Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, September 16, 2006

NIH strikes an agreement with publishers

The NIH has agreed that when publishers deposit articles on behalf of authors, under the NIH's public access policy, then it will consider the authors to be in compliance with the policy.  The agreement was worked out with the American Society of Hematology (ASH) but will extend to other publishers who wish to take advantage of the option.  From yesterday's announcement:

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have signed an agreement that creates a new option for nonprofit publishers to comply with the NIH's Public Access Policy. Implemented by NIH on May 2, 2005, the policy has achieved less than 4% voluntary compliance. This new agreement will substantially increase compliance with NIH's policy thus enhancing access to science, help achieve NIH's goals of managing its research portfolio and developing a digital research archive, and protect the integrity of journal articles while maintaining the publisher embargo period of up to 12 months....

The new option was originally developed by a group of nonprofit publishers and includes the following provisions:

  1. Participating nonprofit publishers will submit to NIH the final version of NIH-funded research articles upon publication. NIH will view the author as compliant with the policy and the author will not incur the burden of submitting and negotiating with NIH.
  2. NIH has internal use only of the articles during the journals' embargo periods of up to 12 months.
  3. Following the embargo period, NIH can publicly provide links to the articles on the journals' Web sites, and also distribute the content of articles from the National Library of Medicine's (NLM) PubMed Central (PMC) Web site.

As negotiations neared completion, a new provision was added by NIH that allows the NLM to distribute the full content of NIH-funded research articles to foreign country archives.

"ASH has volunteered to have its journal, Blood, be the first participant in this effort," said Bradford S. Schwartz, MD, Chair, ASH Journals Committee, and Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry and Dean, College of Medicine at Urbana of Illinois. "We hope that other nonprofit publishers will also participate. Regrettably, some publishers are reconsidering participation because the new provision is duplicative given the fact that the articles are accessible on the journals' Web sites and will be on PMC."


  1. The good news:  Publishers may deposit immediately upon publication, and probably will.  The bad news:  Under this option, the embargo will always be 12 months. 
  2. To elaborate the good news:  This is a variation on the dual deposit/release strategy, which Stevan Harnad first conceived and I've often recommended.  To move closer to the full strategy, the NIH should release article metadata immediately upon deposit. 
  3. To elaborate the bad news:  The NIH is letting publishers strong-arm authors into accepting the maximum embargo.  This may only formalize the status quo, but it's a retreat from several earlier understandings about the policy.  Don't forget (a) that the NIH policy is a request to authors, not to publishers, (b) that the policy "strongly encourages" authors to permit public release "as soon as possible" after publication, (c) that Elias Zerhouni, Director of the NIH, said in February 2005 that authors have a "right" to early release and that the "NIH is committed to helping our scientists exercise this right," and (d) that Zerhouni told the Washington Fax on January 21, 2005, that "we expect 12 months to be the exception, not the rule." All of this is now forgotten.