Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Open Access and its Discontents: A British View from Outside the Sciences

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), the meeting that led to the launch of the open access movement, and which defined open access thus:

“By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

A great deal of water has passed under the bridge since 2002, but as 2017 draws to an end what should the stakeholders of scholarly communication be doing now to fully realise the vision outlined at the Budapest meeting?

That is a question I have been putting to a number of people, inviting them to say what they believe the priorities should be going forward for the following stakeholders: researchers, research institutions, research funders, politicians and governments, librarians, and publishers.

Today I am publishing the response I received from Richard Fisher. Richard has worked in University Press publishing for nearly thirty-five years. At the end of 2014 he stepped down as Managing Director of Academic Publishing at Cambridge University Press, and is currently Vice-Chair of Yale University Press, a Non-Executive Director of Edinburgh University Press, and Academic and Policy Correspondent of the Independent Publishers Guild

Richard is also a Fellow and current Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society. He was on the Advisory Board of the Crossick Report on Open Access and Monograph Publishing, and was a Senior Adviser to the AHRC/BL project on The Academic Book of the Future

Self-evidently what follows are (entirely) his personal views, although he is extremely grateful to a trio of good friends for their comments on an initial draft.

This is what Richard had to say:


I would describe myself as neither an Open Access (hereafter OA) advocate, nor an OA sceptic: rather I am interested in establishing the widest possible range of effective and sustainable publication options for scholars around the world. 

I am innately sceptical of attempts to establish the publishing equivalent of ‘Socialism in One Country’, and regard the impact of policy-makers in the domain of scholarly communication (an arena which until the present century they generally avoided) as at times misguided and on occasion downright hostile to their nominated objectives, no matter how benign. 

In that context, I have always regarded ‘taxpayer pays’ arguments for Open Access as perhaps the weakest that supporters of OA tend to marshal, and especially weak in a massively research-exporting polity like the United Kingdom, where at least 80% of the consumers of British-originated research will not have contributed direct tax revenues towards its creation. 

Paradoxically, it is the nation with far more fragmented infrastructures of higher education and far less prescriptive research protocols, the United States, where such a ‘public goods’ argument might be made with rather greater force – but the fundamental point is that in a highly unequal but globalised context of knowledge exchange, the relationship between fiscal provision and research production is not (remotely) state-specific.

My own editorial career was in history, politics and the social sciences, and in books (which remain, still, a very print-centric mode of communication) rather than journals. This obviously informs my perspective on debates about Open Access, inasmuch as most of the thousands of researchers with whom I have interacted in the past tend to come at issues in scholarly communication from a very different perspective from those often at the forefront of such discussions, whether in the library, scholarly or publishing sectors. 

I regard the stereotypical binary of ‘science journals’ and ‘arts monographs’ as unhelpful, in the same way as the other stereotypical binary of ‘information’ or ‘stories’ is unhelpful, neglecting as it does the place, crucially, of ideas.

In what follows, I have very largely concentrated on the researcher response, especially in the arts, humanities and less quantitative social sciences (hereafter AHSS). It is there, I think, that far and away the biggest challenges for the enhanced adoption of Open Access publishing practice lie. 

I am also very conscious that this is an extended blog essay, and not the sort of statistically-supported article that would be appropriate in a more formal context: there are plenty of statistics available (not least around REF submissions, funding allocations, disciplinary size, and other claims made) for those seeking more quantitative definition!


The Budapest Initiative is an enlightened and universalist declaration worthy of Denis Diderot and the encyclopedistes. Wherein lies its greatest ideological strength, and its biggest pragmatic weakness. 

Fundamentally, far more researchers than is currently the case need to believe the BOAI to be true, valid and legitimate, and one of the inherent problems of the BOAI is the presumption that all rational women and men must see the inherent ‘rightness’ of the claims made: I simply don’t think that that presumption has ever been justified. 

When I see statements by British public bodies claiming that ‘there is now universal acceptance of the principles behind Open Access’, I do sometimes wonder which planet these agencies are inhabiting. 

Maybe I am being unfair, as many of the principles of Open Access would and do secure widespread support. But declarations like the BOAI, of course, go beyond access to research per se, and whilst some of the BOAI claims and principles may well be valid all of the time, and all of its claims and principles some of the time, absolutely not all of the BOAI claims and principles are valid, I would respectfully suggest, all of the time. And in this universalism continues to lie (I think) one of the biggest obstacles of all to wider voluntary OA adoption.

I write this having just returned from an annual turn at the EUI in Fiesole, where every year I talk to postdocs on the Max Weber Fellowship programme (one of the western world’s most competitive such programmes in the social sciences) about academic publication options (including OA) and the changing nature of scholarly communication: as per usual, not a single individual amongst the twenty or so ECR historians, lawyers and political scientists I encountered mentioned Open Access as any kind of personal priority at all. 

Anecdata doesn’t prove anything, but in the spirit of Richard’s questions, we need to ask much harder questions about why apathy (or, as in the British case, resentful compliance with managerial imposition) remains majoritarian responses to OA protocols in the AHSS disciplines, rather than the vigorous enthusiasm which I suspect the authors of the BOAI expected to engender.

The universalism of the BOAI is disciplinary, financial, legal, linguistic, and format-facing. And yet the research experience of the non-scientific, and especially the non-biomedical disciplines is often very different from the working assumptions made by most (although not all) of those speaking loudest in Open Access discussions. 

As is well known, within the UK alone, much ‘research’ in the arts (and indeed social sciences) is generated without any bespoke funder support, and indeed serious research can be published in major peer-reviewed journals by those with no institutional platform or support of any kind. 

In part in consequence, the prices and sustained excess profits of large-scale scientific serials (whether ultimately owned by commercial publishers or by learned societies) are not replicated in this world: my student subscription of three guineas (£3.15) to Past and Present, a Champions League-status historical journal, was just not the same as an Elsevier Big Deal…

Within the UK university system, faculty in the ‘non-sciences’ constitute nearly half of academic staff employed: they spend proportionately much less, rather closer to 8% of the overall research funding allocated within the UK. 

Nonetheless the application of publishing protocols driven, in essence, by the specific disciplinary requirements of what (in personnel terms) may at given institutions constitute minority scientific subject cohorts has been one of the many frustrations felt by those otherwise predisposed to support some of the Budapest objectives. ‘We don’t tell the biomedics how to do their research – why on earth should they tell us how to do ours’ is a complaint you hear often, and have heard (again) in recent months in discussions about the UK Scholarly Communications Licence, a set of protocols developed at Imperial College with very specific (and entirely legitimate) institutional goals in mind but now being rolled out nationally with (often) zero input from actual researchers themselves.

The most fundamental example of this disciplinary universalism, and something which gets to the core of the problem, concerns the status of the research object itself. In the arts and many of the social sciences, the research object is the end goal itself, whereas self-evidently in many of the STEM disciplines this is not the case. The relationship between author and content, and therefore their attitude towards the transformation of that research into other forms and for other uses, is therefore not the same, and this is one reason why many humanists are so uncomfortable about (say) unauthorised translation or versioning of their work. 

It is also, of course, the case that the large majority of research outputs in the AHSS domains come from one or at most two authors, in contradistinction to the STEM norm: again, this powerfully changes the relationship of author to the actual research words used, and heightens the importance of one, citeable, authorised version of record. 

Research objects within the AHSS worlds can also become desirable commercial properties of their own, and the fact that some of the most high-profile scholars in these fields produce best-selling books, and indeed secure high-profile academic positions on the back of such publications, reinforces this sense that the output itself is what matters: as I have noted before, Andrew Wylie (perhaps the world’s most celebrated literary agent, aka ‘The Jackal’, who represents some AHSS scholars of great lustre ) and the authors of the BOAI both believe in the widest possible dissemination of the work of major scholars, but they draw diametrically opposed conclusions from that core belief.

Another powerful, and illusory form of universalism is a legal one, and the presumption that ‘the law’ is, fundamentally, that law which applies to the state of California. 

There is no such thing as ‘global IP law’, and the Californian legal context in which (say) Creative Commons licences were developed doesn’t necessarily apply elsewhere: it is well known that there exist very significant differences between the concept of Fair Use (in the USA) and Fair Dealing (in England and Wales), and the role and legal status of authors as enshrined in (e.g.) German or French law has no parallel in common law jurisdictions. Again, this blindedness to difference, even in a context of globalising patterns of scholarly communication, has not (I would argue) helped the OA cause. 

