Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, July 22, 2006

ALPSP response to the RCUK policy

The ALPSP has issued a press release on the new RCUK OA policy. Excerpt:
ALPSP is glad to see the long-awaited RCUK position statement on access to research outputs, and welcomes many aspects of the statement.

We are pleased to see that RCUK has recognised the differences between subject areas - both in terms of researchers’ varying attitudes to preprints, and the vulnerability of some journals to immediate or early self archiving - and has thus given individual Research Councils the flexibility to set their own policies.

We also welcome the emphasis on the importance of abiding by agreements signed with publishers....

Our main reservation about the statement is that Research Councils are not encouraged to make additional funds available – as, for example, the Wellcome Trust has done – to cover the costs of Open Access publication, which would allow immediate free access to the definitive published version, with all the functionality provided by the publisher’s site.

We are concerned, however, that one of the Research Councils - the Medical Research Council - has announced a policy which appears to restrict authors' freedom to publish wherever they believe is best for them. We are also worried that the 6-month maximum delay, which the MRC (like the Wellcome Trust) has prescribed, may be too short to protect subscriptions/licences for some journals, particularly those which are not in fast-moving fields or which are published relatively infrequently....

Publishers – particularly learned societies and other non-profit organisations – are strongly committed to maximising access....

We therefore look forward to working with individual Research Councils to develop workable policies and deposit mechanisms which will enable the earliest and widest possible access to both the data emanating from their research and the articles which report it, while at the same time ensuring that the business models which currently ensure the continuing availability of those journals in which scholars wish to publish are not threatened.


  1. It's true that the opportunities and obstacles for open access differ from discipline to discipline. But it's not true that this is a reason to oppose an OA mandate that applies across the disciplines. The best counter-example is FRPAA, which mandates OA for 11 funding agencies in the US federal government representing different disciplines. FRPAA mandates OA from them all and accommodates their differences by leaving them free in other respects to develop OA policies that reflect their unique circumstances.
  2. The ALPSP welcomes "the emphasis on the importance of abiding by agreements signed with publishers...." This is backwards. At the time researchers sign funding agreements with a Research Council, there are no publishing agreements to abide by. Grantees sign funding contracts long before they sign publishing contracts. Funders have the right to insist that their contracts be enforced, and that grantees may only sign subsequent publishing contracts subject to the terms of the prior funding contract. The Wellcome Trust OA policy is the clearest and strongest of all of the funder mandates to date because it is the only one to recognize this simple truth. In trying to evade this truth, or to evade its legal power to enforce its own interest in OA, the RCUK adds an incoherent proviso to its policy: we mandate OA but we ask grantees to defer to subsequently-signed contracts with publishers, therefore giving publishers the power to override the mandate. Here the ALPSP is praising the incoherent proviso.
  3. I agree with the ALPSP that all eight of the Research Councils ought to make additional funds available (or at leasat allow grantees to use grant funds) to pay the publication fees at OA journals or OA hybrids that charge fees --and I said so earlier this month in my newsletter. Not only is the Wellcome Trust willing to pay these fees on behalf of its grantees (as ALPSP notes), but so is the NIH. Funders ought to recognize that this is a true point of common ground between OA advocates and publishers.
  4. The OA mandate from the Medical Research Council (MRC) will only limit the freedom of authors to publish where they wish if publishers refuse to consider submissions from MRC-funded authors. So far, not a single publisher has done so. Publishers raised the same objection to the NIH policy, but the NIH called their bluff. To date no publishers have refused to consider submissions by NIH-funded authors. In fact, I don't know of any publishers who have refused to consider submissions by researchers funded by any of the agencies that encourage or require OA.
  5. Publishers have some commitment to access, of course, but publishers who oppose OA mandates (and even OA requests) from funders are obviously not committed to "maximising access". For most publishers of subscription-based journals, there is one commitment that comes ahead of the commitment to access: the commitment to limiting access, or the commitment to artificial scarcity, that protects revenue. We can have an honest disagreement on the merits of this position, but can't we have an honest acknowledgement that this is the position?
  6. The ALPSP looks forward to working with the Research Councils on their OA policies --but the purpose of this assistance or negotiation is to "ensur[e] that the business models which currently ensure the continuing availability of those journals in which scholars wish to publish are not threatened." In other words, change everything except our business models, which give us a temporary monopoly on research that we didn't conduct, write up, or fund. I don't expect that citizens of the UK will allow public funding agencies to put the interests of a private-sector industry ahead of the public interest in public access to publicly-funded research.