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.