sense. During the summer of 2021, a first draft was drawn up by members of our Open Research Working Group. Once general principles were ratified, the policy went through several drafts incorporating input from colleagues, including the repository manager, data manager, and other specialists. It was sent to the College’s Research Committee in October 2021, then Academic Board in November 2021, before being reviewed by our Governors. A more “dynamic” guidance document incorporating information from both Wellcome Trust and UKRI will accompany the policy.
Paul Rigg: There was concern in academic circles that this kind of policy effectively prevents publishing with some major publishers who will not tolerate rights retention. This is a legitimate concern but one we are working through with our academic colleagues as the situation evolves.
Our policy is an open research policy rather than specifically an open access policy, giving us an opportunity to further clarify aspects of data protection legislation and GDPR. Parts of the policy were rewritten to address participant data and confidentiality, with explicit reference to GDPR.
A future challenge is that by ensuring that the policy runs parallel to existing open access initiatives (Wellcome and UKRI), we will need to stay up to date on even minor alterations to those.
Paul Rigg: The primary advantage is that open access gets our research out into the world; it enhances not just the visibility and reach of the college but of individual researchers. It enables better communication of ideas and easier collaboration as a means of exploring them. In short, it supports us to deliver our mission better. Rights retention specifically acknowledges not just the hard work but also the ownership of the expression of ideas by researchers.
The College hopes rights retention will help normalise deposit on BIROn (Birkbeck Institutional Research Online, the College’s institutional repository) without embargoes, thus smoothing compliance with UKRI and Wellcome policies, not to mention supporting planning for the next REF exercise.
Paul Rigg: 1) Listen to concerns from your academics and take them seriously. Many of these can be context-specific, and academic buy-in is crucial to the evolution of publishing culture.
2) Provide a clear route for help and advice when things don’t go according to plan. Colleagues can contact named individuals who are collaborating across professional services and liaising with external sources at both funders and other HEIs. This network is helping to define and resolve some of the challenges arising from the roll-out of the new policy.
3) Acknowledge that we are all in a learning phase and that there will be bumps in the road. Approaches may be dependent on circumstances, so solutions are not always applicable across all contexts. Funders do not always seem to have satisfactory answers to questions which have not been asked before. Academics face unique challenges as many variables come into play on any given piece of work. We cannot yet see the horizon; at times, we cannot see a few metres ahead, but the ground is there, and we all have a role to play in shaping it.
More questions about Birkbeck’s Open Research Policy?
Niamh Tumelty: We are inviting researchers to participate in a Rights Retention Pilot, which will run for one year starting April 2022. Participating researchers will grant the University a non-exclusive licence to the accepted manuscripts of any articles submitted during the pilot, making it easier for us to support them in meeting their funder requirements by uploading their manuscripts to our institutional repository, Apollo, without needing to apply an embargo. The pilot has launched using a CC BY approach as required by most cOAlition S funders, and we are exploring providing an option for alternative licences for researchers who do not have that specific requirement.
The researcher will notify the journal by including the rights retention statement on submission. When the paper has been accepted, the researcher will upload the accepted manuscript as normal via Symplectic Elements, indicating during the upload process that they have retained their rights. The Open Access team will do their usual checks, advise the researcher on what will happen next and arrange for the article to be made available on Apollo.
We will closely monitor what happens during the pilot and all participating researchers will be able to comment on their experiences. We will review all feedback and use it to inform our next review of our institutional open access policy.
Niamh Tumelty: The introduction of the requirement for immediate open access to research supported by cOAlition S funders has proven challenging in practice, with some publishers offering no compliant publishing route and others charging unsustainable prices for immediate open access to the final published version. Unless researchers want to move exclusively to publishing in journals that are diamond, fully gold or included within read & publish agreements, they need a way to retain sufficient rights, so that they always have the option to post their accepted paper online to achieve open sharing of their scholarship. Some disciplines have been left with little or no choice about where they can publish their research while meeting their funder requirements and their own goals for open research.
Niamh Tumelty: The fact that immediate OA is now a funder requirement for the majority of our researchers made the conversation relatively easy. We held a number of discussions at the Open Research Steering Committee to ensure that we had as full an understanding as possible, providing examples of issues that were arising in the first year of the Wellcome Trust rights retention requirement in the absence of an institutional policy.
