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Opinion: the cOAlition S Rights Retention Strategy


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