Very importantly, AHSS authors do not often control or generate or even manage their ‘data’, and their ‘results’ are not intended to be replicable, but interpretive, and thus disputable. Indeed, the relationship of AHSS scholars with the sources of their research is often supplicatory, be it with an archive, or a literary estate, or private library: in many instances, they simply do not possess the rights implied by the BOAI, even if they wish to support its objectives.

The other key universalist presumption has been about formats. The BOAI is, avowedly and explicitly, an online declaration, fundamentally (although not explicitly) oriented to article dissemination. However, there are major global disciplines (literature, classics, history, art) in which, rightly or wrongly, the printed book has retained perhaps surprising levels of traction, and (as Geoff Crossick pointed out in his major report of January 2015) will continue to do so, unless and until an improved experience for extended reading is developed. 

This print adherence has been particularly true of the humanist-dominated American university press sector, and those who publish with such presses, with the consequence that a sector which (given its special financial status) might have been expected to be in the vanguard of Open Access experimentation and advocacy has, on the whole and with one or two notable exceptions, not been. 

Now, we know that the whole point of many of the newer OA arts-based publishers that have arisen in recent years has been to offer a flexible format proposition, in which print formats can be purchased if required by the individual reader, but as things stand we are still a very long way off the sort of cultural acceptance of long-form on-line scholarly consumption that is necessary (I think) for a full transition to take place. 

I may, of course, be entirely wrong about that, and the sorts of results that JSTOR (for example) are now seeing with their Open Access monographic proposition are unquestionably striking  But you only have to look at the most recent REF returns in (say) history to see how vital, in a British context, is the commercial monograph sector to the publishing ecology of British faculty in the arts and social sciences (rather moreso, in bibliographic sum, than the non-profit UP side), and this is a sector for whom print consumption continues to dominate by a factor of at least two to one (and the equivalent ratio in the non-profit sector is often as high as five to one).

My final ‘unhelpful universalism’ concerns language. Science in the western world is now a very largely English-language pursuit. But major native-language scholarly traditions of AHSS publication still exist in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Russia, to take only a handful of European examples, and (as is forgotten rather too often) UK-based scholars can and do take an active part in these literatures, especially in article form. 

Part of the opposition, or at least lack of support, for OA protocols within some AHSS disciplines has come from those who, rightly or wrongly, have feared the drowning of such native-language voices by better-funded and freely-available English-language material. When one is looking for reasons why the BOAI has not proved the mass call to arms that its proponents perhaps hoped, such anxieties do need to be taken into account.

This is a very long answer. In short, polemical articles by Open Access enthusiasts claiming to know ‘what researchers want’ (when in reality what they mean is ‘what I and my immediate peer groups would find most helpful’) can be profoundly off-putting to those outside the circle of advocacy. 

In addition, a concentration on the wants of ECRs, whilst totally understandable at one level, has meant that far too often the needs and aspirations of those working hard in the middle of the scholarly food chain have been neglected. At OA meetings and on blog sites I search in vain for contributions from Senior Lecturers in arts subjects at Leicester or Associate Professors in the social sciences at Purdue. That remains a real problem.

To conclude this section, the other fundamental divergence I see at present is this. For increasing numbers of researchers in the sciences, at all career stages, Open Science is simply Better Science. In the Arts and Social Sciences, I thus far see or hear very, very few such claims. 

Again, that may be purely my own myopia. Nonetheless, the allegiance to OA objectives by those working on the innovative frontiers of customary academic discourse (in, say, the digital humanities or other modes of modern critical or experimental thought) has probably only reinforced the sense of my Senior Lecturers at Leicester or Purdue, working on Plato or Comparative Political Systems, that OA is something done by and of concern to Other People. Unless and until their institution decides that it is something that needs to be done to them, which leads neatly on to Richard’s next category…

What should researchers do to realise the Budapest vision? Engage properly with the arguments for and against OA publication and its associated business models, and make up their own minds. As researchers should always do.

Research Institutions

The role of institutions, and particularly Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), in the development of Open Access has self-evidently varied hugely, and relatively centralised HE systems like that of the UK have followed vastly different paths to those of (say) the USA. 

In the latter context it’s worth emphasising that the sort of ‘university mandates’ launched by several elite American universities in support of OA protocols simply do not have the instrumental force of governmental or institutional policies familiar in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

From my perspective, the adoption of formal and prescriptive OA protocols by British universities in response to various central funding directives was probably the worst thing that has ever happened to the OA cause in the United Kingdom: once OA was seen not as an opportunity for liberation, but as an instrument of managerialist compliance, its appeal (especially in non-scientific disciplines, where the benefits (as above) are much less obvious) moved quickly from neutral into sharp reverse. 

The nexus of relevant UK agencies, from HEFCE (as will be until 1st April 2018), RCUK and its associated bodies, HEIs themselves, plus ancillary bodies like JISC, pushing OA in various (and indeed sometimes competing directions) has generated both a new (and resource-intensive) industry of compliance officers, and has reinforced the sense of OA as something that is done to scholars, with all the bureaucratic irritations that implies. 

Now the more vocal OA advocates might well say ‘about time too’, but such an approach has proved, I would argue, disastrous to the happy acceptance and entrenchment of OA principles within large parts of the academic community. 

In fairness, HEFCE have shown themselves considerably more alert to these anxieties (and questions of disciplinary difference) than many other sectoral institutions, as discussions around the Finch Report made clear. 

Given the almost uniquely centralised nature of research evaluation within the UK, and the fundamental financial importance of the Research Excellence Framework to British HEIs, the danger (it seems to me) of current HEFCE protocols around Open Access and the next two REF exercises, even with their necessary current ambiguities, is that institutions will ‘game’ Open Access for financial gain in much the same way as they have attempted to game other aspects of the REF and its predecessor RAE. 

The adoption of OA instruments as a mechanism of future resource enhancement doesn’t seem, to me, quite what the authors of the BOAI intended.

What should researcher institutions do to realise the Budapest vision? Simplify the processes of engagement and implementation, whilst recognising legitimate disciplinary difference (an utterly unfair answer, I know, but that is what we need to aim for)

Research Funders

The principle that she who pays the piper calls the tune is an ancient one of great respectability. The sense in which research funders can and should determine the mode of dissemination of the research findings they sponsor has been altogether more problematic, and is inevitably in conflict with the abiding academic presumption that you never, ever tell a tenured faculty member how or with whom to publish. 

The current German court case raised by law faculty at the University of Konstanz under the general heading of ‘academic freedom’ (a concept written, I think uniquely, into the German constitution) is perhaps an extreme example of this articulation. 

The interest of research funders in such questions of scholarly communication is of course quite new: when I sat on relevant committees of the AHRB/AHRC at the beginning of this century, we were adamant that AHRC monies were not used for publication purposes, unless in very exceptional (technical) circumstances. We have now moved a very long way from that position, and self-evidently the recent policy impact of major funders like the Wellcome Trust, and their support for Gold Access protocols, has been very significant indeed. 

What I would like to see from funders is a recognition that not all circumstances warrant the same kinds of publication outcomes, and that sometimes research purposes are best served by wholly different modes of communication (whether Open Access or otherwise), with formats that may or may not owe much to traditional processes of publication. 

It’s certainly true that achieving funder compliance has become a major administrative challenge for research-intensive universities, and one where the current confused anarchy that is ‘scholarly workflow’ as a whole (notably more complex and expensive to manage than that of a print world, with far more intermediary agents, albeit permitting of a far greater variety of exploitation) presents enormous problems, of a kind I am not sure that the authors of the original BOAI ever quite anticipated.

What should researcher funders do to realise the Budapest vision? If they believe that the mode of research communication is a legitimate funder concern (a reasonable but not incontestable belief), then they need to take a much more rounded and considered approach to establishing what is the most appropriate mode of communication in the context of a given project. If ‘publication’ is to loom at all in such considerations, then it needs to loom properly.


The implications of Open Access for research libraries have always been an arena of contest (to put it mildly). Discomfort or irritation or annoyance at the ever-increasing cost of resources (and especially scientific journals) was and remains a major motor of library Open Access advocacy, whilst the future role and purpose of research libraries in a truly OA world is (as commentators like Joe Esposito have always maintained) rather uncertain. 