We considered developing an institutional opt-out policy as others have done but concluded that the highly devolved nature of the University of Cambridge would have made it extremely difficult to conduct a thorough consultation and reach consensus by the deadline of 1 April 2022. We agreed that the most appropriate next step at Cambridge was to run a pilot on an opt-in basis. A working group was established to design this pilot and included researchers from across a range of disciplines along with open access and scholarly communication experts from Cambridge University Libraries. The working group met every two weeks from mid-January to the end of March to consider the issue from different disciplinary perspectives and to develop the approach for the pilot. We drew heavily on the policy that was introduced at the University of Edinburgh earlier this year, learning also from the UK Scholarly Communications Licence and Model Policy and recommendations that have been publicly shared by Harvard University. We brought the proposed pilot to the University’s Research Policy Committee for comment and took legal advice on the detail of how we would approach this before launching.
The beauty of a pilot approach is that no researcher has to participate – they have a choice about whether or not to opt in and will have the opportunity to influence whatever policy is ultimately introduced across the university. We can take this year to really understand the issues in detail and to build consensus about the best approach for Cambridge.
Niamh Tumelty: The biggest challenge in the lead up to the pilot has been understanding and developing confidence in the rights retention strategy. The expert legal advice we received following the announcement of the Wellcome Trust requirements and again as we designed the detail of our approach was critical in enabling us to develop the pilot. Now, our challenge is to clearly communicate and explain rights retention to our many researchers as a route they can choose when publishing and to grapple with any issues that arise during the pilot year before developing any full institutional policy.
Niamh Tumelty: The rights retention strategy is a key tool to enable researchers to openly publish in whatever journal will reach the most appropriate audience. It may be that some publishers decide to reject any papers in which the author has retained their rights, but this seems an unsustainable position given the growing number of authors whose funders require immediate open access for all outputs.
The advantage of a pilot approach rather than a full institutional policy is that it provides space and time for deep engagement across our highly devolved university. It creates a framework for the researchers that wanted to have an early route to support them in retaining their rights and for the open access team that advises and supports them. It enables us to generate evidence from our own researchers, to build confidence and trust and to refine the approach ahead of shaping a full institutional policy.
Niamh Tumelty: 1) Include a range of disciplinary perspectives from the earliest stages of planning. This early consideration will make it easier to tailor the messaging to different parts of the university, taking into account the different drivers and concerns that come into play. Make sure that the humanities perspective is included – too often in open research initiatives the humanities appear to be an afterthought, if considered at all.
2) Anticipate the questions that will be asked and make sure that you have clear and honest answers to those questions. Be honest and open about the fact that we are learning through the process (while building on the experiences of those who have gone before) and that there will be challenges. This enhances credibility and manages expectations as the policy beds in.
3) Have confidence in this approach! This is not new – researchers have been retaining their rights in this way for over a decade and it is becoming increasingly common practice across a range of institutions. Researchers are in a stronger position than they realise – if publishers want to continue getting this free content from our researchers, they will need to develop publishing routes that meet the needs of their academic communities.
Research Pages: Rights Retention (podcast)
More questions about the Rights Retention Pilot? Contact the Open Access Team
Theo Andrew: The University of Edinburgh Research Publications & Copyright policy starts off by confirming that members of staff own the copyright to their academic publications in line with current custom and practice. Then, upon acceptance of publication each staff member agrees to grant the University of Edinburgh a non‐exclusive and irrevocable licence to make the accepted manuscript version of their scholarly articles publicly available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence. It is important to note that this assignation of rights happens automatically and no effort is required by the author to fill in forms or add rights retention statements to journal submissions.
After granting the licence each staff member then agrees to provide an electronic copy of the accepted manuscript in an appropriate electronic format. This article will then be deposited in the Institutional Repository and made open access upon publication. This policy applies to all peer-reviewed research articles, published in either a journal, conference proceeding or publishing platform, authored or co-authored while the person is a staff member of the University of Edinburgh.
