Saturday, January 21, 2012

Springer Statement on the US Research Works Act

Springer, the world's second largest scholarly journal publisher, has sent me the following statement on the Research Works Act (RWA), otherwise known as HR 3699:

We do not think that the RWA will be successful, but we hope that it will generate measured, intelligent and constructive debate, which we greatly prefer to histrionics and exaggeration. That said, the RWA does not seem to be rooted in opposition to open access, but rather in opposition to unfunded government mandates.

Springer is the largest open access publisher worldwide and fully supports – and significantly invests in – open access as a business model. “Gold” open access publishing provides one model to properly address the question of funding the system of ordered, layered and certified scientific knowledge that is currently performed by scholarly peer-reviewed journals. Springer welcomes any opportunity to develop and grow this model in partnership with researchers, institution, societies and foundations.

“Green” open access archiving does not cover the costs associated with formal publication, and poses risks in terms of the sustainability of scholarly communications. Springer therefore believes that systematic green open access self-archiving enforced by an unfunded mandate and “one-size-fits-all” embargos should not be adopted as a policy. At the same time, we will always try to assist our authors in meeting publishing requirements they may face.

Should society deem it desirable to have scientific articles available for free to the public, it must come up with a system which not only pays for publishers’ investments, but which also ensures the sustainability of scientific communications. We believe that “gold” open access accomplishes this.

That said, we realize that scholarly communication is changing, and we continue to welcome discussions with all parties concerned with the future of scientific publishing.

If passed, the RWA would be a major setback for the Open Access (OA) movement, since it would reverse the Public Access Policy introduced by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2005, a policy that requires all NIH-funded research to be made freely accessible online within 12 months. The bill would also prevent other federal agencies from imposing similar requirements on researchers.

While traditional subscription publishers like Springer have now embraced Gold OA, in which they levy a one-off article processing charge for publishing papers, they have become increasingly unhappy about Green OA, where researchers continue to publish in subscription journals but make a copy of their papers freely available online, usually in an institutional repository, or a subject-based repository like PubMed Central. They particularly object to the use of mandates, where funders or universities require their researchers to make their papers openly available online, albeit after an embargo period. Mandates, they argue, might eventually destroy the subscription business model, and perhaps the entire scholarly publishing system with it.*

As Springer CEO Derk Haank put it to me a year ago, “I draw a distinction between author archiving and mandatory OA requirements such as the NIH Public Access Policy where they don't allow for a sufficient embargo … OA mandates institutionalise the process of author archiving, and if the delay between publication and archiving is only a couple of months, then there is a real danger of destroying the equilibrium that we have achieved over OA … There has to be a time lag. Otherwise, publishers will have no choice but to go fully OA. That could create a very messy situation and possibly destroy the current system.”

Yesterday the OA publisher BioMed Central (BMC), which Springer acquired in 2008, released a statement opposing the RWA.

The RWA is supported by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which has described the bill as “significant legislation that will help reinforce America’s leadership in scholarly and scientific publishing in the public interest and in the critical peer-review system that safeguards the quality of such research.”

Neither Springer nor BMC is a member of the AAP. We should, however, note that a number of AAP members have disavowed the RWA, including MIT Press, ITHAKA, Pennsylvania State University Press, California University Press, Rockefeller University Press, Nature Publishing Group, and the non-profit American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes the journal Science.

Some other AAP members have opted to stay neutral (see here and here).

* A hypothesis, we should note, that is challenged by OA advocates.

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