The UK is a world leader in the movement for Open Access (OA). In June 2006, for instance, the country's biggest public research funder, Research Councils UK (RCUK), published an OA-friendly position paper that has led to five of the eight constituent UK Research Councils adopting self-archiving mandates. These mandates require grant-holders to make their research freely available in online repositories.
To date, however, the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has not introduced a mandate. Moreover, the likelihood of it doing so has not looked good. When in February, for instance, the Chief Executive of AHRC Professor Philip Esler was invited to sign a petition calling on the EC to introduce a European-wide OA mandate, he responded by sending an e-mail to the heads of all the other Research Councils, as well as to OA advocates and journalists, saying that he did not intend to sign the petition because "to do what the petition requires in a particular case could arguably entail inducing someone to breach the copyright clause of his or her publishing contract." Perhaps as a consequence of this, only one Research Council Chief Executive signed the petition.
OA advocates were quick to suggest that Professor Esler had misunderstood the petition; a misunderstanding he now appears to concede. But what is current thinking about OA at the AHRC? And has it ruled out introducing a mandate? Richard Poynder e-mailed Professor Esler to find out.
RP: Do you envisage the AHRC introducing a self-archiving mandate at some point? If so, when will that be?
PE: The AHRC is one of eight UK Research Councils that have a common policy on Open Access. This policy can be found on the RCUK website. The AHRC is committed to the principles articulated in that policy. A key principle among them is that "Ideas and knowledge derived from publicly-funded research must be made available and accessible for public use, interrogation and scrutiny, as widely, rapidly and effectively as practicable." ...
The AHRC, like other Research Councils, is moving toward a detailed policy in line with these principles.
RP: ...My understanding...is that five of the eight Research Councils have introduced a self-archiving mandate, but the AHRC has not. Does this not suggest that the AHRC is out of step?
PE: We have announced our intention to introduce a self-archiving mandate. Our policy is the same as the other Councils and this is merely a timetabling issue. We are currently reviewing the Arts and Humanities Data Service (jointly funded with JISC) and that is a factor that has slowed us down a bit in comparison with the other Councils. We are not out of step with the other Councils on this!
RP: I wasn't aware of an announcement.
JE: We will consider the AHDS at the Council meeting on 15th March 2007, so I hope it will be shortly after that....
RP: Some argue that Open Access raises different issues for the arts and humanities than it does for the sciences? Would you agree?
PE: In my view, the principles of Open Access are as applicable to the arts and humanities as to the sciences. That is why we are moving forward on this issue jointly with the scientific Research Councils.
RP: In February you were asked to sign a petition calling on the EC to introduce a Europe-wide self-archiving mandate. You responded by saying that you would not sign it because to do so would amount to inducing researchers to breach the copyright clause of the contracts they had with publishers. OA advocates refuted this vigorously. Do you hold to your position?
PE: In my message of 8th February, I did not say that signing the Open Access petition "would" be a tortious act but that it "may" be....
RP: So have you subsequently changed your views about the implications of signing the petition?
PE: ...Every legal case must be decided on its own facts, but it is not easy for me to say how anyone signing this petition would, under English law, commit the tort of inducing a breach of contact....
RP: The EC Communication that was the focus of the petition has now been published....What are your views on the EC policy?
PE: The intentions of the Communication are worthy, both because it looks to opening up access to research and also because it proposes to do so in a way that will be integrated across Europe....
Peter Suber at 2/26/2007 10:17:00 AM.
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.