Theo Andrew: The previous University of Edinburgh Research Publications policy was over 10 years old. Given the many recent changes in the open access policy landscape it was looking extremely out of date. We began thinking about updating our institutional policy around the time when the UK-Scholarly Communications Licence and Model Policy was being developed. This initiative inspired us to start drafting some wording based loosely on their Model Policy. When Plan S was initially announced in 2018 we were further encouraged by the 10 guiding principles. In particular we were inspired by the statement that the group of cOAlition S funders encourage universities to align their policies and practices with the Plan S principles of immediate open access and rights retention. So we started drafting the policy with the intention of clearing up the ambiguity of copyright ownership, and ended up aligning our University policy with the Research Funder vision of immediate open access.
Theo Andrew: To start proceedings with a solid footing we initially consulted the institutional Legal Services team who were able to give us confidence that what we were proposing was legally viable and that we had backing from the University. We then sought to brief the University’s Senior Management Team and seek their support to proceed. With this in place we were able to navigate the various academic committees that govern the University – including, but not limited to, various College and School Research Committees, Knowledge Strategy Group, HR Policy Development Group, Research Policy Group – before ending up at the University Executive for formal approval. The Policy is effective from January 2022, but with a public launch in April, to tie in with UKRI open access policy.
Theo Andrew: One of the major challenges for us was navigating the complex governance structure of a large and diverse research intensive university. Getting the time and attention to be included on committee agendas – where open access is not necessarily a primary concern – was helped enormously and encouraged by research funders joining initiatives like Plan S.
A secondary, but massive challenge we had to manage, were significant time delays that were introduced due to high impact/priority external factors like Covid-19, UCU strike action, and the REF2021 exercise. The cumulative effect was to add about a year on to our overall implementation time.
Theo Andrew: There are a number of routes available for authors to make their work open access (APCs, self-archiving, Read & Publish deals, Diamond OA etc) and the policy fits in and complements these various options. It helps to level the playing field and offers the choice to authors who wish to self-archive and make their research immediately open who would normally be bound by restrictive embargo periods.
The policy also allows our institution the flexibility to immediately react to future policy changes; for example, the long-anticipated next REF exercise will likely contain immediate open access requirements. This policy ‘future proofing’ puts the institution in a really good position as we won’t have to make changes as we will be already compliant.
One of the less tangible, but powerfully important benefits for our researchers is that the policy is an affirmation from the University that the institution they are part of fully backs and supports them in their open access practices. All too often many researchers feel that they are stuck in the middle of a conflict between research funders and the journal publishers. With an institutional policy offering a route to immediate open access through self-archiving, the authors are not acting as individuals, but have the weight of their institution behind them which empowers them to act.
Theo Andrew: 1) Ask for help from other institutions who already have a policy in place. We couldn’t have developed our policy in isolation and have benefited greatly from discussions with other institutions. In turn we are more than happy to share our knowledge and experience and have done so with a dozen universities in the UK.
2) There will be unforeseen knockbacks along the way so it is important to develop resilience. Flexibility and persistence are fantastic attributes.
3) Familiarise yourself with the governance structure of your institution and build trusted relationships with key people before starting out. Once you have proved to stakeholders that you can be trusted to deliver change the whole process of developing and implementing policy becomes much easier.
More questions? Contact the Scholarly Communications Team: Help & support
UiT: UiT has adopted a rights retention policy, in the sense that all peer-reviewed work by authors affiliated with UiT shall be uploaded in the CRIS-system. In case the work is published in open access, the Version of Record is to be uploaded. In case a publication venue with closed access has been used, the Author’s Accepted Manuscript (the very last manuscript, after peer review) shall be uploaded. This is mandatory for journal articles and book chapters, and recommended for other types of academic work, ranging from monographs to feature articles in newspapers. The administrators of the institutional open repository, the Munin Archive, will continuously make the full texts uploaded by UiT authors openly available in green open access, regardless of publisher policies and regardless of any downstream contracts inadvertently accepted by a scholar during the submission workflow with the publisher.
UiT: We have seen over the years how several institutions in the US, including Harvard, have successfully adopted Rights Retention policies. Essentially, there are two reasons for us doing the same – one regarding Academic Freedom and the other related to budgetary constraints. We see that UiT affiliates in fact want to publish their work in open access. At the same time, they want to use the publication venues that offer the best prospects of quality assurance. As an employer, UiT protects our researchers’ freedom to choose whatever publication venue they want, without having to compromise on the principle of the widest possible dissemination via open access. The other, economic reason is that we see that the read-and-publish deals with big commercial publisher are not sustainable in the long run. To phrase it in tabloid terms, we need to make better use of the taxpayer’s money. One third reason can be added. The landscape of publishing and funding is diverse, and our researchers shall not have to know the regulations of each funding body or publishing house.
