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cOAlition S response to the STM statement: the Rights Retention Strategy restores long-standing academic freedoms


The statement published earlier today (3rd February) by the STM Association and signed by a number of its members (and a number of non-members), continues to perpetuate a number of myths and errors relating to the Rights Retention Strategy.

From the start it is worth stressing that cOAlition S continues to engage with many of the publishers who are signatories to the letter, supporting routes which enable the Version of Record (VoR) to be made Open Access.  Funders, like Wellcome, are not only supporting Article Processing Charges in fully open access journals, but also allow their funding to be used to support transformative arrangements – such as Read and Publish agreements – and more recently, transformative journals (which a number of signatories – including Elsevier and Springer Nature – have developed). Although the Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) is indeed being implemented as of January 2021, publishers have received notice of the Rights Retention Strategy since July 2020, and cOAlition S has held various meetings with them to discuss their concerns and explain what the RRS is trying to achieve.

We agree that management and support of the peer review process require significant resources. However, while we do not underestimate the value that publishers add to the process, we point out that peer review is conducted on a voluntary basis by the research community.

We are somewhat perplexed to read that the “Rights Retention Strategy ignores long-standing academic freedoms”. As these are left unspecified, it is hard to see how that could be the case. However, we believe the Rights Retention Strategy restores long-standing academic freedoms, in that it asserts the authors’ ownership of their publication after peer review, to re-use and share as they please. It is up to the publishers to demonstrate the added value of the Version of Record, for which cOAlition S funders are willing to pay, as we have repeatedly stated.

The paper also states – without substantiating this claim – that the Rights Retention Strategy will undermine the Version of Record. Again, how exactly this will be achieved is left unspecified. We allow for publishers to formulate conditions on the relation between the Author Accepted Manuscript and the Version of Record: publishers can stipulate that reference should always be made to the Version of Record. We also believe that the authors themselves have a vested interest in referring to the Version of Record. As is well known, peak re-submissions to ArXiv happen at the time of publication, which suggests that authors are uploading the AAM or the VoR. This seems not to have affected the integrity of the VoR, nor indeed publishers’ income. So we see no reason for this gloomy and wholly unsubstantiated prediction.

Furthermore, the statement attempts to confuse authors, stating ominously that “The signatory publishers (…) urge authors to consult with their journals of choice as to what is allowed.” Authors need not do any such thing. Using the Rights Retention Strategy is an individual right that authors have to assert intellectual ownership of their work. They do not need the publishers’ permission to exercise that right. In addition, the Rights Retention Strategy is now a contractual grant condition for cOAlition S grantees. It would be a matter of significant concern if we saw the publishers encouraging cOAlition S grantees to violate their contractual obligations with their funder.

Publishers are, of course, at liberty to reject all manuscripts which give notice to the publisher of the prior right to share their accepted manuscript.  Publishers who wish to do so, should contact cOAlition S so that we can update the Journal Checker Tool with this information.

In conclusion, cOAlition S funders are prepared to pay a fair, reasonable, and transparent fee for the services publishers provide to make the VoR Open Access. And, though we believe there is added value in the VoR, to ensure this model is widely adopted, publishers need to demonstrate to the research community that the value provided by making this version Open Access is commensurate with the price charged. cOAlition S’s ultimate goal is to make sure that the publications resulting from its funding are immediately made openly available for the entire world to benefit from, free from any embargo periods or paywalls.


February 3, 2021


Robert Kiley, cOAlition S Coordinator

Johan Rooryck, Executive Director, cOAlition S

Robert Kiley

Robert Kiley is Head of Strategy at cOAlition S, working to accelerate the transition to full and immediate Open Access. Prior to this, he was Head of Open Research at the Wellcome Trust, where he was responsible for developing and implementing their open research strategy. Over the past decade, Robert has played a leading role in the implementation of Wellcome's open access policy and overseeing the development of the Europe PubMed Central repository. He also led the development - in partnership with Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society - of eLife, the open-access research journal, launched in 2012. More recently he championed the work to create a new open publishing platform for Wellcome researchers – Wellcome Open Research. Robert is a qualified librarian and an Associate Member of CILIP. He is a Board member of Open Research Central and served for 6 years on the ORCID Board of Directors.