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A Closer Look at the New UC Open Access Policy

Posted in UC3

Last week, the University of California announced a new Open Access Policy. Here I will explore the policy in a bit more detail.  The gist of the policy is this: research articles authored by UC faculty will be made available to the public at no charge.

I’m sure most of this blog’s readers are familiar with paywalls and the nuances of scholarly publishing, but for those that aren’t – if you don’t have a license to get content from particular journals (via your institution’s library, for example) then you may pay upwards of $100 per article. For example, if I publish an amazing article in Nature (and don’t pay the $5,200 fee to make my article open access), my mom can’t get a copy of the article to hang on her fridge without either (1) getting a copy from someone with access, or (2) paying a big fee. Considering that my mom pays taxes that fund the NSF which funded my work, this is rather strange.

The UC policy is trying to change that. The idea is that faculty at the UC will grant a license to the UC prior to any contractual arrangement with publishers. The faculty member then has the right to make their research will be widely and publicly available, re-use it for various purposes, or modify it for future research publications – regardless of the publisher’s wishes for locking down the work.

Faculty will continue to publish their work in the most appropriate journal (open access or not). The big change is that now they can also place a copy of the publication in UC’s open access repository, eScholarship, which is freely accessible to anyone. To re-emphasize: This policy does NOT require that faculty publish in particular journals or pay “Article Processing Charges” to ensure their article is open access.

From the policy’s FAQ  page:

Faculty are strongly encouraged to continue to publish as normal, in the most appropriate and prestigious journals. Faculty are not required to pay to publish articles or pay to deposit them in an open-access repository under this policy, unless they choose to do so.

How faculty can comply (from the FAQ page):

By passing the policy on July 24, 2013, UC faculty members have committed themselves to making their scholarly articles available to the public by granting a license to UC and depositing a copy of their publications in eScholarship, UC’s open access repository. The policy automatically grants UC a license to make any scholarly articles available in an open access repository. UC will not do so, however, until an author takes the action of depositing an article in UC’s eScholarship repository or confirms the availability of the article in another open access venue – i.e., a repository (such as PubMed Central, ArXiv or SSRN) or an open access journal.

The California Digital Library and the campus libraries will assist faculty by providing a streamlined deposit system into eScholarship and an automated ‘harvesting’ tool in order to ease the process of depositing articles, is expected to be in place by June 2014.

And now, the downside. Michael Eisen, co-founder of the open access journal PLOS, points out the potential downside of the new policy in his blog post:

This policy has a major, major hole – an optional faculty opt-out. This is there because enough faculty wanted the right to publish their works in ways that were incompatible with the policy that the policy would not have passed without the provision.  Unfortunately, this means that the policy is completely toothless.

Eisen goes on to say

…because of the opt out, this is a largely symbolic gesture – a minor event in the history of open access, not the watershed event that some people are making it out to be.

Although I agree with Eisen that the opt-out clause significantly weakens the strength of this policy, I still believe this move on the UC’s part represents a major step forward in the battle to reclaim our scholarly work from some publishers. Perhaps it isn’t “watershed” but it’s certainly exciting, and it’s stimulating conversations about open science and accessibility to research.

Read more on the new policy and related topics:

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