UiT: The institution has a Research Strategic Council with professors from each unit. The council appointed a group of experts from the university library, the central administration, and the various faculties. This group together formulated a revision to UiT’s Open Access Policy, in which Rights Retention now takes a prominent place. After careful legal scrutiny and discussion with the deans of each faculty, the rector then formally adopted the new Open Access Policy.
UiT: First and foremost, we needed to overcome legal anxieties. To our knowledge, we are one of the very first institutions in Europe to adopt an institutional Rights Retention Policy and likely the very first in Scandinavia. Even if expertise from Harvard assured us that they had not had any problems, how would this function under a Norwegian jurisdiction? It is vital for UiT that any anxiety is taken away from the shoulders of each individual researcher. Again, in tabloid fashion one can say to any anxious researcher that “UiT as an institution covers your back”.
UiT: For our researchers, to avoid the prior notice, i.e. the statement that Plan S requires each researcher to make when submitting a paper to a journal, is considered a great relief. The prior notice is in UiT’s case taken care of by the existence of our institutional Open Access Policy on our official webpages. For the administrators of our institutional archive (Munin), being free from the laborious task of checking what the publisher allows and manually imposing embargo periods on each article saves time, which they can now devote on upgrades of other aspects of the library’s open science services.
UiT: First and foremost, involvement. To the researchers, publishing their work is a core activity. Habits and possibilities differ between disciplines, so make sure to involve researchers from different backgrounds. Second, be brave. Make sure that when approaching the university’s leadership, you emphasize that risks are low and gains are high. The same goes for administrators and librarians when informing about the new policy to busy researchers. Finally, talk to people who have already been through the same process. The UiT group had fruitful online discussions with Harvard University and Bifröst University in Iceland. Instead of inventing the wheel, we simply adapted it to our local context. Open Access Policies are the opposite of business secrets and in our experience, the people writing them are eager to engage in open discussions.
Open Science Talk: An Institutional Rights Retention Strategy (podcast)
UiT The Arctic University of Norway is a medium-sized research university that contributes to knowledge-based development at the regional, national and international level. It is the northernmost university of the world. Its location on the edge of the Arctic implies a mission. The Arctic is of increasing global importance. Climate change, the exploitation of Arctic resources and environmental threats are topics of great public concern, and which the university takes special interest in.
UiT’s web portal for publishing and Open Access provides researchers and students with information about important requirements and support services for publishing and open access. UiT’s goals are to contribute to research-based knowledge in the wider society, and to make all academic publications accessible in open access journals or repositories. The portal is a collaboration between the Research, Education and Communication Division and the University Library.
Peer Community in (PCI) is a public initiative managed by researchers and organized as a set of disciplinary communities providing preprint peer review services that are separate and distinct from publication in a journal. In addition, PCI also publishes a Diamond Open Access journal: the Peer Community Journal. There are currently 14 PCIs, including PCI Ecology, PCI Evol Biol, and PCI Archaeology, and more will be created in the coming months.
PCI offers two routes towards Open Access (OA) publication. One of these routes differs from the three routes defined by Plan S. It does not involve publication in an OA journal or on an OA platform (Route 1), nor publication in a subscription journal with a version of record (VoR) or author accepted manuscript (AAM) in open access in a repository (Route 2), nor publication in a journal in transformative agreement (Route 3).
The new route offered by PCI – currently missing in Plan S – relies on validation of preprints by peer-review, to give them the same value as articles published in traditional journals. In the PCI system, authors write articles, deposit them as preprints on preprint servers or open repositories with associated data, scripts, and codes, and then submit them to one of the disciplinary PCIs. The submitted articles then go through a reliable and robust peer-review procedure as they would in journals, but with one major difference: if accepted, the editorial process (reviews, editorial decisions, and author responses) are published Open Access. In addition, an editorial recommendation (a clear and argued acceptance decision similar to a “News & view”) explaining the scientific context of the study and the reasons why the article was accepted is also published Open Access.