Danny Kingsley has already responded very crisply to Richard Poynder’s original questions, and emphasised again her strong belief in the vital necessity of proper, trained professionals in ‘scholarly communications’ as central actors in the modern research library. As with publishers, the skill-sets and enthusiasm for new modes of scholarly exchange within the library sector range widely, as does the interest in undertaking (or indeed taking over) some of the functions traditionally performed by scholarly publishers and, indeed, university presses. 

And, again as with publishers, the easy familiarity with complex digital workflows that modern research librarians are now perceived to need is not something that will be innate to all such employees…

It seems to me that discoverability is still, by far, the biggest issue for all research outputs, no matter howsoever made available, and personally I would regard the enhancement of that vital function, securing effective access to and discovery of existing material (whether Open or Closed) within a complex network of platforms and printed objects, as a library priority far more than the initiation of new publication programmes. 

This also reminds us helpfully that perhaps the biggest single driver of Open Access in an institutional context in the first place was scale, the massive growth in research outputs of every kind (not least from emerging Asian research centres) over the past quarter-century, the perceived inability of existing systems of knowledge exchange to work effectively in this expanding world, and the perception that in the emerging digital world all could and should be very different. 

But then I am looking at these issues from the perspective of a publisher, and asserting that the skill-sets of librarianship and publishing are not the same, even if there has been some (limited) congruence around some functions. 

I don’t, personally, think that the cause of the BOAI has been helped, at all, by (again) some of the claims of its more passionate advocates that the skills of either the library or the publishing sectors are easily exchangeable, easily accumulated and (ultimately) easily discountable, even if both librarianship and publishing are ‘service industries’ within the scholarly project as a whole. 

Going forward, both sectors will need to learn new skills, and (crucially) recruit from a greater range of knowledge cohorts than has perhaps been the case historically. Arts-dominated recruitment (driven, not least, by salary) in sectors that increasingly require quite sophisticated technical and digital skill does pose a real challenge. This is a real issue for publishers in 2018, and I suspect that it may be one for libraries too.

What should librarians do to realise the Budapest vision? Recognise and make clear their core priorities, which will not be universal across the sector, but in which discoverability is emphatically a core priority.


To what extent are publishers (like me) to blame for the current situation in scholarly communication (if blame is what is required)?

Certainly, the levels of sustained profit extracted from current models of serial publishing are excessive, and may seem intrinsic thereto, given that the percentage margins achieved by Elsevier and Springer are replicated, albeit on a tiny absolute scale, by publishers and learned societies working right across the sector. 

But (and this has always seemed to me a crucial confusion) is the adoption of Open Access protocols of itself the best way to achieve a shrinking of such rates of extraction? Absolutely not, as all current evidence of the continued maintenance of historic levels of high profitability would seem to suggest. 

So what Open Access is then wanted for becomes a much more complex question, in which (again) the disciplinary response will inevitably, and rightfully, differ, but then so will that of readers, researchers, librarians, HEIs, research councils and even governments, as the British experience has rather painfully shown. 

My personal preference in the serials domain has always been not for OA proper but for a ‘7% journals model’, in which the various publishing parties (whether non-profit or otherwise) make a surplus of around 7% on a modified subscription model, thus maintaining the (to me) crucial mechanism of demand, and retaining that vital element of cost control, the absence of which seems the biggest long-term weakness of all author-driven supply-side publication models. 

But this is I know both a minority view, and one unlikely ever to gain significant traction: that said I would suggest that its appeal within the non-profit sector, and amongst learned societies, ought to be considerable. 

My other point about publishers is this. The fact that rates of extraction are in some quarters excessive does not mean that nothing of value is going on. Quite the contrary, as a cursory inspection of the author acknowledgements page of many academic books will make (at the most personal, individualised level) very clear. 

One does not have to concur with every single element of Kent Anderson’s celebrated List of Things Publishers Do to recognise that, properly done, the process of publication has both dissemination and improvement as core objectives. 

The latter is not, I recognise, a universally accepted attribute, but any classicist or historian in receipt of six pages of detailed textual commentary on their book script (as is often the case) will recognise the force of the latter. And these things (for which, incidentally, peer reviewers are paid – not very much, but something) have a cost, as do the processes of global dissemination and exposure, even within a purely institutional context. 

Thus the much-maligned ‘publisher brands’ are actually brands for a reason, and seen as such by actors in the process, including those who don’t necessarily have the privileged access or understanding sometimes assumed in the west. 

I would argue in a Mandy Rice-Davies-esque moment that there are good historic reasons (ultimately to do with very robust refereeing and publication processes, including proper copy-editing) why an OUP philosophy book or CUP classics book enjoys the status and tenure-traction that it does, and that to dismiss such estimations is to miss something that is actually very important to the dissemination and better articulation of research. 

And that’s not to deny the obvious desire (and competition) for the credentialism that is so intrinsic to such brands, in both the books and serials domains, and how (hitherto anyway) other imperatives, including those of greater general access, have in general proved secondary considerations.

It has been a criticism made of publishers in the arts, humanities and less quantitative social sciences, and especially perhaps University Presses, that they are too author-centric, and not sufficiently concerned with either readers or libraries. 

Certainly this author-centrism and relative lack of subject-list coherence seems one of the major obstacles confronting the current wave of new university presses and library-based publishing initiatives, often launched with REF objectives in mind: their general (although not universal) lack of capital to support the complex mechanisms of discoverability and marketing, the two imperatives that constitute far and away the biggest challenge for such imprints, seems to me a real and serious concern. 

Over the past decade there has been a great deal of coverage devoted to such start-ups of various kinds, on both sides of the Atlantic, and even their most ardent supporters would have to accept that, thus far, the real impact of any has been (relative to the industrial and still-increasing scale of Anglophone monographic production) very small. 

Whether, in the British context, succeeding iterations of the REF will generate major change remains to be seen. If subject panels are allowed to proceed according to the customary assessments of the subjects themselves, they probably won’t.

What should publishers do to realise the Budapest vision? Provide as flexible a range of long-form publication options, well designed, well-articulated, and well implemented for an expanding global audience, in which the twin imperatives of dissemination and improvement remain central, as is consistent with long-term financial sustainability.

Politicians and Governments

The historical parallel I have found most useful in thinking about the development of Open Access in the United Kingdom has long been the English Reformation. The parallels with the sixteenth-century transformation of an initial moment of popular insurgence into an Act of State, in which the new dispensation assumes rather different forms than those first envisaged by the original heretics, remain very striking. 

And the fact that it took three centuries (at least) for the last vestiges of some of the old rites to disappear suggests that, whatever the progress and formal state acceleration of Open Access in the years to come, it will not rapidly secure the hearts and minds of those accustomed to the Old Dispensation, when (crucially) the benefits of the new still seem so nebulous. 

Most importantly of all, we don’t yet know nearly enough about what Open Access ‘’impact’, howsoever measured, actually means. Professor Shearer West has wisely remarked that what matters to scholars in the fields I am describing is not necessarily a Big or Mass Audience, but the Right Audience (something emphatically endorsed by the complaints log at any major publisher: non-display at a major disciplinary conference is a far more serious author irritation in the monographic context than small numbers of sales…).

We also know (at least according to Urban Myth) that it was not the English Reformation but a subsequent deviation therefrom, in the form of Dissent, that was the impetus for initial British governmental moves in the Open Access domain: legend has it that the then Universities Minister David Willetts took a copy of Joel Mokyr’s The Enlightened Economy (Yale UP, 2010) on holiday and decided that Open Access might provide the steam of another great British economic leap forward, akin to that provided to the first industrial nation by the Dissenting Academies and other ‘outsider’ institutions of a quarter of a millennium earlier. 

The authors of the Budapest Declaration might with profit consider the wise words of that great scion of a Dissenting family William Blake, written in direct contradiction of a key enlightened assumption and quoted in epigrammatic form at the outset of one of the most celebrated English historical works of the post-war period, The Making of the English Landscape by W.G. Hoskins. ‘To Generalise is to be An Idiot. To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit’. 

I completely accept that in publicly-funded research institutions generating (rightly or wrongly) outputs on an enormous and ever-increasing scale, some form of systematic monitoring mechanism is both inevitable and desirable. 

