14 Oct 2015   |   News

Moedas urges publishers to get serious on open access

Research Commissioner tells journal publishing companies to reshape their business models to the realities of the 21st century

EU Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas has called on publishers to stop resisting open access, telling them they need to be part of this fundamental change in the way science operates.

“There is a revolution happening in the way science works. Every part of the scientific method is nowadays becoming an open, collaborative and participative process,” Moedas said. “Can publishers afford to stay out of that trend? I believe that much effort [is] need[ed] ….. by the main publishers to adjust their business models to the realities of the 21st century.”

In parallel, Moedas said, “Digital technologies [will] inevitably have the same ground-breaking impact on scientific publishing as they have already had on the media, music, film and telecommunication industries.” 

In open access publishing, the author, not the reader, pays the publishing costs.

Advocates include scientists, libraries and universities, which take a dim view of paying subscriptions that run into the thousands of euros per year, to get access to the outputs of publicly-funded research. Instead, government-financed science should be made available on the Internet immediately, free for anyone.

Opponents of open access, including many private and non-profit publishers, argue unrestrained access would make journals financially unviable and undermine the peer-review and article selection system that has underpinned scientific publishing for centuries.

Moedas issued the statement  at a meeting on Monday with the Dutch minister for education, culture and science, Sander Dekker, whose government last year said 60 per cent of research articles authored by Dutch scientists must be open access by 2019, and 100 per cent by 2024.

Since then, Dutch universities have reached outline agreements on open access with three publishers, Springer, Wiley and Sage, but are in a standoff on the issue with Amsterdam-based Elsevier, the largest journal publishing house in the world.

“Dutch universities already show the importance of organising themselves in the negotiations with publishers,” said Dekker. “That way they can successfully stand their ground towards publishers. In addition, Dutch universities are even prepared to not sign new contracts, if needed.”

Moedas and Dekker both said they supported a petition for open access, ran by the League of European Research Universities, that has already drawn 350 signatures. 

The Dutch government will hold the EU’s rotating presidency from January and has said it will chair a meeting on open access early next year.

Since taking office last year, Moedas’ support for open access policy has been gradually building.

In January, at a conference hosted by a Dutch research lobby group, Neth-ER in Brussels, Moedas commended the Dutch for getting tough on publishers. 

“Your emphasis on Open Access to scientific publications, in particular, could not be more in line with what I hope to achieve through Open Science over the course of my mandate. You are already leading by example. We need to shift our focus from publishing as soon as possible, to sharing and collaborating as soon as possible,” he said.

The Commission has a bill to update its 2001 copyright laws to reflect the digital age pending, and there is hope that this could give researchers greater access to published work.

However, it is not likely to move forward this year, with a legislative proposal no longer expected at the end of this month.

Moedas may lack the legislative force of the Dutch government, but he is beginning to pull some levers of his own. Money will be made available next year for an expert group on open science along with an open science monitor, which will track and analyse open science trends in Europe.

In Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme, all costs incurred by researchers for open access are eligible for reimbursement.

However, Moedas warned the Commission will adapt this policy if it finds that publishers are charging excessive article processing charges for opening access to articles.

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