Publishers Have A New Strategy For Neutralizing Open Access — And It's Working
from the pushback-time dept
Over the last few years, Techdirt has been reporting on a steady stream of victories for open access. Along the way publishers have tried various counter-attacks, which all proved dismal failures. But there are signs that they have changed tack, and come up with a more subtle — and increasingly successful — approach.
Here, for example, is a fascinating analysis by Mike Taylor of what he calls “The progressive erosion of the RCUK open access policy“. The RCUK is Research Councils UK, the umbrella group for the UK’s seven Research Councils that hand out grants to academics. A year ago, RCUK released its draft policy on open access. As Taylor says:
it was excellent. It did not accept non-commercial clauses (on either Gold or Green OA), and allowed Green-OA embargoes of no more that six months (with a twelve-month exception for two humanities councils). “It is anticipated that the revised policy will be adopted in summer 2012”
A crucial issue here is the distinction between “Gold” open access, which takes place through journals, and “Green” open access, which uses online repositories. Here’s how Wikipedia defines the two terms:
Green OA Self Archiving
Authors publish in any journal and then self-archive a version of the article for free public use in their institutional repository, in a central repository (such as PubMed Central), or on some other OA website. What is deposited is the peer-reviewed postprint — either the author’s refereed, revised final draft or the publisher’s version of record. Green OA journal publishers endorse immediate OA self-archiving by their authors.
Gold OA Publishing
Authors publish in an open access journal that provides immediate OA to all of its articles on the publisher’s website. (Hybrid open access journals provide Gold OA only for those individual articles for which their authors (or their author’s institution or funder) pay an OA publishing fee.)
As Taylor noted above, the original RCUK policy did not accept non-commercial clauses for either kind, limited Green OA embargoes to six months (Gold OA would have no embargoes), and would start in summer 2012. Here’s what happened afterwards:
July 2012: actual policy released. Weakened to allow publishers to impose non-commercial clauses on Green OA. (They didn’t tell anyone they’d made this change, as far as I ever saw. I discovered it for myself.) “The policy applies to all research papers whose work was funded by RCUK being submitted for publication from 1 April 2013”
November 2012: RCUK announce that they will only fund APCs [“author processing charges” — fees paid by authors’ academic institutions so that articles can be released free of charge] for 45% of articles as Gold OA.
January 2013: RCUK announce that they “will not enforce” embargo periods.
February 2013: In response to House of Lords enquiry, RCUK clarifies “that it will gradually phase in its open access policy over a five year implementation phase”. BIS [UK Government’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills] and RCUK both endorse embargo-period “decision tree” that allows embargoes of up to two years.
As Taylor puts it bluntly:
At every single step of the way, the RCUK policy has been weakened. From being the best and most progressive in the world, it’s now considerably weaker than policies already in action elsewhere in the world, and hardly represents an increment on their 2006 policy.
And he asks:
Can anyone doubt that the nobbling of a truly progressive policy was the result of lobbying by a truly regressive publishing industry? It’s been a tragedy to watch this policy erode away from something dramatic to almost nothing. Once more, it’s publishers versus everyone else.
This seems to be the publishers’ new strategy against open access: not to fight it directly, but to use constant lobbying to inflict a kind of death by a thousand cuts — slicing off a provision here, lengthening an embargo there, pushing implementation further and further into the future — until the final result is almost no different from the status quo.
Disturbingly, there are signs this has may be happening in the US, too. As Michael Eisen points out on his blog, the recent statement from the White House on public access to publicly-funded research has one retrogressive element that may presage worse to come:
When the NIH policy was announced, people like me who believe that publicly funded works should be immediately freely available looked at the 12 month embargo period as a kind of opening bid — a concession to publishers that was necessary to get the policy off the ground, but which would ultimately disappear.
But now the White House has taken the 12 months embargo period and reified it. Year long delays are no longer an experiment by one agency. They are, in effect, the law of the land.
Clearly the publishers got what they wanted out of the White House. And do you really think it’s going to stop there? They have established their ability to corrupt policy making, and will continue to exploit it. I predict that as these policies are implemented in different agencies, that they will be heavily tilted towards what the publishers want. There will be no central archives – just links out to publishers websites. And there will be pressure to increase — not decrease — embargo periods.
Just as they have already done in the UK.