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“Rights retention is actually straightforward”. Sheffield Hallam University aims to keep it simple.


In 2008 Harvard’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences voted unanimously to adopt a ground-breaking open access policy. Since then, over 70 other institutions, including other Harvard faculties, Stanford and MIT, have adopted similar policies based on the Harvard model. In Europe such institutional policies have, so far, been slow to get off the ground.

We are beginning to see that situation change.

Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) has recently announced its new Research Publications and Copyright Policy, which will come into force on the 15th of October 2022. In the following interview, Eddy Verbaan, Head of Library Research Support at Sheffield Hallam University, explains why SHU decided to make Rights Retention a dominant driver of its new policy, how they benefited from similar institutional policies and what steps could other universities take towards the same direction.

cOAlition S: Could you please, describe the author copyright policy you have adopted at Sheffield Hallam University?

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.

cOAlition S: Where and why did the idea of adopting an institutional OA/copyright policy emerge?

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.


Making open access immediate, rather than after a delay, can play a role in increasing the reach and impact of our research.

cOAlition S: How was the agreement reached across the institution?

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.


cOAlition S: What challenges had to be overcome before it was agreed to adopt the policy?

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.


cOAlition S: What are the advantages of adopting the policy for your researchers and your institution?

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.

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. Improving the reach of research improves potential impact, in particular beyond academia.

cOAlition S: In conclusion, what are your three top tips for any other university considering adopting a similar Open Access and copyright policy to yours?

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? 

Visit the new Research Publications and Copyright Policy page or contact Eddy Verbaan.

Eddy Verbaan

Eddy heads the library’s research support team at Sheffield Hallam University and leads efforts to advance Open Research. He wrote Exploring Research Data Management together with his former colleague, Andrew Cox from Sheffield’s Information School. Before Eddy joined Hallam in 2014, he worked as a university teacher and researcher in the Netherlands (Leiden), Belgium (Louvain-la-Neuve), France (Sorbonne) and the UK (Nottingham and Sheffield). He holds a PhD in history. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3068-7881