It’s been a busy summer for OA in Europe. On one hand, nationally coordinated efforts in places like Finland and Germany have sought (unsuccessfully so far) to pressure Elsevier into better subscription pricing and OA options. On the other hand, a group of early career researchers (ECRs) at the University of Cambridge are looking to mobilize fellow ECRs to embrace open models that are not controlled by commercial entities. In my view, these divergent approaches illustrate why we should focus our collective energies away from strategies in which commercial interests retain control under new economic conditions (see also, proposals to flip subscription payments to APCs), and towards working with ECRs and others who envision a return of scholarly dissemination responsibility to the academy.
This is a guest post written by Devin Soper, Paolo Mangiafico, and Kevin Smith. The letter was originally submitted to Science, which declined to publish it.
In a recent letter to the editor of Science, Ilya Kapovich states that “unsustainable ethical and legal burdens are placed on faculty in schools with Harvard-style open-access policies.” While it is true that the terms of open access (OA) policies are sometimes inconsistent with those of standard publishing contracts, this legal complexity is the result of the unnecessarily restrictive and complicated language used in such contracts, which typically require authors to assign their copyright to a publisher, and which thereby work against the interests of authors, other researchers, and the public. In contrast, Harvard-style OA policies simplify this situation for authors, making it clear that they and their home institutions retain rights in the works they create, and thereby providing a means of redressing the systemic problems caused by restrictive copyright transfer practices. In this sense, and in addition to making thousands of articles available to those who otherwise would not have access, OA policies are designed to give faculty choices, allowing them to retain more rights in their work than they would under standard publishing contracts, giving them access to a range of tools and services to help them make their work OA — and yet also giving them the option to waive application of the policy with no questions asked.
Sci-Hub has received a lot of attention in 2016. From multiple articles in Science and The Chronicle of Higher Education to Sci-Hub focused sessions at professional meetings, lots of folks have weighed in on the pros and cons of Sci-Hub and its undeniable impact on scholarly communication. Over the past six months I’ve attended programs on Sci-Hub at the ALA annual conference, the fall ARL membership meeting, and one here at the University of Arizona during Open Access Week. In reflecting on these experiences I’m struck by how Sci-Hub illustrates the apparent disconnect between authors’ permissive attitudes toward sharing copyrighted materials and their willingness to sign publishing agreements that often make that sharing illegal.
Readers of “In the Open” are familiar with the ongoing machinations of Elsevier and other major commercial publishers as they seek to tighten their grip on elements of the scholarly communication system. As Mike Taylor points out, these developments bring to mind the underlying issue of who controls OA infrastructure, and the notion that resistance to commercial domination should be largely based on the academy establishing its own dissemination infrastructure, ideally with substantial investments from funding agencies. Recently, a new funder-supported open dissemination platform, Wellcome Open Research, has emerged as an alternative to vehicles controlled by commercial publishers, and in a separate development, the SocArXiv repository has been released as an alternative to Elsevier’s newly acquired Social Science Research Network. Wellcome Open Research in particular offers an intriguing model that raises the question of how funder and university-supported elements of OA infrastructure can coalesce into a more integrated system in the future.
At my home institution, the University of Arizona, the Faculty Senate recently passed an Open Access policy that follows the standard model of directing faculty authors to deposit the final accepted manuscripts of their articles into our institutional repository. As an Arizona alum and OA advocate, I’m doubly pleased that that the Faculty Senate embraced the principle of making the university’s scholarship more widely accessible. Having gone down this path twice, once at Oregon State University and now at Arizona, I’ve been thinking about faculty motivations and how they relate to OA policy compliance.