Europe's New 'Plan S' For Open Access: Daft Name, Great News

from the admirably-strong dept

The journey towards open access has been a long one, with many disappointments along the way. But occasionally there are unequivocal and major victories. One such is the new “Plan S” from the inelegantly-named cOALition S:

On 4 September 2018, 11 national research funding organisation, with the support of the European Commission including the European Research Council (ERC), announced the launch of cOAlition S, an initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality. It is built around Plan S, which consists of one target and 10 principles.

cOAlition S signals the commitment to implement, by 1 January 2020, the necessary measures to fulfil its main principle: “By 2020 scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants provided by participating national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”

The plan and its ten principles (pdf) are usefully summed up by Peter Suber, one of the earliest and most influential open access advocates, as follows:

The plan is admirably strong. It aims to cover all European research, in the sciences and in the humanities, at the EU level and the member-state level. It’s a plan for a mandate, not just an exhortation or encouragement. It keeps copyright in the hands of authors. It requires open licenses and prefers CC-BY. It abolishes or phases out embargoes. It does not support hybrid journals except as stepping stones to full-OA journals. It’s willing to pay APCs [Article Processing Charges] but wants to cap them, and wants funders and universities to pay them, not authors. It will monitor compliance and sanction non-compliance. It’s already backed by a dozen powerful, national funding agencies and calls for other funders and other stakeholders to join the coalition.

Keeping copyright in the hands of authors is crucial: too often, academics have been cajoled or bullied into handing over copyright for their articles to publishers, thus losing the ability to determine who can read them, and under what conditions. Similarly, the CC-BY license would allow commercial use by anyone — many publishers try to release so-called open access articles under restrictive licenses like CC-BY-NC, which stop other publishers from distributing them.

Embargo periods are routinely used by publishers to delay the appearance of open access versions of articles; under Plan S, that would no longer be allowed. Finally, the new initiative discourages the use of “hybrid” journals that have often enabled publishers to “double dip”. That is, they charge researchers who want to release their work as open access, but also require libraries to take out full-price subscriptions for journals that include these freely-available articles.

Suber has a number of (relatively minor) criticisms of Plan S, which are well-worth reading. All-in-all, though, this is a major breakthrough for open access in Europe, and thus the world. Once “admirably strong” open access mandates like Plan S have been established in one region, others tend to follow in due course. Let’s just hope they choose better names.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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