cOAlition S and repositories (part III)
Repositories as key links in the cOAlition S Rights Retention Strategy
In the previous blogs, I covered Plan S and the requirements for repositories, and the benefits of deposit & dissemination of research findings via repositories. In this piece, I focus on the cOAlition S Rights Retention Strategy and how it relates to repositories. I also take a brief look into possible futures.
From 1st January 2021, the cOAlition S Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) will start to be implemented by funders. A key reason for adopting this initiative is to allow authors to have the widest possible range of journals to choose from for article submission and to make sure they take advantage of the benefits of OA, whilst meeting their funder’s OA requirements. The RRS is not principally about compliance – OA should never primarily be about box-ticking and compliance – it is about restoring intellectual control of works describing research findings to the authors themselves. Adoption of the RRS gives authors the security that acceptance of their article for submission ensures that they can eventually make their work OA either via the Version of Record (VoR), or the author accepted manuscript (AAM), independently of the choice of venue (fully OA or subscription journal).
The RRS cuts through much of the confusion, obfuscation, and – to be frank – utter nonsense surrounding copyright transfer claims made by some publishers. Take for example the incorrect claim that copyright transfer is required to ensure the widest possible dissemination of a work, as stated by Cell Press:
“Upon acceptance of an article, authors will be asked to transfer copyright. This transfer will ensure the widest possible dissemination of information.”
The author only needs to grant a licence to publish to the publisher for it to have the rights it needs to publish and disseminate the work (with the caveat that additional permissions and exclusive rights, if signed by an author, can be as restrictive as wholesale transfer of copyright) – it does not need transfer of copyright. Transfer of copyright enables the publisher to control the use of the article, which can include putting it behind a paywall and imposing embargoes on AAMs, which is hardly ensuring widest possible dissemination.
There is also this strange example in AAP journals (see ‘Pediatrics’) that imposes a 12-month embargo on articles which can then be followed by open access for a limited period of four years. Exactly what benefit is accrued to authors or to scholarship when access is closed down after four years is hard to imagine. The RRS eliminates this sort of absurdity and other inconsistencies that only serve to confuse both authors and readers, and prevent full, immediate, and long-term access to research findings.
cOAlition S is mindful of the choices of areas of the world where repository OA is currently the preferred and only practical option. In some countries, funders cannot afford the expensive OA options paid for by more wealthy funders of the global north. In these countries, repository OA is currently the only workable (and often preferred) solution. cOAlition S is also aware of the situation of small publishers and small learned societies. Some specialist journals might only publish a handful of cOAlition S funded papers every year. Such journals often have minimal resources, so a commitment to ‘flip’ to a fully OA journal is not always viable in the near future. In this situation, the repository OA option enables them to offer a workable immediate OA solution for their authors.
Differing views on the pros and cons of immediate repository OA have been well-rehearsed elsewhere (for example see Times Higher 23/4/19, Scholarly Kitchen 16/12/19 and 18/12/13, RSB presentation 2012, Unlocking Research 20/5/16 and LSE blog 14/1/14), but there is no evidence so far that the OA availability of AAMs in repositories harms library subscription of the corresponding VoRs. In fact, a number of publishers already permit zero embargo for AAMs, some with CC BY licences. Emerald Publishing recently partnered with Jisc to extend its existing zero embargo policy so that OA AAMs “will be auto-deposited to their institutional repository via Jisc’s Publications Router when their institution has a subscription to the journal. Articles will be deposited based on the author’s affiliation at the time of submission, under a UKRI OA compliant licence.” I feel sure that Emerald would not have made this move if they felt it would toll the death-knell for its journals.
In recent news, AAAS Science journals have adopted a trial new OA policy that actively enables the cOAlition S RRS including for its prominent title Science. Under this new open-access policy, cOAlition S ‘authors may deposit near-final, peer-reviewed versions of papers accepted by paywalled Science titles in publicly accessible online repositories’ under a CC BY licence. cOalition S has welcomed this move. This development is particularly notable because it is in direct opposition to the direction taken by its competitor Springer Nature, which publishes the journal Nature. Although a pilot for 12 months, again, I think it is highly unlikely that such high profile journals as Science titles would have adopted the new policy and embrace the green route solution and its benefits, if its management felt that it would contribute to the downfall of the publication.
As mentioned previously, cOAlition S supports mixed models for OA. In this respect, depositing AAMs and other works in OA repositories is ‘supportive of innovation whilst also collectively managed by the scholarly community’ (COAR Next Generation Repositories Report). My prediction is that in 5 years’ time we shall be seeing much greater roles for pre-prints, micro-publishing (e.g. microPublication Biology), other forms of research description that support open science (e.g. registered reports), overlay peer review (e.g. PCI), combined with improved forms of research evaluation. I would hazard a guess that author rights retention and repositories will play a positive supporting role in getting scholarship to that point.