Implementing the UK Open Access policy: The embargoes for Green

Posted on 3 March 2013

The positive achievement of the UK in positioning Open Access front and center of the debate around the future of academic publishing cannot be denied. However, defining a clear path toward policy implementation has been less successful. Here’s why:

Embargoes for Green

Anyone who has been tracking the rapid transition from the recommendations of the Finch Group to the emergence of RCUK’s policy must admit that the horse-trading around OA embargoes caused considerable confusion. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report into the policy published on 22 February 2013 produced this graphic to highlight how it should work.

The thing is it was the first time most people had seen it. Was this the policy tweak we were told would emerge at the end of February? Perhaps. While David Willets’ position on Green OA verges on the politically hostile, RCUK and HEFCE have tried to hold a more pragmatic line albeit one which the former appeared at pains to avoid stating plainly. Put simply: although the policy has a preference for Gold, funding is limited and Green will meet the shortfall.

Before the decision tree came to light, the position on embargoes was as follows:

Ideally, a research paper should become Open Access as soon as it is published on-line. However, the Research Councils recognise that embargo periods are currently used by some journals with business models which depend on generating revenue through subscriptions. Therefore, where a publisher does not offer a ‘pay-to-publish’ option the Research Councils will accept a delay between on-line publication and a paper becoming Open Access of no more than six months, except in the case of research papers arising from research funded by the AHRC and the ESRC. Because current funding arrangements make a six month embargo period particularly difficult in the arts, humanities and social sciences, the Research Councils will accept a delay of up to twelve months in the case of research papers arising from research funded wholly or in part by the AHRC and/or the ESRC. However, this is only a transitional arrangement, for a period of five years, and both the AHRC and ESRC are working towards enabling a maximum embargo period of six months for all research papers.

In August 2012, The Publisher’s Association released a position statement on RCUK policy which contains our now familiar decision tree. We can assume that in the following six months there was considerable lobbying by the PA to get BIS and RCUK to clarify their position but if you look closely this is a bit more than a simple policy tweak on the time-scales of embargoes. Where a publisher doesn’t offer a paid APC option for a particular journal, the author will be compliant with RCUK’s OA policy if the author’s final draft, post peer-review, is deposited in a repository and released from embargo between 6 to 12 months depending on discipline. Where the publisher DOES offer a paid APC option but there is no money to cover the APC, the embargo gets expanded to 12-24 months.

Therefore publishers can impose an embargo of 12-24 months on the 55% of published research in year one of the RCUK policy. That’s quite a roll-back on the original position and to whose benefit?

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