Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Open access legislation in the US and Canada looks to prioritize post-publication archiving, not publishers' profits

My open access policy post has just been published in the London School of Economics Impact Blog.

The text follows. Note that this was written before the Canadian tri-agency draft open access policy was released on October 15, but correctly predicts expansion of the CIHR policy basics across the funding agencies. My comments on the tri-agency policy are posted here.  The ACOA / APLAC response draft is posted here.

Providing further context on open access policy, Heather Morrison presents cases from the U.S. and Canada, where each are also grappling with how to provide wider access to publicly funded research. If passed, the U.S.’s FASTR Act would require ‘green’ archiving and a focus on interoperability of local repositories. Across North America, faculty-led institutional policy has also been instrumental in administering access whilst preserving university autonomy.

What do UK academics and policy-makers need to know about open access policy across the pond? This is a call for UK academics to join us in calling for public policies that prioritize the needs of scholars and the public interest, not the profits of a handful of publishers. U.S. leaders have developed approaches to policy that are good models for any country! The U.S. Free Access to Research Act (FASTR), if passed, would require the archiving of peer-reviewed results of research funded by federal agencies for public access with a maximum six month embargo. A White House directive in response to a public call for open access is calling for much the same approach, with implementation details anticipated at any moment.
Scientific Data on Demand – NERSC’s High Performance Storage System
Image credit: Berkeley Lab (CC-BY-NC-SA)

A six month embargo is more than generous considering that scholarly publishers have had over a decade to transition to open access. There are more than ten thousand fully open access peer reviewed journals successfully employing a variety of business models listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. By insisting on deposit in repositories for public access with long-term preservation addressed, FASTR ensures ongoing access to these works for the U.S. public. FASTR addresses the technical requirements for re-use much more directly than the RCUK’s indirect and insufficient preference for a particular license. Research funders in the U.S. and Canada fund research rather than targeting funding to open access article processing fees. The faculty permissions approach, developed by academics for academics, pioneered by Harvard and perfected by MIT is the optimal model for institutional open access policy from the scholar’s point of view. Perhaps a topic for another day: throughout the U.S. and Canada, university libraries provide hosting and support services for faculty-led publishing.

The Free Access to Research Act (FASTR) in the U.S., if passed, would require free public access to federally funded research for departments with research budgets of $100 million or more. Unlike the UK, FASTR does not ask authors to publish in open access journals, nor does it provide funding for open access article processing fees. FASTR’s call for examination of open licensing is very similar to the recent advice from the UK’s Business, Innovation and Skills Committee for further research on this point.

FASTR is a superior policy to the UK’s RCUK policy from a number of perspectives. First, demanding deposit in repositories designed for long-term preservation for free public access assures that U.S. citizens will have access to these works in perpetuity. The UK’s push for gold open access policy leaves works funded by the UK at the mercy of publishers and journals that could fold, be owned or controlled by organizations outside the political influence of the UK, or that could change their business model in future.

The US focus on interoperability and local repositories meeting technical requirements directly addresses requirements for data and text-mining. This is likely to be far more effective than the UK’s attempt to achieve this indirectly through CC-BY (attribution only) licensing. CC-BY is not necessary for data and text mining of freely available works as these are essentially automated forms of reading materials. CC-BY is not sufficient for data and text mining because a CC-BY license can be placed on works that are not technically suited for these tasks, such as a locked-down PDF.
Both the UK and the FASTR approaches are designed to accommodate publishers in the transition process. The FASTR maximum six-month embargo on green open access archiving is appropriate given that scholarly publishing has now had more than a decade of experience with open access. The Directory of Open Access Journals now lists close to ten thousand fully open access, peer reviewed scholarly journals which use a variety of business models. This is a strong indicator of the ability of scholarly publishers to transition to open access, given good public policy which prioritizes scholarship and the public interest while giving scholarly publishers a lengthy period of time to adjust. The goal for open access policy should be to gradually decrease embargo periods to zero, reflecting that the public interest is and should be the priority of government, not protecting outmoded business models.

Other North American funding agencies are largely following this U.S. model. For example, Canada’s first federal funding agency to adopt an open access policy, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), adopted a policy fairly similar to the public access policy of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Canada’s tricouncil funding agencies are currently undergoing discussions with a view to standardizing open access policies across the agencies, with CIHR’s policy most likely to serve as the model.  It should be acknowledged that the UK’s early lead in green open access policy and repository development was a major influence in the direction of U.S. and Canadian policy.

While U.S. and Canadian research funders allow for researchers to apply for open access article processing fees in research grant applications, it is unlikely that either the U.S. or Canada would follow the lead of providing targeted funding for this purpose, particularly in the current lean economic environment. Even in better economic times, in North America there is far more university autonomy and less central direction than is the case in the UK.

A great model for institutional policy from the scholar’s point of view is the faculty-led open access permissions policy pioneered by Harvard and perfected by MIT. Shieber and Suber have developed a webpage dedicated to what they call “good practices” for this kind of policy.  The basic idea is that faculty give their university permission to post their peer-reviewed articles for open access in their local repository, with a waiver option available to authors on request. This approach gives a university all the permissions needed to make the work of its faculty open access, while at the same time asserting the rights of faculty to their own work.
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