Nonetheless, the notion that, in modes of scholarly communication, one size fits all was, and remains, the biggest single hindrance (by far) to the acceleration of Open Access, and its cheerful adoption as ‘natural’ by researchers. Without such cheerful acceptance, the project will not succeed. 

What should politicians and governments do to realise the Budapest vision? The most effective answer in the British context might, in all honesty, be to disengage…more seriously there needs to be a much happier balance (at all institutional levels from HEIs upwards) between policy imperatives and their associated (expensive) instruments of compliance, the nature (and cost) of the research output, and research practice itself. Fundamentally no government can, or should, attempt to control modes or networks of scholarly communication, and a failure to comprehend the globalised nature of modern scholarly exchange remains the biggest single weakness of all politicians and policy-makers active in this domain. 

PS The notion that science is bigger than scientists is not one that I necessarily accept. After all, to quote John Arlott (a resonant source this particular week) ‘the game is never bigger than the players: what could be bigger than humanity itself?’


Earlier responses to these questions from Danny Kingsley and Lisa Hinchliffe can be read here and here

A list of some of the more interesting OA developments during 2017 is available here.


waltc said...

A narrow point: I am mystified by the reference to California law. Creative Commons' mailing address may be in Mountain View, but I am unaware of any way in which California copyright law differs from U.S. copyright law. Could the author enlighten us as to what's special about California as regards OA?

Anonymous said...

Many thanks, Walt. Entirely fair. What I was trying to convey was a generalised sense that rather too many people working in this overall domain think that the law as it applies in the state of California is globally determinant. Which it clearly isn’t. That was all. Richard Fisher

Torsten Reimer said...

Thanks to both Richards for this post. Having been involved in the UK Scholarly Communications Licence I thought I'd make a few comments.

Open access is not about telling researchers, regardless of discipline, how to do their research, what to research or what methods to use. Neither is the UK-SCL - it is simply a mechanism through which academics can retain re-use rights for their own articles. It does not change the research process, and it helps academics to retain the free choice of their journal even if the journal policy clashes with the funder policy. It allows academics to share their research where they see fit.

The UK-SCL is also not a biomedical initiative. It builds on a model established at Harvard and used at a range of universities, including liberal arts colleges, and the UK universities who are looking to implement it cover all disciplines. Imperial College has taken a lead in bringing the universities together, that's true, but the initiative has right from the start made provision for different practices in the AHSS - it explicitely includes a longer embargo for these fields. You may also note that neither Chris Banks nor myself have a sience background - in fact I worked as a historian before I moved into research infrastructure.

You say that the UK-SCL is roled out nationally, which may give readers a wrong impression. Individual universities decide whether and when to implement the model. These universities use their normal processes to make that decision, involving academics through committees and other means. Just at Imperial I personally spoke to dozens of academics about this, and presented in front of hundreds, and colleagues at other universities are engaging with academics too.

So I would be curious to see what prompted the statement: "with (often) zero input from actual researchers themselves". What is your evidence for the majority of participating universities not involving researchers at all?

Richard Poynder said...

Hi Torsten,

Thanks for this. I cannot speak for Richard Fisher, but I think it is important to underline your point about how UK-SCL "builds on" the Harvard model.

As I understand it, in practice this means that it is more similar to the mandatory policy of HEFCE than to the voluntary model pioneered by Harvard. For instance, the papers subject to a UK-SCL-enriched OA policy will not be licensed in the same way as those subject to a Harvard policy I believe. It will also be harder to obtain a waiver I think, and the waiver only applies to obtaining an embargo, not to waiving all requirement to deposit. Is that not right? If not, I would welcome clarification.

As to zero input from actual researchers. Again, I cannot speak for Richard, but as an indication of how little researchers know about licensing, I would point you to this tweet from an OA-friendly Imperial researcher here. How can researchers be involved if no one is explaining how licensing works? (Or if that information is not reaching them)?

Torsten Reimer said...

Thanks for this, Richard. My comment was in response to Richard Fisher's paragraph on the UK-SCL that appears to present it as an example of open access as driven by "minority scientific subject cohorts". My comments and questions were stated in that context and it may be useful to keep this particular discussion focused on that area.

Still, as you asked for general clarification I will try to cover the points you raised.

The Harvard model policy reserves the right to "exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit". The UK-SCL is arguably more restrictive in that it does not include "any and all rights under copyright" but simply a non-exclusive licence to make the manuscript available under CC-BY-NC (4.0). In practice though, both models allow sharing of the manuscript but not for commercial purposes.

Universities across the UK do already mandate manuscript deposit. Many academics deposit, some don't. The UK-SCL does not change that, it simply ensures that authors retain some rights in the manuscripts. If an author chooses not to deposit there is nothing in the UK-SCL that would force the author to do so. Authors can continue to choose not to deposit if they so wish. The act of deposit and the waiver are unrelated; the latter is a mechanism for authors to delay the application of the rights if they so choose. In practice, the UK waiver works similar to a longer embargo.

Whether you view it as harder to obtain a waiver in the UK than the US probably depends on your view of the usability of the respective websites. UK universities intend to issue waivers to all authors who request them; how the waiver handling works when the request comes from a publisher is currently under discussion.

Finally, about licensing. This isn't a UK-SCL specific issue and the question you raise would equally, or perhaps even more, apply to the transfer of rights publishers require from authors. Raising awareness of licensing was one of the aims behind the UK-SCL. This is certainly what I did when I was still at Imperial College, for example in presentations to departments. I know that librarians across the country are having these discussions too. That academics now ask questions on rights retention, here or elsewhere, shows that we may have made at least a little progress. There is obviously more to do, and not just by librarians but also by publishers and other stakeholders.

simon batterbury said...

My 2c worth, just out. I am, also, not a scientist. But I would push the social scientists much harder. They need to consider the ethics of publishing. https://fennia.journal.fi/article/view/66910

Anonymous said...

To add to Torsten's comments:

* The UK-SCL initiative started with discussions with (some) academics at Imperial College. When we started looking at the complexities of REF2021 eligibility, funder OA compliance and the many and varied flavours of journal embargo periods it became clear that a change to the existing institutional policy was needed. We set out a variety of options and the academic preference was to explore the Harvard model.

* There are two elements to the UK-SCL: the retention of rights, and the release of the MS via the institutional repository. Above all it is important to stress that the policy does not seek to retain copyright - that remains with the author and can be assigned as at present to the publisher should that be the author choice.

* The UK-SCL is designed as such that with one step it ensures eligibility for REF2021 and compliance with many of the larger funder OA policies

* We have offered publishers a blanket waiver with embargo periods that align with funder policies

* Many of the issues for the AHSS communities are already issues with other OA policies and are not caused by the UK-SCL

* Those institutions exploring adoption of the UK-SCL model OA policy are doing so via their research committees, and other senior academic committees

* As with many communications, contacting all academics and fully engaging on each and every issue can be a challenge. Many of us are working our ways through academic research committees, internal newsletters, pop-up events at academic staff meetings (doughnuts and buns often help here) and through internal publicity. As I still encounter academics unaware of the REF I know all too well that this engagement needs to continue and to be ongoing, particularly as academic staff come and go.

* The UK-SCL model policy is a temporary measure responding to a a small part of a wider and much more complex set of issues with scholarly communication. Another part of the mix is the San Francisco Declaration on Open Assessment (DORA). A number of the institutions exploring adoption of the UK-SCL model policy are also exploring DORA

* For the UK-SCL see http://ukscl.ac.uk/

* for DORA see http://www.ascb.org/dora/

Chris Banks said...

Apologies - even though I filled in my name - Chris Banks - it has recorded me as anonymous. Certainly not my intention.

Richard Poynder said...


Thanks for responding to my questions Torsten and Chris, and sorry for the delay in replying. I fear I am still confused about the UK-SCL.

It occurred to me recently that discussions about open access are often like those that took place prior to the UK Brexit referendum – that is, short on verifiable facts and long on assertions, promises and opinions. With Brexit this meant that most British voters had little understanding of the true nature of the decision they were being asked to make, or of the possible consequences of their choice. The only option available to them, therefore, was to vote in accordance with their feelings and/or prejudices, not on the facts. My point is that decisions about open access often seem to be made on the same basis. This is particularly regrettable given that the research community prides itself on fact-based decisions that have been subjected to reason and logic.

