For a long time now, researchers have all too easily handed over to academic publishers the rights inherent in their publications. These rights include not only the intellectual ownership of the researcher’s work, but also the permission to freely and immediately disseminate it without embargoes, and thus allow others to quickly build on these results. cOAlition S wants researchers to retain sufficient intellectual ownership rights to their publications. This can be difficult to achieve for individual researchers, since the cOAlition S Open Access requirement may conflict with the demands of the publishers to transfer copyright to them.

cOAlition S, therefore, wants to help researchers to always retain sufficient intellectual ownership of their work after peer review. Ideally, researchers would retain full copyright, but we will allow for copyright transfer if sufficient rights are retained to control a CC BY version of publications. The Rights Retention Strategy is designed to support cOAlition S funded researchers seeking to publish in their journal of choice, including any subscription journal. Researchers only need to fulfil two conditions: First, when they submit their articles to a journal, they have to inform the publisher that their submission is under a CC BY licence. This allows researchers to retain sufficient intellectual ownership rights to their work. Secondly, researchers have to make that work openly available on publication so it is easily accessed and built upon.

The Rights Retention Strategy gives further shape to the Plan S pledge that all scholarly publications resulting from research grants must be immediately available Open Access with a reuse licence upon publication. It makes 100% of cOAlition S funded scholarly publications available Open Access. This policy maps to Route 2 in the implementation guidance and is very close to the Harvard licence model which has been in place since 2008.

What researchers are asked to do

The idea is simple. cOAlition S Organisations will change their grant conditions so that a public copyright licence – CC BY – is applied by default to all Author Accepted Manuscripts (AAM) reporting on original research supported in whole or in part by their funding.

Accordingly, funded researchers, and especially those who wish to publish in subscription journals, are asked to do two things:

  • Inform the publisher that their submission is already licensed under a CC BY public copyright licence. This can best be achieved by using the following language in either the submission letter or the acknowledgements section, or both:
    “This research was funded, in whole or in part, by [Organisation Name, Grant number]. For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) version arising from this submission.”
  • On publication, immediately make a copy of the Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) – or, if possible the Version of Record (VoR) – available in an Open Access repository of their choice. Many universities and funders already offer such repository services to their researchers.

Explicitly informing the publisher of the CC BY status of the submission is important because it allows researchers to retain sufficient rights ensuring that they can reuse their work in a legally robust way, whilst also allowing them to adhere to their Organisation’s Open Access policy. Making the Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM), or, if possible, the Version of Record (VoR) available in an open access repository is crucial because it ensures that the researchers’ work is easily accessible for all readers worldwide, and therefore viewed more often than articles behind a paywall. In other words, both of these grant conditions of cOAlition S Organisations are entirely in the interest of researchers themselves.

What cOAlition S will do: giving publishers notice

cOAlition S has written to 150 subscription publishers, who publish the majority of research attributed to cOAlition S Organisations, to encourage them to change their existing publishing agreements. cOAlition S asks these publishers to allow all researchers – or by exception, just cOAlition S funded researchers – to make at least their AAMs freely available at the time of publication with a CC BY licence.  Publishers who are not willing to do this will be given notice that cOAlition S researchers are bound by the terms of their grant agreement to publish with a CC BY licence. Legally speaking, the grant agreement then takes precedence over any later publishing agreements that grant holders are asked to sign with the publisher. cOAlition S Organisations are ready to back up researchers in their interaction with the publishers if the publisher insists the work be removed from public view in the repository.

The broader cOAlition S policy picture

The Rights Retention Strategy is just one of three routes which cOAlition S has developed to enable researchers to continue publishing in journals of their choice while fulfilling the mandate to publish in Open Access. In addition to financial support for fully Open Access venues (Route 1), cOAlition S Organisations support Transformative Arrangements as a way to publish Open Access. Transformative Arrangements include Transformative (Model) Agreements (Publish & Read / Read & Publish deals) and Transformative Journals (Route 3). Transformative Agreements provide authors covered by such deals with a hassle-free way of publishing their research in Open Access. The Transformative Journal framework, which was adopted by Springer Nature, is yet another arrangement designed to make sure that authors can publish in Open Access in the journals of their choice. In many countries, the combination of Transformative Agreements and full Open Access publishing already delivers an Open Access potential of about 75%. Our Journal Checker Tool, available on 1 January 2021, will help researchers find out which journals allow them to be compliant with Plan S through either of the above-mentioned routes, including the Rights Retention strategy.


Johan Rooryck

Executive Director, cOAlition S

The emerging Coronavirus (COVID19) has once again highlighted the need for researchers to have unfettered access to the research literature.  A recent article in the Guardian argued that “hiding research papers behind a subscription paywall, could be killing people”, whilst a group of US patient and disease advocacy organizations stated that “information critical to health should no longer be held hostage by arcane publishing”.

However, despite such concerns and calls for change,  and after more than 15 years of Open Access (OA) mandates, declarations and discussions, some 75% of the world’s research literature is, on publication, only available to paying subscribers.

Although in the case of COVID19, publishers have been quick to provide access to previously paywalled research on this topic – for example, see responses from Wiley and Elsevier – a much better solution, and one which works across all disciplines at all times, is to support a world when all research is open access. This is what Plan S is seeking to do, and why 24 research funding organisations are supporting this initiative.

