The Gates Foundation Emerges As A Leader In The Fight For Full Open Access And Open Data

from the great,-so-how-about-open-source-too? dept

As Techdirt readers know, the battle to provide open access to the world's research has been going on for many years now. Despite the clear benefits of sharing information freely, the top academic publishers are still resisting, which probably has something to do with the 35% profit margins they currently enjoy. There have been various attempts to force their hand, notably through boycotts, but these have been disappointingly ineffective so far. Funding organizations have helped by requiring that any work they fund should be published as some kind of open access, but often they have been rather timid in their demands and enforcement. Against that background, the following is noteworthy:

One of the world's most influential global health charities says that the research it funds cannot currently be published in several leading journals, because the journals do not comply with its open-access policy.

Scientists who do research funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are not -- for the moment -- allowed to publish papers about that work in journals that include Nature, Science, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

That comes from a news story published in Nature, one of the leading titles that falls foul of the new rules. These were first announced in November 2014, when Nature called them the "world's strongest policy on open access research." After a two-year grace period, the new rules have come fully into force, no exceptions allowed. There are five so-called "elements" to the new policy, including the following:

Publication Will Be On "Open Access" Terms. All publications shall be published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Generic License (CC BY 4.0) or an equivalent license. This will permit all users of the publication to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and transform and build upon the material, including for any purpose (including commercial) without further permission or fees being required.

As that points out, the CC-BY license allows anyone to use material with attribution, including for commercial purposes. This is something academic publishers are very unwilling to allow, since it means that rivals can reprint the content immediately, and without payment.

Publications Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. All publications shall be available immediately upon their publication, without any embargo period. An embargo period is the period during which the publisher will require a subscription or the payment of a fee to gain access to the publication.

This is also an unusually strong demand. In the past, major funders have meekly allowed an extended period of exclusivity to publishers in the form of an embargo before research is available under open access terms. The new requirement by the Gates Foundation is therefore a bold move, and again something that publishers have always fought hard against.

Data Underlying Published Research Results Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. The foundation will require that data underlying the published research results be immediately accessible and open.

A separate requirement for open data recognizes that the underlying results are just as important as the main findings, and that they should be available under an open license for other researchers to use freely.

The Nature story says that the new rules will only affect a few hundred research papers, since 92% of the 2,000-2,500 papers published each year with funding from the Gates Foundation are in journals that already comply with the stringent open access policy. However, the ones that currently don't meet them are big names in the world of scientific publishing, which sets up an interesting battle of wills. It's one that Peter Suber, a key figure in the open access movement, thinks that the Gates Foundation is likely to win:

"I predict that the Gates Foundation won't compromise. The journals ought to compromise, and in due time, I predict that they will," says Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Open Access Project and the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Suber recalls that in 2008, many journals were unwilling to accommodate a US National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy, which, at the time, mandated that papers be made freely available no later than 12 months after publication. "Essentially, the NIH forced publishers to choose between accommodating the new policy and refusing to publish the large volume of high-quality research by NIH-funded authors," he says. In the end, publishers accommodated the policy, Suber notes. He expects that the Gates policy will draw the same concessions from publishers.

If Suber is right -- and he usually is on these matters -- this will represent a serious defeat for the old-style, dog-in-the-manger publishers, who have hitherto regarded themselves as indispensable and thus able to dictate terms to the open access movement and their funders. It might encourage other organizations to impose similar terms, and to usher in finally the long-awaited open access revolution.

The Gates Foundation is therefore to be congratulated on making this stand for both open access and open data. However, there is a certain irony here that an organization fighting so hard for openness should be funded by a man whose huge fortune is based on selling software that is resolutely closed source.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: open access, open data
Companies: gates foundation

Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    michael, 27 Jan 2017 @ 11:29am


    Apples to oranges. One is a consumer product, the other is knowledge itself.

    Sad that Techdirt doesn't get the vast difference.

    There is no irony here.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.