Note, I am not here making a direct reference to your comments Torsten and Chris, but more of a general point.

That said, it does seem to me that there is a shortage of detailed information about the UK-SCL. Since I understand that it will be researchers themselves who will be asked to decide (via research committees etc.) on whether to adopt the UK-SCL, might they not (like UK voters) find themselves having to make a decision based more on uninformed opinion and prejudice than data and evidence.

Another similarity with Brexit is that researchers find themselves caught in the middle of two opposing camps – in this case not hardcore leavers vs. remainers but publishers vs. OA advocates and librarians.

What cannot be denied is that the two main protagonists in the tug-of-war over OA view things in very different ways. This means that researchers invariably find themselves caught up in a propaganda war when the topic of OA is raised, and discussions are usually subject to a fair degree of spin and unverifiable claims.

In the case of the UK-SCL, publishers complain that it is an attempt by OA advocates to (as one publisher put it to me) “get gold OA for free”. As such, they say, it is a bad-faith attempt to rip up the Finch “settlement”. In addition, they say, the UK-SCL conflicts with current UK policy on OA. They add that it would place a “significant administrative burden on researchers, institutions and publishers” and limit researchers’ choice over where to publish (thereby infringing their academic freedom).

By contrast, those promoting the UK-SCL insist that if it were widely adopted it would make everyone’s life easier, and increase the amount of research freely available. Publishers too would benefit from the simplified processes it would allow for, they say. In addition, publishers would see the citation rates of their journals increase and they would be able to avoid having their journals black-listed by universities (as if!). UK-SCL proponents add (I assume with their tongues firmly in their cheeks) that it would give publishers an opportunity to “develop new business models”.

It is worth noting that funders and universities are simultaneously being assured that the UK-SCL will minimise the use of hybrid OA and reduce the level of double dipping. Since this would clearly impact negatively on their revenues it is hard to see how publishers would benefit.

The UK-SCL would doubtless also have unintended consequences (as seems always to be the case with OA initiatives). Importantly, as most researchers have only the haziest understanding of, or interest in, licensing, we have to wonder how university committees could be expected to make an informed decision. To do so, they would need access to objective advice, but from where would this advice come? Since the UK-SCL would impact negatively on their income, publishers cannot be expected to provide it. Nor, I would suggest, can those promoting the UK-SCL, since they are deeply committed to seeing it introduced.

Richard Poynder said...


Once again, therefore, I am inclined to think that researchers would be in a similar position as British voters were, and so have to fall back on their opinions and/or prejudices in order to make a decision. (Alternatively, they could simply take at face value the advice of one of the two opposing camps).

This is not to say there isn’t any information about the UK-SCL available. However, I don’t believe what is available is adequate, sufficiently understandable, or very objective.

After visiting the UK-SCL website and reviewing the articles and presentations there, and after reading the various comments that UK-SCL advocates have posted on the web, for instance, I have to confess that I am pretty confused. And if I (someone who has been reporting on open access issues for some 15 years) am confused, might it not be safe to assume that most researchers – who will feel they have far more pressing matters to attend to than worrying about something that they view as obscure and not particularly relevant – will be equally confused? (Yes, I know, most will probably have a higher IQ than me, but even so!). It does not help that those promoting the licence are very defensive, and so presumably under some pressure to gloss over the potential difficulties and downsides of the UK-SCL.

Even the way the UK-SCL is described seems to me to be confusing. For instance, it is sometimes described as a “model open access policy”, other times as a “policy mechanism”, and at yet other times as a “licence and model policy”. I feel bound to ask therefore: what exactly is the UK-SCL, and how will it relate to existing OA policies? What you say in your comment above Torsten would seem to imply that the UK-SCL is separate to existing OA policies. (“Universities across the UK do already mandate manuscript deposit. Many academics deposit, some don’t. The UK-SCL does not change that, it simply ensures that authors retain some rights in the manuscripts … The act of deposit and the waiver are unrelated”).

Elsewhere, you have said that local policies would be updated, which might seem to imply that the UK-SCL would replace existing policies. If this is right then might it not be a little disingenuous for you to say that “If an author chooses not to deposit there is nothing in the UK-SCL that would force the author to do so”, since this makes it sound as though the UK-SCL consists only of a licencing component, and this is separate to any institutional OA policy.

In your comment, Chris, you too seem at one point to be saying that we are talking about different things. “Universities across the UK do already mandate manuscript deposit”. Again, that might seem to imply that adopting the UK-SCL would simply mean adding a licensing element.

You also say, however, “There are two elements to the UK-SCL: the retention of rights, and the release of the MS via the institutional repository”, suggesting that it is viewed as a replacement OA policy. Certainly, this would seem to fit with the UK-SCL web site which says that not only would the licensing element be required in order for the UK-SCL “Model Policy” to be considered implemented but AAMs would have to be made available “online on or shortly after the date of publication”.

Either way, it seems to me that there would have to be more than one waiver process: a deposit waiver process and a licensing waiver process. In addition, presumably, REF exemptions can be requested. This suggests that publishers are right to argue that rather than simplifying things the UK-SCL will increase the OA administrative burden (and confusion).

Richard Poynder said...


That it will make the OA environment more complex seems more likely given the different licensing requirements that will need to co-exist. Those papers without a UK-SCL waiver would have to be made available CC BY-NC, while those with a waiver would presumably have to be made available CC BY-NC-ND in order to meet HEFCE requirements. RCUK by contrast requires CC BY if an APC has been paid. In addition, there would presumably be papers for which a HEFCE exemption applies. I would imagine this might mean we would continue to see papers licensed in other ways too. All in all, it would seem that even if the UK-SCL made librarians’ lives easier, it would be no simpler for researchers: as authors the complexities of compliance would surely be just as complicated (more so in fact), and as readers they would still have to navigate a complicated licensing environment, both when accessing papers and when sharing/distributing them.

So, while you say Chris that the UK-SCL is intended to be a one-step process that ensures eligibility for REF2021 and compliance with many of the larger funder OA policies I personally can’t see how it will make researchers’ lives any easier. It may be that I am simply misunderstanding the situation and the way the UK-SCL is supposed to work, but if I am then I would think this is as much to do with the complexity of the OA environment that has been created and the failure of UK-SCL advocates to explain exactly how the new proposal would work as any obtuseness on my part.

Moreover, if the UK-SCL requires papers to be made available CC BY-NC, the AHSS researchers referenced by Richard Fisher would presumably feel (like publishers) that the post-Finch/post-HEFCE OA settlement is being ripped up. Chris, you say that these issues pre-existed any discussion of the UK-SCL initiative, but was it not precisely to meet these concerns that HEFCE agreed that CC BY-NC-ND would be acceptable for its OA policy? The UK-SCL is seeking to re-visit and rewrite that agreement is it not?

I also don’t understand what you mean Torsten when you say that whether it is harder to obtain a waiver depends on “your view of the usability of the respective websites”. I assume you mean that researchers will be able to request waivers via an online form. However, I think the issue is whether waivers will be granted, and the nature of those waivers, not how easy it might be to request them.

Advocates for the UK-SCL insist that it is based on the voluntary Harvard model and so builds on a tried and tested approach. But let’s remind ourselves that the Harvard model includes a no-questions-asked waiver process. So, to say that the UK-SCL builds on the Harvard policy ignores the fact that, in contrast to the voluntary Harvard model, the UK-SCL has been designed around the far-from-voluntary requirements of the HEFCE policy. As you Torsten have said when commenting on publisher waivers, “The UK-SCL restricts the application [of waivers] for up to two years, to ensure that outputs remain eligible for the Research Excellence Framework, the main research evaluation exercise in the UK.”

You Chris say, “In practice, the UK waiver works similar to a longer embargo.” I take this to mean that UK researchers would only be able to delay compliance with the UK-SCL. This is a far cry from the voluntary approach of the Harvard policy, where those subject to the policy can opt out altogether. (And judging by the description of the policy on the Harvard website they can opt out of both the licensing component and the deposit component).

We need also to bear in mind that without an agreed REF exception non-deposit would be punished by HEFCE.

Richard Poynder said...


