RCUK policy on open access

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005 22:47:02 +0100

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005 15:40:06 -0400
From: Peter Suber <peters_at_earlham.edu>
To: SPARC Open Access Forum <SPARC-OAForum_at_arl.org>

See Stephen Pincock's story on the RCUK open-access policy in today's issue
of _TheScientist_.

Stephen quotes me in the story and I'm happy with the result. But I
thought readers of SOAF might be interested in my full comment. The
question was what I thought of the phrase "in accordance with copyright and
licensing arrangements" as it occurs in this draft paragraph from the
policy: Papers arising from work funded by the Research Councils UK (RCUK)
should be deposited in an open access repository "at the earliest
opportunity, wherever possible at or around the time of publication, in
accordance with copyright and licensing arrangements."

My reply:

I find the phrase "in accordance with copyright and licensing arrangements"
incoherent and unhelpful. I don't think it will tell authors or publishers
(or eventually, courts) who may do what or who may block whom from doing what.

Publishers hold copyright on the copy-edited version of the peer-reviewed
manuscript. If the purpose of the clause is simply to tell authors that
they may not deposit the copy-edited version without publisher consent, and
that they may deposit earlier versions without publisher consent, then it
could say so much more directly and clearly. Because this distinction is
easy to express and common in other funding-agency policies (such as the
NIH policy), I suspect that the RCUK policy is trying to get at something else.

But it's far from clear what else the clause might mean. Researchers sign
funding contracts with the Research Councils long before they sign
copyright transfer agreements with publishers. Funders have a right to
dictate terms, such as mandated open access, precisely because they are
upstream from publishers. If one condition of the funding contract is that
the grantee will deposit the peer-reviewed version of any resulting
publication in an open-access repository, then publishers have no right to
intervene. That is, publishers have no valid objection based on copyright
law or a licensing contract. However, publishers do have the right to
refuse to publish any article for any reason, and they may well tell
authors that publication depends on agreeing not to provide open access to
any version for a certain period of time.

But publishers have this power without any action or recognition from the
RCUK. If the RCUK are expressing their own willingness to accommodate this
power of publishers, then they muddy the waters by referring to copyrights
and licenses, which have nothing to do with this power. In short, if the
clause is supposed to recognize the right of publishers to publish only
what they wish, or only on their own terms, then it's superfluous --and
harmful for opening other doors through vagueness.

Peter Suber
Open Access Project Director, Public Knowledge
Research Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College
Author, SPARC Open Access Newsletter
Editor, Open Access News blog
Received on Thu Jun 23 2005 - 22:47:02 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:47:56 GMT