This open and free publication system – winner of the LIBER innovation award in 2020 – has been chosen by many authors since 2017: 550 submissions and 300 recommendations have been published so far in all PCIs combined. However, the emergence of the PCI model remains difficult because of the established dependence on journals of research institutions and funding agencies, especially in countries where the academic world is subject to the dictatorship of the Impact Factor (IF). Preprint recommendation by Peer Community In does not lead to a VoR, and it neither involves journals nor IF. Hence the difficulty in the prestige market of academic publishing.
Fortunately, within the context of the DORA Declaration and the growing commitment to Open Science, PCI is gaining interest and support from research institutions, in particular in France where the project originated. Many evaluation committees have indicated that they will consider recommended preprints in the same way as they consider articles published in journals. Several established institutes (CNRS, INRAE, Académie des Sciences…) have acknowledged PCI as an important actor in the open science ecosystem.
Based on the lack of explicit recognition and prestige associated with its main route to OA publication, PCI now offers authors the possibility of publishing their PCI-recommended preprint in a Diamond OA journal called Peer Community Journal. Once an article has been recommended by a disciplinary PCI, the authors can opt to publish it in Peer Community Journal virtually without delay and for free. They can also choose to leave their article on preprint servers or in open archives, or submit to other journals (see below). Peer Community Journal is hosted by the web publisher Centre Mersenne, it has recently been indexed by DOAJ, and is a candidate for indexing by the other main journal databases.
The journal’s policy towards IF is described in the association’s statutes: “The journal will not play the game of citation metrics (IF etc.); it will not display citation metrics on its website. Citation metrics will not be discussed during general assemblies of PCI. No communication will be made on citation metrics.”
Both Open Access routes offered by PCI allow the authors to retain copyright. Articles published by Peer Community Journal as well as recommendations and reviews published by Peer Community In have a CC BY licence. Preprints recommended by a PCI can have different licenses according to the policy of the open repository where they are deposited by the authors.
After a recommendation, preprints can remain on the preprint server and can be cited as any published article validated by peer-review. Alternatively, authors can submit them to any scientific journal for publication. They can target one of the 90 so-called ‘PCI-friendly’ journals who have committed to take into account the reviews and recommendations published by PCI, or they can transfer it, for free, for publication in Peer Community Journal. PCI thus creates a new ecosystem where:
1) a recommended preprint can be published without further review in a large number of journals,
2) a single peer-review process (of one or several rounds) allows successive submissions to several journals until one of them reaches the wise decision to publish the article. Such a decision is wise because the article has already been fully validated by the scientific community.
The two Open Access routes enabled by PCI respect the Fair Open Access principles (including the key feature of being “free of charge for authors”), which is not the case for the vast majority of journals published in Open Access by commercial publishers.
In this respect, we note that:
The two-route strategy adopted by PCI may seem paradoxical. On the one hand, PCI promotes preprints, their evaluation, and their use as a validated piece of science without the need to publish it in a journal. On the other hand, PCI launched its own journal in 2021 as a solution for authors facing evaluation committees and funding agencies that use the IF (and there are still many of them, despite DORA). The evaluation criteria are gradually changing, and it is possible that in the future a recommendation by PCI will be considered a sufficient and clear proof of quality. Authors may then feel freer to stick to a PCI-recommended preprint without the pressure to publish it in a journal.
Whatever the future brings, PCI promotes a science publication system accessible to all readers and authors, associated with evaluation, data, scripts, and codes that are also open to all, at the lowest possible cost for research institutions.
By using the PCI routes, authors not only promote Diamond OA, but also the principle of a fully transparent editorial process. They can use the recommendation of their work for their evaluation, recruitment, or funding applications. These elements should be particularly appreciated by the members of the evaluation committees who are increasingly, and fortunately, turning away from quantitative criteria and opting for qualitative ones.
