Open access accord ‘to weaken publishers’ negotiating position’

Rights retention agreement aims to end ‘unhelpful’ model under which universities ‘give IP to publishers and buy access to it in perpetuity’, says Manchester librarian

January 23, 2023
Open access
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Several leading UK universities will ask their academics to deposit their accepted manuscripts in free-to-read domains as part of a new pledge to support open access publication.

Under a new commitment agreed by members of the N8 Research Partnership, whose institutions include the universities of Manchester and Sheffield, researchers will be urged to retain their intellectual property (IP) rights, rather than sign them over to publishers.

By doing so, scholars would be free to post final versions of research articles on institutional repositories, after obtaining a CC BY licence – a move that some publishers will not permit, or only allow after an embargo period, a route to publication known as green open access.

That has led to a stand-off between academics and publishers – with some journals refusing to publish manuscripts where an application for a CC BY licence has been made, whereby the researcher states they own the research.

It is hoped that the new N8 statement – the first time that a coalition of UK universities has coordinated policies on open access – will discourage publishers from pushing such demands, which were made harder by the introduction of UK Research and Innovation’s new open access policies in April.

Under these rules, it is mandatory for all publicly funded research to be made immediately available – either fully open access, in “gold journals” or in journals made available through on transitional read-and-publish deals without publishing charges.

The N8 statement, which is also supported by the universities of York and Liverpool, and Durham, Lancaster and Newcastle universities, aims to support a further UKRI-compliant route to open access publishing in which authors place accepted manuscripts on institutional repositories and make outputs available without embargo.

The statement, which will be unveiled on 24 January during the Future of Publishing conference at the University of Manchester, explains that universities will “seek to support all our academics if they find themselves caught between funders’ and publishers’ policies”.

“Each N8 university will have its own policy but this statement aims to support all our researchers in retaining their rights,” it adds.

Christopher Pressler, university librarian at Manchester’s John Rylands Library and chair of the N8 Library Directors' Group, told Times Higher Education that the new rights retention statement would help to finally end the “once standard practice” of researchers transferring their rights to publishers.

“Without rights retention the sector is still giving research IP to publishers and buying access to it in perpetuity,” said Professor Pressler.

“It is, to put it mildly an unhelpful model, as aside from journal distribution and marketing, almost all peer review and content development is also delivered by faculty, not publishers,” he added, claiming the lack of clarity and coordination on rights retention across the sector had “slowed progress in open science and public access to research by at least 30 years”.

The statement would be particularly helpful when “gold access is not achievable whilst at the same time green (immediate on publication) has been embargoed or directly blocked by a publisher in order to maximise sales”, added Professor Pressler, who said his institution had a “large team of librarians, legal advisers and researchers coordinated by the University of Manchester Office for Open Research, based in the library, who can support academic colleagues through every part of the [publishing] process, including if they find their submissions rejected because they assert their legal right to deposit in green repositories”.

The rights retention statement would “sit alongside long overdue mandates for immediate open access, such as the UKRI policy”, said Professor Pressler.

“It is a significant step forward, not least in ensuring open access can happen on publication but also in redressing the unfortunate practice of universities giving away IP or copyright to publishers who then hold all the cards in negotiating price to access those same universities’ content,” he concluded.

“Rights retention means researchers will for the first time have a strong hand in terms of control over their own work and transforms the position university libraries and Jisc often find themselves in when negotiating with suppliers who claim ownership over content produced by those same universities.”

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Reader's comments (2)

Excellent idea, and not before time.
Great news, but there are some errors in the article: scholars would be free to post the final accepted manuscript of their article, not the final version, and also, gold journals are not transformative (as they have nothing to transform to), only hybrid/subscription journals can be transformative, that is if they pledged to transform into a fully OA journals (Gold journals).