I understand that US researchers are also mandated by funding agencies like the NIH, but I do not believe that these policies impose any licensing requirements on researchers, and in the main it is publishers that do the work of depositing papers, not researchers or librarians.

Another confusion for me is when you Torsten say that requests for a waiver from publishers is a topic still under discussion, whereas you Chris say, “we have offered publishers a blanket waiver with embargo periods that align with funder policies”. Has something changed over the holiday period, or am I misunderstanding? Either way, it is not clear to me how one would be able to tell whether a waiver request originated from a publisher or an author.

By the way, I think your explanation of the licensing differences between the UK-SCL and the Harvard policy Torsten doesn’t fully express the differences. Peter Suber has provided a more detailed explanation here.

Whatever the hopes of those promoting the UK-SCL the likelihood is, of course, that publishers will (as they have always done to date) successfully subvert them. I note, for instance, that UCL’s vice provost research David Price tweeted recently about the UK-SCL: “[I]n reality publishers are threatening to impose huge administrative burdens here which will deter many academic colleagues from seeking retention rights.”

That doesn’t sound to me as though the UK-SCL would achieve what it hopes to achieve, or that it would simplify anyone’s life. It also reminds us that whatever OA advocates/librarians do, they inevitably end up playing whack-a-mole, not just as a result of publishers’ responses to OA initiatives, but because the plethora of different OA policies and conditions continues to grow exponentially. In the process the OA environment becomes increasingly complex and hard to navigate. So, I am struggling to see how the UK-SCL will simplify the situation (although I will suggest below what I think it could lead to, and how that could negatively impact on researchers).

Then we come to the question of consultation and implementation. Advocates have stressed that the UK-SCL will not be forced on researchers (in the way, say, that the RCUK and HEFCE policies were) but that they will (I assume) be able to vote for or against it. As you Chris have put it, “adoption at individual UK universities will vary according to local procedures but generally speaking, proposals go through academic research committees before passing to university wide committees/ Senate/ Council/ Court – all with faculty involved.”

To this end, you Torsten say that “librarians across the country” are right now having conversations with researchers to explain the UK-SCL.

This is certainly an important requirement if researchers need to be persuaded to support the UK-SCL. Personally, however, I have to wonder how many researchers these conversations will reach, how the issue will be presented to them, and to what extent this will inform researchers sufficiently. In my earlier comment I linked to a tweet from a researcher at Imperial who seems to have a very sketchy understanding of licensing, even though the university recently featured him as an active OA advocate.

As he put it when I asked him about the different CC licences, “If only I knew what all those things meant, I’d likely be confused and a little resentful for the complexity, I guess...” How will the UK-SCL reduce the complexity for him?

Richard Poynder said...


If a committed OA advocate hasn’t apparently worked out the differences between CC licences how can we expect those who are indifferent (or even antagonistic) to OA to do so? In his tweet, this researcher pointed out that academics generally know very little about licensing matters, and “some don’t even really care”. Indeed, as you say Chris, you still encounter academics “unaware of the REF”. This suggests that even if university-wide committees voted to adopt the UK-SCL they would probably have done so without knowing what they had actually voted for, or of the possible implications of that vote.

This brings me back to my earlier point about how librarian-led conversations are likely to be framed and how well the issues explicated. Since librarians expect the UK-SCL to make their lives easier they will inevitably want to present it in as favourable a light as possible and gloss over any potential downsides. In addition, most librarians are passionately in favour of anything related to OA (even though, ironically, many don’t seem to practice it themselves!) Whatever their intentions, therefore, librarians must struggle to be even-handed, and we cannot really expect all the implications and likely disadvantages of voting for the licence to be surfaced. How then will researchers be able to make an informed decision?

Let me be clear, I have no concerns here about the implications of the UK-SCL for most publishers, certainly not for commercial publishers, or indeed for librarians. My concern is for researchers. The story of open access to date has been primarily one of an often bitter battle between librarians/OA advocates and publishers, with the primary stakeholders (the researchers who actually produce the raw material that fuels scholarly publishing) too often absent from discussions and/or under-informed about the issues. As a result, their needs and interests are generally ignored, or misrepresented. To change metaphors, researchers have become the meat in the open access sandwich.

It would be a great shame if researchers were to vote for a significant change to their working practices that later turned out to have had had a negative impact on their lives, especially if the vote was based on biased or inadequate information. This is what many argue happened with the Brexit vote. Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen to researchers.

I mentioned earlier that OA initiatives tend to have unintended consequences. Examples here include the greater policing and monitoring of researchers that open access policies have led to, the rise of predatory publishing, and the increased disenfranchisement of those without the wherewithal to play in the pay-to-publish world that open access has to a great extent become. One possible unintended consequence of the UK-SCL I foresee is that it will lead to universities seizing faculty copyright.

I say this because it is generally accepted that under UK law all faculty intellectual property actually belongs to the employing institution, not to the individual researchers. It is only custom and practice that has prevented universities asserting their ownership right in scholarly works. You say Chris, “it is important to stress that the policy does not seek to retain copyright – that remains with the author and can be assigned as at present to the publisher should that be the author choice”. But as you say, the UK-SCL is only envisaged as a temporary measure. It is what comes next that is important.

My suspicion is that in increasing awareness of licensing issues the UK-SCL could end up benefiting university managers at the expense of researchers.

Richard Poynder said...


Thus, as the inevitable problems of introducing the UK-SCL emerge universities may conclude that the only effective way of ensuring universal open access is for them take control of the situation by asserting their legal rights in faculty copyright in order to deal directly with publishers (as the owners of that IP). In doing so, they could hope to overcome most if not all the current barriers to OA. Indeed, some have already tried to assert that right , although without initial success. Next time round, when so much more will be riding on the outcome (and it can be justified on the grounds that it is for the public good), universities will be far less likely to back down. In raising awareness of licensing issues, therefore, the UK-SCL may end up further disenfranchising and disempowering researchers.

OA advocates and some scientists will doubtless argue that that is just fine, they don’t need to own the copyright in their works. However, I suspect that when the full implications became apparent this view would change (too late presumably). For those working in AHSS fields such a move would be greeted with alarm and despondency.

The larger picture here is that in going to the war with publishers over access to research OA advocates have helped further a neoliberal agenda that seems increasingly bent on disempowering researchers. The UK-SCL could turn out to be one further step down that road.

Let’s be clear, there is no doubt that some researchers are passionate advocates for open access. But a great many are not, and as the personal cost to researchers of winning the OA battle becomes more apparent I wouldn’t be surprised if positions hardened and resistance to it grew.

In the end, of course, open access can be forced on researchers. Again, some may feel that the costs of doing so are a price worth paying. But what if the OA movement has all this time been focused on the wrong problem? What if the problem isn’t accessibility but affordability? What if the world got universal open access but the affordability problem remained as an intractable problem, and continued to disadvantage the very same people who were disadvantaged under the legacy subscription model?

Chris Banks said...

Thanks for taking the time to respond at such length Richard. I will attempt to respond to your substantive points and will do so, mostly by pointing to information that is already in the public domain either on or via the UK-SCL website (http://ukscl.ac.uk/), hopefully in a way will help clarify, and to highlight the factual basis on which the initiative has been developed.


Firstly it is perhaps important that I point out that the UK-SCL model policy and licence is not being proposed or presented as a solution to the very complex issue of open access, it is a response to the very particular set of circumstances in which we find ourselves in the UK arising from a combination of a number of funder policies including the RCUK policy (which itself responded to the Finch report), the REF2021 eligibility criteria, and publisher responses to both of those funder policies. I described this as the “policy stack” in a piece in Insights: Banks, C., (2016). Focusing upstream: supporting scholarly communication by academics. Insights. 29(1), pp.37–44. DOI: https://insights.uksg.org/articles/10.1629/uksg.292/
On the one hand we have this “policy stack” issue whereby researchers are funded through a variety of sources, from direct funding through research grants through to indirect funding via the Funding Council QR routes, and on the other hand we have the fact that the Open Access requirements of these funders are expressed in progressive policies, policies which set out minimum requirements and then use language to encourage going beyond those minima, but policies which are not themselves aligned (Finch/RCUK has a preference for Gold and the REF2021 OA policy is agnostic on the route).
To help everyone understand how these work together we have brought the key UK policy Open Access statements together – all fully referenced - on the UK-SCL website: http://ukscl.ac.uk/funder-policy-statements/ under the following headings:

• About Open Access to publicly funded research
• Incentivising openness – going beyond minimum compliance
• Defining open and Re-use criteria
• Funders on licenses and embargo periods
• Funders on the transition towards open science
• Funders on researcher copyright and rights retention
• Funders on the question of Green or Gold Open Access
• Funders on the risks of policy abuse

Resources explaining the initiative are available for those wishing to open up the discussion at their institutions, one of which is a slideck:
https://www.slideshare.net/chrisabanks/united-kingdom-scholarly-communications-model-policy-and-licence-ukscl-update-2017-10-22. These slides take the form of a narrative through the issues, and explain how, in consultation with academics, we arrived at the Harvard Model Policy as the preferred solution for the current set of circumstances. That model was then reviewed from a legal perspective, and to ensure that it met the aims of enabling both funder compliance and REF2021 eligibility in a single step.