How to achieve universal open access (OA) to research outputs is the topic of sometimes heated discussion. Major publishers pronounce the superiority of ‘gold’ OA as the ‘only’ sustainable route to full OA. The rhetoric from major commercial publishers is understandably business-orientated, and driven by competition for market share. As part of their argument for continued ‘investment’ in their products as the ‘only’ solution to OA, these same publishers are vociferously campaigning to cast distrust on repositories, and discredit the practice of providing access to and disseminating Author Accepted Manuscripts (AAMs), as well as denying authors retention and assertion of their rights. That is understandable, given these publishers’ main drivers for success are shareholder satisfaction and monetary bottom lines. “With the publication of its revised rules, it seems UKRI disagreed [that gold OA is the only sustainable solution], and rightly so. These points represent publishers’ interests, rather than the views of some mythical single “research community” (Eglan & Gatti, THE, 11/8/2021)
However, such arguments that aim to limit authors’ (and research funders’) options are neither research- nor researcher-based, despite publishers’ claims to the contrary. They ride roughshod over the fact that the content of articles belong to the author, and fail to support a mix of approaches to OA, or the shift to a ‘Record of Versions’ model. They also dismiss the broader value of repositories for researchers, institutions and scholarship. This broader value, together with some publisher’s attempts to misrepresent repositories, was described by Kathleen Shearer in her piece: ‘Don’t believe the hype: repositories are critical for ensuring equity, inclusion and sustainability in the transition to open access’.
Although cOAlition S values the input and services publishers offer – and some of its funders state a preference for OA via the gold route – they do not support paid gold OA at any price nor to the detriment of content ownership. These publishers’ arguments in support of ‘the only way is our gold’ are hollow.
Publishers state that the version of record (publisher’s version or VoR) is the product that readers and authors prefer, want, and specially seek out. In fact, Springer Nature published a white paper describing their findings from their own survey on this very topic. If it is the case that authors and readers prefer the VoR, then authors (or their agents such as libraries) will pay for it. That is how the free market works. If a company provides a product or service people want, customers will pay for it. People will cancel if the service is not delivering what they need, is too expensive, or a competitor provides an alternative that’s better, cheaper, has more widgets, etc.
So what’s the big deal? Why are major publishers trying to discredit repositories and the use of AAMs? What are they frightened of?
They should have nothing to worry about. They’ve even got years’ worth of external evidence in the form of Arxiv (hosting >2M articles), which, every year, disseminates thousands of physics and related subject preprints and AAMs very similar to the VoR. Journals continue to publish those same papers, despite content being freely available in Arxiv. If Springer Nature and other publishers believe their own statements, readers and authors will seek out the VoR. Repositories even help them to do this; one of the benefits of repositories is the free publicity they provide for publishers. Each discoverable record in a repository includes the DOI of the VoR for users to easily locate the VoR with a single click, and either access the full text immediately, or pay to access it (e.g. here and here).
If an author wants to make an unformatted AAM version available, then so be it. Provided the VoR offers the features that customers want, then publishers have no cause for concern. If it doesn’t, then the publisher will have to rethink – but that’s how it should be, and how markets work. According to the publisher produced white paper cited above, there is nothing for publishers to worry about. As Peter Suber, arguably the father of the OA movement, stated, ‘There are no good reasons to put the thriving of incumbent toll-access journals and publishers ahead of the thriving of research itself’.
Perhaps it is true that services like Unsub and the SPARC log of journal big deal cancellations mean that ‘green’ OA is having an effect on subscriptions. If it is, then why? Could it possibly be because what is on offer is too expensive, rights are too restrictive, and the product is not what the customer wants in some way? This is what the competitive market entails, and any services that are losing out clearly need to re-evaluate and reconsider what they are offering.
Another factor major publishers cite is the ‘sustainability’ of OA publishing options. This somewhat tortuous and dubious argument hinges on a number of publisher-defined criteria, including:
Also, some publishers would like to think that they alone lead and drive research quality and dissemination, and are the sole custodians of the scholarly record. Such ‘sustainability’ arguments are misaligned with 21st century Open Science.
Regarding sustainability, again, market forces will drive this. If the products on the market are those that users want and are willing to pay for at a price they can afford, then the OA publishing options offered by these publishers will continue and will be sustained by users’ payment. If not, they will fail – but only because they are not meeting what users want, need or can afford. The publisher has to earn their customers’ business by making their product what they will pay for. Having a place in that market is neither a divine right nor even a legal right. Owning the rights to content, by contrast, is a right: the author’s.
