Sunday, February 08, 2009

Canada, let's fix the open access policy loophole BEFORE we harmonize

The FRQS open access policy relies on four principles (thanks to Jim Till, who has some interesting comments on the policy).

One of the principles is that of harmonization. Canada's research funding agencies all want their open access policies to be in harmony with each other, to avoid duplication and to facilitate compliance for researchers.

There is much to be said for harmonization - except when it involves copying a bad model for policy. Before harmonizing, Canada, let's fix the loophole.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research' Policy on Access to Research Outputs is ALMOST a model policy - the maximum 6-month embargo, beautiful language on the value of open access, support for open access publishing and open data, and a call to review the embargo with a view to shortening it.

Alas, this policy falls very, very short of a being a model, as it is known around the world as the LOOPHOLE MODEL. As stated in the CIHR policy: Publications must be freely accessible within six months of publication, where allowable and in accordance with publisher policies. Or, as a researcher at UBC recently expressed it: CIHR says you gotta make your work open access. Unless you don't.

This sentence should be changed to:

Publications must be freely accessible within six months of publication. Period. Full stop. The contract between the researcher, CIHR, and ultimately, the Canadian taxpayer, comes prior to any agreement with a publisher. The vast majority of publishers already routinely allow self-archiving of articles for open access, as can be viewed from the Sherpa RoMEO Publisher Copyright Policies and Self-Archiving page. More will allow self-archiving when it is required by a research funder. Look for the "white" publishers in Sherpa RoMEO - for publishers that normally allow no self-archiving at all - and you will see that many are compliant with research funding agencies' open access policies.

If CIHR is looking for evidence of what is needed in open access policy, the U.S. National Institutes of Health provides a great model of why NOT to bother with a weak policy; with language merely encouraging open access, rather than requiring it, in 2004 the compliance rate was a dismal rate of about 4%. This was fixed in 2008, when the policy became a requirement.

added February 10 - from Peter Suber on Open Access News

Comment.  Hear, hear.  See my original criticism of the loophole in the CIHR policy (September 2007).  Also see my subsequent criticism of OA policy loopholes, most recently in point #10 of my article in the February SOAN published last week:

...There are two basic ways for you to secure the needed permissions for OA and steer clear of copyright infringement. 

First, you could get the permissions from publishers, after authors transfer their rights.  In practice, mandates of this type require OA to a certain version on a certain timetable except when the grantee's publisher won't allow it.  The funder policy defers to publisher policies.  For example, the UK Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) requires OA "where this is permitted by publishers' licensing or copyright arrangements".  The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) requires OA "where allowable and in accordance with publisher policies".

Second, you could close this loophole and get the permissions from authors before authors transfer any rights to publishers.  Mandates of this type take advantage of the fact that funders are upstream from publishers and their funding contracts bind researchers long before those researchers sign copyright transfer agreements with publishers.  Your funding contract can require grantees to retain the right to authorize OA on your terms.  When a given publisher will not allow OA on your terms, you can require the grantee to look for another publisher.  This approach was pioneered by the Wellcome Trust in 2004 and subsequently adopted by the Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC, UK), Cancer Research UK (CR-UK), Department of Health (UK), Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI, US), Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC, UK), Medical Research Council (MRC, UK), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH, US).

The first method removes all the teeth from the mandate and puts publisher interests ahead of funder interests.... The second method mandates OA to all the funder's research, not just a subset of it, and replaces contingent publisher permission with assured author permission....

Recommendation:  If you're serious about wanting OA for the research you fund, close the loophole and adopt the second strategy....

This post is part of the Canadian Leadership in the Open Access Movement series.