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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Public comments on OA policy in Europe

The European Commission has released the preliminary results (September 2007) of the public comments on its green paper, The European Research Area: New Perspectives (April 2007).  The public comment period closed on August 31.  (Thanks to the INIST Libre Accès blog.)  Excerpt:

...Over 80% of respondents welcome the concept of open access to both publications and raw data. It should be noted however that access to scientific data and access to scientific publications raise different issues and concerns among stakeholders. The majority of researchers, research organisations and libraries call for immediate access to both and express a need for improvement of access and dissemination. A library association emphasises that "there are still significant barriers to access in researchers' information channels", a situation which leads to "unbalanced and ineffective knowledge sharing, so limiting the potential of the ERA".

On the other hand, industry and certain libraries give some caveats regarding open access to commercially sensitive data, in particular. An industry association highlights that "To get excellence in European Research, the broadest possible access to the state of the art knowledge must be guaranteed for all researchers, in private as well as in public... However […] in many instances giving immediate and totally open access to the results of publicly funded research may not be in the long term and best interests of EU citizens… Publicly funded research especially in cutting-edge areas of technology can potentially give rise to valuable intellectual property rights which if properly managed by the relevant public research institution can give rise to tangible benefits (e.g. through the creation of revenue streams) which can be used to support general educational aims or increase further the scale and quality of the European science base".

The issue of compatibility of existing intellectual property legislation and open access is also highlighted by several respondents. While publishers recall the economic importance of current copyright arrangements, a governmental research body questioned their underlying principles: "… current copyright law should be evaluated with a view to finding ways in which the law guarantees scientific authors the right to publish their research results under an open access regime …".

Scientific publishers underline the added value that they bring to the scientific process and the fact that they are open to new business models providing that their costs were covered. That said, some highlight concerns about the Commission's intentions in this field. Indeed, a publisher states that they were "concerned at the possible development of a policy, implied by the questionnaire, that requires researchers to post their accepted author manuscripts in a repository at a single specified time frame", and consider that "such a one-size-fits-all policy would be detrimental to journals because each journal’s economic and usage profile is unique, and that such a policy would harm science and its beneficiaries". Many publishers also call for the Commission to collaborate closely with them, in order to find possible solutions to the question of researcher access to publications....

Comment.  There's nothing new in these comments, pro or con.  When the green paper appeared in April 2007, the European Commission had already received extensive comments on OA from all stakeholders in the build-up to the EC-hosted Brussels conference of February 2007.  For example, on the pro-OA side, it received strong recommendations from an EC-sponsored study in 2006, a December 2006 statement from the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC), a January 2007 report from the European Research Advisory Board (EURAB), and a petition signed at the time by more than 20,000 European researchers and research institution (and signed today by more than 26,000).  The EC's own Research Directorate-General --which also released the green paper-- supported OA in its February 2007 Communication (p. 7):  "Initiatives leading to wider access to and dissemination of scientific information are necessary, especially with regard to journal articles and research data produced on the basis of public funding."  The EC heard the anti-OA arguments in the Brussels Declaration from the STM, the ALPSP, and a host of signatory publishers (February 2007).  The mere fact that the green paper had to ask, in April 2007, for further comments on OA policy is a sign of delay and indecision.  And even if it was a good faith effort to beat the bushes for comments it hadn't heard before, it doesn't appear to have worked.  It's time for the EC to adopt the recommendations from the study it sponsored in 2006, firm up its commitment to its own policy guidelines in the communication of February 2007, and give effect to the policy arguments of the overwhelming majority of the respondents to the green paper.  There are enough studies and surveys.  It's time to act.