In this short piece Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research at Wellcome and interim cOAlition S Coordinator provides an update on five key activities cOAlition S is currently supporting.

1. Growing the cOAlition S membership-base

cOAlition S is a group of funding agencies which have agreed to align their OA policies with Plan S. Currently there are 24 members, including UKRI, the Gates Foundation and the European Commission, including the European Research Council. We recognise, however, that if we are to be successful in bringing about a global change in the way research is disseminated, we need more funders to support Plan S.

Over the last few months, we have secured the support of the WHO/TDR, the South African Medical Research Council and the Aligning Science Against Parkinson. We continue to work with many other agencies, encouraging them to consider the potential benefits OA can deliver.

Working with US funding agencies remains a high priority and the rumoured Whitehouse Executive Order appears to be well-aligned with Plan S. We are watching this with interest.

2.  Supporting researchers

Some researchers have expressed concerns with Plan S, fearing that if their publication choices are reduced, then this may negatively impact on their likelihood to secure future grants and tenure.

This concern has arisen as Plan S is explicit in saying that OA publications costs (typically Article Processing Changes, APCs) for articles published in subscription journals will no longer be funded, outside of Transformative Agreements. Researchers, however, can still seek to publish in subscription journals, as long as they make a copy of their research article (either the accepted manuscript or the published version) freely available without an embargo and with an open licence.

It is also worth stressing that funders who align their OA policies with Plan S make clear that when assessing research outputs as part of a funding decision, they will value the intrinsic merit of the work and not consider the publication channel, its impact factor or other journal-based metrics.

Within cOAlition S we have also established a task force to monitor the effects of Plan S. As early career researchers feel especially affected by Plan S, representatives from the Global Young Academy, Eurodoc, Young Academy of Europe and the Marie Curie Alumni have joined this group to ensure their voice is heard.

In advance of the Plan S policy coming into effect, we will also provide a simple web-based tool in which researchers can determine how to comply with this policy at any specific publishing venue. An Invitation to Tender to build this tool has been published. We anticipate that we will appoint a contractor within the next three months and have a live service running by Autumn 2020.

3. Supporting learned societies

Plan S, with its explicit commitment not to fund hybrid open access fees, requires subscription publishers to reassess their business models. This affects all publishers but is felt more acutely by learned society publishers, many of whom rely on publishing revenue to support their other activities, such as awarding grants and organising meetings.

To help learned societies explore alternative models, Wellcome in partnership with UKRI, commissioned Information Power to look at this issue. The subsequent report and supporting toolkit identified outlined 27 potential business models society publishers could adopt.

The Transformation Agreement model – in which funding from library subscriptions and funder APCs is used to provide institutions with access to all subscription content, whilst allowing research articles authored by researchers at subscribing institutions to be made fully OA – is gaining traction. By way of example, within the past 3 months, both the Microbiology Society and the Biochemical Society have negotiated such agreements, thus ensuring that a growing volume of their published output is OA.

The Wellcome, in partnership with HHMI, has also launched the Learned Society Curation Awards which seeks to support learned society publishers who want to explore new ways of signalling the significance of published research outputs in an open and transparent manner.

4. Engaging with publishers

cOAlition S continues to engage with publishers, encouraging them to develop publishing options in line with the Plan S principles.

As discussed above this includes supporting the development of Transformative Agreements, such as “Read and Publish” and “Subscribe to Open” arrangements.

We have also developed a set of criteria to encourage individual journal titles to transform to OA. Known as “Transformative Journals” (TJ’s), any journal which commits to a set of KPI’s can continue to levy APCs and where they are fair and reasonable, expect cOAlition S members to meet these. A consultation on the proposed criteria for TJ’s closed in early January and we will report on the outcome of this before the end of March 2020.

Support for fully OA journals and platforms continues to be a key part of the Plan S strategy.  Recognising, however, that a single, global APC price for any given journal may not always be the most equitable way to cover publishing costs, we have started to discuss with a number of OA publishers the idea of linking the APC to the purchasing power parity (PPP) of different countries.

5. Developing price transparency

In 2017 it was estimated that the annual revenues generated from English-language STM journal publishing were $10bn. As around 3m articles are published every year, this suggests that the average revenue from every published article is around $3,333.

Leaving aside whether in an online world this sum is fair or appropriate, the current publishing model provides little or no transparency as to what the customers – libraries, funders and researchers – receive for this money.

To address this, Wellcome and UKRI, on behalf of cOAlition S, contracted Information Power to develop a framework through which publishers could price the services they provide. The draft framework seeks to breakdown the price charged into seven discrete “service buckets” such as “% of price from submission to desk reject or acceptance” and “% of price for peer review management”.

To determine whether it is feasible for publishers to provide this level of data and whether this information is of use to libraries and funders, the framework will be piloted in the first quarter of 2020. 10 publishers have agreed to join this pilot including Springer-Nature, Brill, PLOS the Company of Biologists and EMBO Press.

More information?

This post has just given a snapshot of the activities we are engaged with to support the implementation of Plan S.

If you have any questions or need any more information, see the cOAlition S website and use the Contact Us form for asking additional questions you may have.

Original article published on LinkedIn on February 18, 2020