I hope on reviewing these resources you will realise that academics are not being asked to make a decision in a vacuum and that the background to the funder policies together with the logic of the proposed solution is clear to all.

Richard Poynder said...

Hi Chris,

Yes, I have seen all the documents you refer to. I am not entirely clear how what you say addresses the substantive points I raised. But thank you for responding.


Torsten Reimer said...

It is interesting to see that my (so far unanswered) question to Richard Fisher has sparked responses that are almost as long as the original article now. Let's see if I can address the points that have been raised within the text limit of one comment to make it easier for readers to follow.

- Policy vs licence: The UK-SCL is a licence that gives academics re-use rights in their own content, in particular to make it open access. Among the documentation is a model policy, in the same way as Harvard provides one. I don't expect a single university will use the model policy directly.

- The universities who will implement the UK-SCL will do so by incorporating the licence into their local policies following whatever the local custom and process is for policy making. This may include a vote at the senate or other large academic body, it may take place across various committees - institutions are different. Just because this process is not visible from the outside does not mean it does not happen.

- Because of the complexities of university decision making many people are involved, and it is highly likely only a small number will be open access advocates. Decision making at universities is certainly not led by librarians.

- There will be no change with regard to manuscript deposit requirements at the universities. Nothing in the UK-SCL requires a deposit waiver. Authors will simply continue to deposit or not to deposit, as they choose. I am not sure why you believe one is required. If you do not see value in depositing you do not deposit. That's all there is to it. Not depositing is also the easiest way how an academic can opt out - no effort required.

- Waivers: Where authors request one universities will issue one. Universities have also made an offer to publishers on how to deal with publisher waiver requests (which is not to trouble each author individually but set up a bulk process), and we wait to see how these discussions will go.

- Copyright: If anything, the UK-SCL makes it less likely HEIs will actively want to retain copyright. After all, under the model it is not required as authors and institution have reuse rights and can meet funder requirements. It should be noted that the only bodies who actively make a pitch for copyright are publishers.

- The suggestion that an increase of academics' understanding of licensing issues 'could end up benefiting university managers at the expense of researchers' seems very odd to me. Surely, academics being able to make decisions on their own work benefits academics. I also object to the simple dichotomy of evil management against helpless academics. Having been an academic myself I understand how things can sometimes feel that way, but it is important to remember that academic committees make policy decisions. I understand that policy is often greeted with suspicion. But instead of making vague insinuations I would like to hear a clear articulation how academics retaining reuse rights in their own manuscripts will lead to a neoliberal regime that controls academics more than now.

Finally, you do make some interesting points about affordability and also what comes after the UK-SCL. Personally I would want to see a switch to full open access publishing with a sustainable and affordable business model. In such a model academic rights retention would be the default and the UK-SCL no longer required. Until this or a different model is in place we need an interim solution for the reasons Chris gave.

Richard Poynder said...

Thank you for responding again Torsten. This clarifies a few things.

I can’t answer the question you put to Richard Fisher, but I think the example I cited suggests the message about licensing is not getting through, even to OA advocates.

I hear what Chris says about the policy stack. So, I am thinking this (and what you say) suggests the UK-SCL is intended simply to retrofit all the (often incompatible) OA policies that have been introduced. If that is right, then it seems to me to be both confusing and inaccurate to describe it as a model open access policy.

Either way, I cannot help thinking researchers are being asked to pay a high price for institutions and funders having made a dog’s dinner of their OA polices. When you say, “The UK-SCL is a licence that gives academics re-use rights in their own content” we get a sense of that price. (Yes, I know publishers take exclusive rights, but two wrongs don’t make a right, if you see what I mean).

But here’s the thing: the only point surely to introducing an OA policy (or taking a non-exclusive licence in papers to enable OA) is to ensure research papers are made freely available on the internet. Yet you have said “Many academics deposit, some don’t. The UK-SCL does not change that.” Subsequently, you say, “There will be no change with regard to manuscript deposit requirements at the universities … If you do not see value in depositing you do not deposit.”

This is striking if only because many/most/all? UK universities have OA policies they describe as “mandates” (implying compulsory). Imperial is one of those to describe their policy as a mandate, and the page about it says that all Imperial authors “are required to upload their final peer reviewed copy of the paper into Spiral.” If authors are nevertheless free to choose whether or not to deposit their papers, what is the point of calling it a mandate, and what is the point of a university taking non-exclusive rights in faculty papers if those papers are not then deposited?

I realise that a lot (most/the vast majority?) of depositing is done by librarians, and if the institution had non-exclusive rights they would be freer to do this. But if it is the author’s accepted manuscript that is to be deposited surely the only reliable way of obtaining a copy is from the author. Are authors who are unwilling to deposit nevertheless willing to dig out their AAMs at a librarian’s behest? I know some that ignore all emails requesting copies.

True, the UK-SCL has been designed around the HEFCE policy, the most draconian OA policy to have been introduced. But it’s worth nothing that HEFCE only requires four outputs per researcher to be submitted during the 4-5-year period of the REF, and most produce a great deal more outputs, so it is no catch-all. In fact, the HEFCE policy does not actually require OA, just deposit. As Steven Harnad has put it, “OA is only drawn in at all because HEFCE has made deposit in an institutional repository (not OA!) a precondition for eligibility for REF 2020.”

I can see that the UK-SCL would (theoretically) enable authors wishing to deposit to ignore publisher embargoes. But you say that UK universities intend to issue waivers to all authors who request them and that waivers may also be given in bulk to publishers. These waivers, you say, “work similar to a longer embargo”. So, I am wondering what the UK-SCL will really achieve, particularly if publishers are (as UCL’s David Price puts it) “threatening to impose huge administrative burdens here which will deter many academic colleagues from seeking retention rights.”

All this brings me back to my earlier point: if universities really want to achieve universal open access they will at some point likely seek to take copyright away from faculty. Of course, this too may not be successful, so the only option would then seem to be to pay publishers huge sums of money for gold OA.

Torsten Reimer said...

Richard, I think you are looking at this too much from an outsider’s point of view with a perspective that sees university policies in a light similar to law. Some policies at universities are neither enforced nor even monitored, whereas others come with clear sanctions (sexual harassment, research misconduct or fraud spring to mind). Open access is different, especially from a library perspective. Librarians want to support and assist academics with regards open access. Librarians do not police open access deposits and I am not aware that universities sanction academics who do not deposit.

These policies describe the behaviour the university wants to see, and in that sense OA policies are no different from many other university policies. In that sense academics can decide to ignore them. Still, many academics deposit manuscripts and for those who do the UK-SCL gives them additional rights. In fact, it even gives those who do not deposit those rights should they wish to exercise them – for example by posting the manuscript on another website of their choice. Even where a waiver has been granted the academic will eventually have these rights. So even if there was a waiver for every output it would be progress.

You keep suggesting academics will pay a price for having reuse rights, but you do not seem to explain what that price is in your view beyond some vague language about neoliberalism. You also state universities will eventually want to actively retain copyright even though I have outlined why there is no need for them under the UK-SCL. Could you explain the why and how? Also keep in mind that from a university perspective the copyright is worthless without the manuscript as the university could not do anything with it. Universities want deposit, as you explain, because of the various policies. If you have deposit and the reuse rights under the UK-SCL, why would universities want to go through the trouble of retaining the copyright and pay hundreds of thousands to negotiate with every publisher for all the papers their academics publish, without gaining anything else? I cannot see any reason at all.