Publishers that talk about self-archiving as “The false promise of Green OA” are missing the point. Green OA isn’t promising anything – it is an expression of the right of authors and institutions to disseminate and use the research finding papers and other outputs they created, or were created with their affiliation, in a way that they choose. If supporting that right happens to result in a service that users prefer and choose to use in preference to a publisher’s VoR, then so be it. But publishers should not be so disingenuous to the authors that contribute content for the publisher’s use at no charge by trying to deny them the rights to disseminate their own work in the ways they choose. The content belongs to the author.
It would appear that these publishers don’t want a normal market to operate. They are creating a monopoly (“the exclusive possession or control of the supply of or trade in a commodity or service” Concise Oxford Dictionary), monopolising other people’s (i.e. their authors’) intellectual property, and attempting to close down what they claim nobody wants anyway. How contradictory. The result is harming fully open scientific discourse and open science, and is disrespectful to authors.
Replacing traditional journals with a more modern solution is not a new idea, but the lack of progress since the first calls more than 20 years ago has convinced an increasing number of experts that a disruptive break is now necessary. The list of problems that have been accumulating is long, but three stand out as the most severe:
The reason for three decades of inaction is a social dilemma, where every player – researchers, libraries or institutions – is at a disadvantage if they move (first), so all remain locked-in. Reminiscent of the big internet platforms, the corporate publishers exploit this situation by using their massive profits not only to resist and delay any research- and public-oriented reform, but to fund a reform of their own and on their own terms: The major publishing houses are tracking their academic users in order to, among other reasons, expand their monopolies beyond scholarly texts. Over the last decade, the four leading publishing houses have all acquired or developed a range of services aiming to develop vertical integration over the entire scientific process (Fig. 1). For any institution buying such a workflow package, the risk of vendor lock-in is very real: Without any standards, it becomes technically and financially nearly impossible to substitute a chosen service provider with another one.
Any solution needs to not only solve the current problems but also be capable of preventing a takeover by the corporations. Technically, there is broad agreement on the goal for a modern scholarly digital infrastructure: it needs to replace traditional journals with a decentralized, resilient, evolvable network that is interconnected by open standards and open source norms under the governance of the scholarly community. At the same time, and enabled by this plan, new, modern and adaptable reputation systems, long demanded by the scientific community, can finally be implemented. An essential part of the goal is also to replace the monopolies of current journals with a genuinely functioning and well-regulated market, where substitutable service providers would compete and innovate according to conditions set by the scholarly community.
To ensure the substitutability of workflow service providers, content needs to be stored and made accessible according to a set of enforced standards. These standards need to be open, under the governance of the scholarly community. The basis for such standards exists and only needs to be expanded, adopted and enforced. Thus, a standards body, analogous to, e.g., the W3C, needs to form under the governance of the scholarly community to allow the development of open scholarly infrastructures servicing the entire research workflow. There already are independent, non-profit platforms where service providers can be substituted. Scholarly institutions have a long history of publishing the work of their scholars, as well as striving to develop a global library of interoperable repositories. Combining these long-standing initiatives with existing open infrastructure developments could be instantiated today and is no longer a future scenario.
Redirection of funding from the legacy publishers to the new framework can be realized in a variety of ways. One possibility is already established and has been used for decades: Funding agencies have always required minimal conditions at funded institutions. These requirements, broadened to include the new framework, provide exquisite incentives for institutions to redirect their recurrent funds from antiquated journals to modern technology. With journal articles currently being overpaid by a factor of ten, the level of library funding is more than sufficient to implement any desired technology. Such updated eligibility criteria by funding bodies would help realign the financial incentives for recipient institutions with public and scholarly interest.
Ownership involves socially recognized economic rights, first and foremost the exclusive control over that property, with the self-efficacy it affords. The inability to exert such control over crucial components of their scholarly infrastructure in the face of a generally recognized need for action for over three decades now, evinces the dramatic erosion of real ownership rights for the scholarly community over said infrastructure. Thus, this proposal is motivated not only by the now very urgent need to restore such ownership to the scholarly community, but also by the understanding that through their funding bodies, scholars may have an effective and proven avenue at their disposal to identify game-changing actions and to design a financial incentive structure for recipient institutions that can help realize the restoration of ownership, with the goal to implement open digital infrastructures that are as effective and as invisible as any non-digital infrastructure.
Varvara Trachana; University of Thessaly, Larisa, Greece