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Friday, June 15, 2007

EC committee discussion of OA policy

Back on April 18, I blogged an EC press release on a meeting of the EC's High Level Expert Group on Digital Libraries.  The meeting was supposed to discuss (among other topics) "how to ensure more open access to scientific research...."  But I never saw anything about the meeting's outcome.

Here, finally, are the summary minutes from that meeting.  (Thanks to Gary Price.)  Excerpt:

Important steps have been taken in the scientific information area. The recently adopted Communication on "Scientific Information in the Digital Age: Access, Dissemination and Preservation" examines how new digital technologies can be better used to increase access to research publications and data. The Communication was presented at a major European conference on Scientific Publishing in the European Research Area on 15-16 February 2007. The discussion at the conference, in particular the debate around the petition for open access to publicly funded research results, confirmed that views between stakeholders are still far apart on this crucial issue. The Communication will be discussed in the coming months by the European Parliament and the Council, and with funding bodies and other interested parties. The high level group can play a key role in this debate, in order to find well balanced and reasonable solutions....

Mrs Reding stated the Commissionís objective on scientific information: to improve access to scientific information, since faster and wider access to research results enhances its use and impact. The ongoing debate between scientists, funding bodies and scientific publishers on access to scientific information has been intense and often heated. The Commission is acting as facilitator in this discussion, taking well into account the arguments of both sides. The Subgroup on scientific information has produced some first results in terms of agreed principles on access and preservation of scientific information. However, key points of disagreement persist, in particular concerning the option of mandatory deposit in open access repositories after a so called "embargo period". The key question is the duration of this embargo period, to guarantee access to publicly funded research while allowing a fair remuneration for the work of the publishers. The Commission, as an important funding body for scientific research in Europe, intends to take direct action as far as the 7th Framework Programme is concerned: In specific programmes, there will be experiments with the deposit of articles resulting from Community funded research in an open repository, after an embargo period of a duration to be defined. The Commission encourages bottom-up solutions agreed between stakeholders and will take steps to facilitate such solutions, but in case this is not achieved, a "top-down" intervention may be considered.

Ms Niggemann reported about the discussion within the subgroup, recalling the special features of scientific and scholarly information and presenting the meeting document "Principles on scientific publications agreed by representatives of publishers, the scientific community and libraries". This document highlights areas of agreement and disagreement between the stakeholders. One of the main points of disagreement concerns the option of mandatory deposit in open access repositories after an embargo period. Scientists propose that it should be mandatory to put "author's-final" or "final-published" version of articles stemming from publicly funded research in open access repositories after a certain period for access and preservation purposes, ideally not later than 6 months after publication. On the other side, publishers claim that free availability of any post peer-review version of an article would undermine its saleability. Another area of disagreement concerns the possible duration of the embargo period, which would vary between the following extreme values: from "3 months after publication" to "70 years after the authors' death (copyright expiry)". Another area where agreement is difficult is the affordability of publications, including the question of a possible decrease of price of articles over time. Mrs. Niggemann concluded by indicating that, even in presence of these differences of views, the discussion in the subgroup had also its promising side as all parties involved showed interest in performing practical tests with the different options.

Publishers (Ms Dutton, Mr Mabe and Mr Cowhig) confirmed that the main outstanding issue concerned embargo periods. In order to break the current impasse, they tabled a proposal for a large scale pilot study to measure the impact of embargo periods, differentiated by subject areas. The experiment would concern, on a voluntary basis, about 200 journals from different publishing houses and from different disciplines (from hard sciences to humanities). The pilot would be conducted by publishers with the involvement of qualified and independent European researchers in bibliometrics and it would be supported by the European Commission. An independent monitoring and assessment would be conducted concerning the impact on research productivity, on access, on cost effectiveness, on submission of articles to journals, on journal subscriptions. The publishers are also working on a service charter to increase transparency, and they recommended not to destabilise the current system with ill-conceived attempts to change it.

Library representatives (Ms Niggemann and Ms Brindley) welcomed the proposal for an experiment and suggested to involve The European Digital Library's infrastructure and national libraries.

The representatives of the scientific community (Prof. Kroo, Dr Romary, Prof. Noorda,) stated that expectations of the scientific community towards open access are big, and these have been clearly expressed by several organisations such as the European Union Research Advisory Board (EURAB), the European Research Council (ERC), and the European Science Foundation (ESF). The subgroup achieved some steps ahead, but many unresolved questions are still to be tackled, including possible more transparent business models and cost issues (prices of publications). The increasing speed of obsolescence of knowledge calls for its quicker and wider availability. If this is not achieved, Europe will inevitably lag behind. The proposal for a pilot study tabled in the meeting by the publishers was seen as a positive step. However, it needs to be further considered in the light of the expectations of the scientific community on access to articles resulting from publicly funded research (as for example expressed in the ERC and EURAB statements). In any case, researchers and research institutes should be closely associated to the definition and implementation of the experiment in order to achieve a balanced design....

[T]he next plenary meeting [of the Expert Group is] envisaged for October/November 2007....

PS:  For more information on members of the Expert Group named in the minutes, see the group's membership page.