Chez JR said...

Thanks for the further thoughts Richard. I'll add these thoughts to those of Torsten:

”Model” policy?

For those wishing to achieve the aims of the policy, the UK-SCL along with its Harvard parent, is indeed a model policy. It gives institutions all the details of the model in order to achieve the aims of the policy.
Researchers paying a high price?
I’m struggling here to understand why securing the retention of rights whilst retaining the freedom both to retain and to assign copyright is a “high price”. Even if an academic does not deposit or if the deposit is not made OA at some point, their rights are retained on their behalf. There are two mechanisms in use to enable rights retention: the Harvard model policy - which works at the institutional level - and the SPARC model which operates at the article by article level and is initiated by each author for each article. In discussion with academics about the two models, the Harvard model was the preferred choice.

To mandate, or not to mandate

Generally speaking, policies describe a desired end state, and there is then a journey. This is exactly where we are with funder open access policies. The Wellcome Trust #OA policy - https://wellcome.ac.uk/funding/managing-grant/open-access-policy - is an interesting case in point and the implementation of that policy has been a gradual process during the decade since it was introduced. The RCUK and REF2021 policies are newer and are going through a similar journey, with UK HEI policies being introduced locally to support the funder policy implementation.

REF2021 and the number of outputs

This has been the focus of some discussion. Research Directors and Managers are understandably keen to have a wide pool of outputs from which to choose to submit to the next REF. A number of factors influence the final choice including co-authorship, impact, complementarity etc. A number are also wary of using too many exceptions (other than the “already published OA” exception). Others are taking an institutional view on the overall level of outputs available OA, not simply as a REF2021 box-ticking exercise and in doing so are making themselves eligible for the research funding that might come to the institution through the REF Environment route.

Most deposits undertaken by librarians?

In my experience this is a shared activity. In some institutions researchers are able to engage directly with the CRIS or the Repository in order to deposit outputs but librarians sill check data and licensing information. In some institutions academics “deposit” via an email to the relevant library section for the deposit process to be managed on their behalf. So it is a mixed economy here. This mixed economy would remain in institutions adopting the UK-SCL model.

UK-SCL and publisher waivers

Publishers have been offered blanket embargo periods with both meet the RCUK requirements and REF2021 eligibility. Some publishers are positively engaging with members of the Steering Committee on this point.


Your assertion that universities will “seek to take copyright away from faculty” is not a future scenario that I recognise, nor is the implication should they in fact do so.

Richard Poynder said...

Thank you Torsten and Chris for your further comments. I suspect we have got as far as we can with this.

My main point about OA policies was that universities call them “mandates” and use words like “required” more often than they use words like “request” and “policy”. So, I am thinking that if the aim of these policies is simply to describe behaviour the university would like to see it would be more honest not to use words that imply compulsion. By doing so, one might think, they are practising a form of prestidigitation.

On the other hand, you say Torsten that librarians do not police deposits or sanction academics who do not deposit. I would say that the University of Li├Ęge OA mandate model (on which the HEFCE OA policy is based) is very definitely about universities sanctioning researchers for non-deposit.

As to whether librarians police deposits I cannot say. I do know they pester researchers with emails asking them to deposit and, when doing so, imply that it is a compulsory requirement (which you say it is not). And Twitter posts/library blogs have at times made (usually deceptive) claims about compliance levels.

I am also struck by the persistent claims that the aim of the UK-SCL is to “help” researchers retain rights in scholarly works, and that the project is being undertaken “on their behalf”. Custom and practice today is that universities treat authors as the sole owners of the copyright in their works. As such, they are free to do what they want with those rights. What the UK-SCL initiative is seeking to do is to change that custom and practice to one in which universities automatically acquire non-exclusive rights in faculty papers and are able to make copies available in the IR with a CC BY-NC licence attached. To say that this does not involve universities taking something away from researchers (and is really helping them) strikes me as a form of Newspeak (or more accurately doublespeak).

I have already explained why I think the UK-SCL might lead to universities taking copyright from faculty: I anticipate that implementation will hit problems and universities will conclude that the only way to achieve universal OA is to themselves take charge. I do not see why this would require paying hundreds of thousands of pounds to negotiate with every publisher for all the papers faculty produce. I would imagine something like the new-style OA/Subscription Big Deals would be used when dealing with large publishers. For smaller publishers, university consortia or agencies like Jisc could develop model licences. I accept I may be proved wrong on this.

You said earlier Torsten that I have been making vague insinuations about OA aiding the neoliberal agenda. True, but this is not the place to go into detail, not least because of blogger’s comment space limits. I have discussed some aspects of this in blog posts (e.g. here).

If I were to I go into more detail I would want to talk about open access in the context of things like the increasing proletarianisation of academic work and the accompanying precarity, and the Taylorism, bureaucratic scrutiny and performance evaluation that researchers are more and more subject to – all of which I guess flow from the marketisation of universities.

It is possible that being an outsider has benefits. Those inside academia have tended to internalise these developments and can see no alternatives. Perhaps outsiders can see things more objectively. It may also be that OA advocates and librarians are so focused on what they perceive to be the unmitigated benefits of open access, and on their war with publishers, that they fail to see how they may be assisting in building out the above agenda.

Anyway, thank you both for engaging with me. I can see that the two of you have taken on a big task in pushing the UK-SCL forward. And so far as I can see, you are the only two people who are publicly batting for it, although I may just not have come across the others.

Torsten Reimer said...

Thanks for your comment, Richard. As far as open access policies go universities across the UK see this as a requirement but have decided not to sanction non-compliance at university level, as far as I am aware. Librarians may report on compliance but they have no power whatsoever over academics - so if any active policing happens it would be in the hands of heads of research groups, departments or faculties, or perhaps research offices.

Is a mandate still a mandate if compliance is not enforced, is a requirement a requirement if there are no sanctions? That's something that can be discussed but it is not a discussion I am interested in. The key point is that the UK-SCL does not change the situation in this respect: where academics currently choose not to deposit they can still do the same if and when their university has a rights retention model in place.

"To say that this does not involve universities taking something away from researchers (and is really helping them) strikes me as a form of Newspeak (or more accurately doublespeak)." This does not strike me as convincing. Under the UK-SCL as an author I have more rights to my work, I have more choice about how I publish (for example because I can choose a journal that otherwise would make me non-compliant with my funder) and I have lost nothing in the process. Just because the university now also has more rights authors are not worse off - this is not a zero sum game where only one party can have rights, after all it is a non-exclusive licence to ensure that it can be shared.

"I have already explained why I think the UK-SCL might lead to universities taking copyright from faculty: I anticipate that implementation will hit problems and universities will conclude that the only way to achieve universal OA is to themselves take charge." -> Obviously, you assume it won't work. However, even if we assume things go that way in your logic universities would have to take copyright anyway, so the UK-SCL cannot be blamed for this. I also wonder how the logical conclusion from being unable to make a simpler process of a non-exclusive licence work would be to take the much harder copyright route.

Why do I mention that the copyright route would cost the universities lots of money? The university would have to check, then re-negotiate and eventually sign every author agreement with a publisher. These can vary not just by publisher but also by journal. Where papers have external co-authors/corresponding authors from other institutions universities would have to block publication until all HEIs have agreed the terms. Would a university in China agree to the same terms as one in France and one in the US? How much time would it take to, as you suggest, agree terms with every single scholarly publisher and every university? And if some publishers currently do not like the UK-SCL terms, why would they suddenly like them when the university becomes the partner in the contract? This is an awful lot of effort that is unlikely to get a better term for the university than the UK-SCL, but at a higher cost. And if universities negotiate with publishers and pay extra money they could just as well pay for hyrbid open access that would give them CC BY rights. So I really can't see how this is a practical model, even if universities wanted to pursue it.

The UK-SCL started because academics asked to find a way to make articles open access and meet funder compliance, as Chris outlined above. It was developed in direct response to academic requests and with input from academics, who told us they prefered this model over other approaches. You are welcome to question this, but as someone who has been in dozens of meetings with academics on this topic I feel it is fair to point to the origin of the initiative.

Richard Poynder said...

Thanks for responding again Torsten. I am happy to leave it there.