Research lobbies lock horns with science publishers over open access

25 May 2021 | News

Universities and research institutes urge science publishers to stop imposing embargoes on manuscripts funded by agencies that make open access a condition of public grants

Rik Van de Walle, president of CESAER. Photo: Ghent University

Nearly 900 universities, research organisations, and funding agencies want science publishers to be more transparent and abide by open access rules, after scientists complained their submissions are rejected if they apply a public copyright licence to accepted manuscripts.

In a joint statement published today, research-performing and research-funding organisations represented by the European University Association, Science Europe and CESAER, call on all publishers to stop requiring researchers to sign over their rights and to end the use of restrictions and embargoes.

“The retention of rights by researchers and universities is vital, as it enables the full use of research outcomes in all areas of research, education and innovation, for the full benefit of society,” said Rik Van de Walle, president of CESAER, an association of leading science and technology universities in Europe.

This latest move in the open access war follows an earlier statement by cOAlition S, an international consortium of all of those research funders which make publication in open access journals a condition of their grants, saying some publishers are trying to prevent scientists from making papers that have been accepted for publication open access.

In 2020, the consortium, which represents funders in 12 countries, asked over 150 publishers to clarify their policies on rights retention. None of the publishers contacted by cOAlition S said they would reject a submission on the grounds that the author wished to apply a public copyright licence to the manuscripts.

Funders, universities and research institutes say new practices by publishers seek to circumvent cOAlition S open access policies. Some publishers are attempting to prevent funded researchers from making their accepted manuscripts available as soon as they are published. Publishers have failed to communicate their rules upfront and do not say if researchers could face legal action if they exercise their right make accepted manuscripts open access.

This means researchers are put in the position of breaching their funder’s grant conditions, risking not being eligible for future funding. Alternatively, researchers could breach their publishing agreement by not embargoing their manuscript and risk legal action.  

Science publishers require researchers to sign exclusive publishing agreements that restrict what authors can do with their research findings.

In the view of research funding agencies, this “outdated system” should be replaced. Publishers should allow researchers to deposit their accepted manuscripts in repositories with an open licence and without any embargo.

 “Researchers must be empowered through the freedom of choosing where and how they publish their findings – and this choice must include self-archiving their work in repositories to ensure Green Open Access,” said Michael Murphy, President of European University Association. “It is time to make open a permanent feature of the research system,” he said.

“Publishers have no legitimacy to impose transfer or restrictions of ownership rights on any form of manuscript,” said Marc Schiltz, president of Science Europe.

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