UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will expand on existing rules covering all research papers produced from its £8 billion in annual funding. About three-quarters of papers recently published from U.K. universities are open access, and UKRI’s current policy gives scholars two routes to comply: Pay journals for “gold” open access, which makes a paper free to read on the publisher’s website, or choose the “green” route, which allows them to deposit a near-final version of the paper on a public repository, after a waiting period of up to 1 year. Publishers have insisted that an embargo period is necessary to prevent the free papers from peeling away their subscribers.
But starting in April 2022, that yearlong delay will no longer be permitted: Researchers choosing green open access must deposit the paper immediately when it is published. And publishers won’t be able to hang on to the copyright for UKRI-funded papers: The agency will require that the research it funds—with some minor exceptions—be published with a Creative Commons Attribution license (known as CC-BY) that allows for free and liberal distribution of the work.
UKRI developed the new policy because “publicly funded research should be available for public use by the taxpayer,” says Duncan Wingham, the funder’s executive champion for open research. The policy falls closely in line with those issued by other major research funders, including the nonprofit Wellcome Trust—one of the world’s largest nongovernmental funding bodies—and the European Research Council.
The move also brings UKRI’s policy into alignment with Plan S, an effort led by European research funders—including UKRI—to make academic literature freely available to read
It clears up some confusion about when UKRI will pay the fees that journals charge for gold open access, he says: never for journals that offer a mix of paywalled and open-access content, unless the journal is part of an agreement to transition to exclusively open access for all research papers. (More than half of U.K. papers are covered by transitional agreements, according to UKRI.)
Publishers have resisted the new requirements. The Publishers Association, a member organization for the U.K. publishing industry, circulated a document saying the policy would introduce confusion for researchers, threaten their academic freedom, undermine open access, and leave many researchers on the hook for fees for gold open access—which it calls the only viable route for researchers. The publishing giant Elsevier, in a letter sent to its editorial board members in the United Kingdom, said it had been working to shape the policy by lobbying UKRI and the U.K. government, and encouraged members to write in themselves.
It would not be in the interest of publishers to refuse to publish these green open-access papers, Rooryck says, because the public repository version ultimately drives publicity for publishers. And even with a paper immediately deposited in a public repository, the final “version of record” published behind a paywall will still carry considerable value, Prosser says. Publishers who threaten to reject such papers, Rooryck believes, are simply “saber rattling and posturing.”
It’s pretty bizarre that publically funded research is hidden behind paywalls – the public that paid for it can’t get to it and innovation is stifled because people who need the research can’t get at it either.