If you’re reading this, you probably already know about the model of scholarly publishing whereby publicly funded research undertaken at universities and submitted to commercial academic publishers, is peer reviewed for ‘free’ by other researchers at different universities. Authors cede their intellectual property to those same publishers who sell it back to university libraries through subscription.

Historically those research outputs have been ‘paywalled’, accessible only to those of us fortunate enough to be affiliated with a wealthly Western university.

In recent years the open access movement has gone a long way to providing universal access to research for all, through the so called ‘green’ and ‘gold’ models. Gold OA, often still paid for by public money through an Article Processing Charge (APC), has become the favourite mechanism for commercial publishers who have successfully converted their business models from subscription to pay-to-publish. They were even able to increase their profits through a ‘hybrid’ model with revenue from subscription AND pay-to-publish for some articles.

Green OA refers to an author self-archiving their accepted manuscript in an institutional repository like White Rose Research Online and has the benefit over gold in that it is ‘free’…at least it doesn’t incur an APC, though does rely on the subscription model. However, publishers often require an embargo period of 6, 12 or even 24 months before the accepted manuscript can be made open access in this way.

The Rights Retention Strategy developed by cOAlition S helps researchers retain sufficient rights to their own work so they can make it immediately open access from a repository without an embargo period. It has been adopted in some form by funders including The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the Wellcome Trust, UKRI and the European Union.

While the Devil is in the detail, the overriding message is simple:

The peer-reviewed authors’ accepted manuscript is the intellectual creation of the authors and belongs to them.

On Wednesday 24th November we were joined by Professor Johan Rooryck and Sally Rumsey from cOAlition S to tell us more.

You can watch a full recording on YouTube or see below for a summary:

cOAlition S and Plan S

cOAlition S is a coalition of 27 organisations worldwide including UKRI, European Funding Councils and the Wellcome Trust. Together they have developed ‘Plan S‘ which came into force on 1 January 2021.

Plan S comprises 6 strong principles to promote immediate and sustainable open access:

  • Open access must be immediate: no embargo periods
  • Publication under a CC-BY license
  • No ‘hybrid’ model of publication, except as a transitional arrangement with a defined endpoint
  • Pricing, contracts and publication fees should be transparent and in line with the services provided
  • Funders commit to support such publication fees, individual researchers do not pay
  • A commitment to assess research outputs based on their intrinsic merit and NOT their venue of publication or quantitative metrics

This last point aligns with the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), signed by the University of Leeds and discussed at the last open lunch event with Professor Stephen Curry.

cOAlition S do not favour any particular business model and Professor Rooryck emphasised that there is no silver bullet to acheive sustainable OA, rather an approach of complementary and integrated policies across stakeholders and organisations, from university libraries to publishers – who Johan concedes may not always like their policies! Much more on that later from Sally…

Three routes to open access

Plan S recognises 3 routes to open access but are quite open that they want to remove subscription journals from the ecosystem, which is in part the impetus for rights retention, to enable authors to publish in these journals and still meet their obligation to make their work immediately open access:

  • Route 1: “The easy route” where authors publish in a full OA journal or platform, and cOAlition S funders will financially support publication fees for the author
  • Route 2: The more difficult route where authors publishing in a subscription journal must make the Version of Record or Author Accepted Manuscript immediately available in a repository. This route is not financially supported by cOAlition S funders though subscription costs may already be covered by the Library. This is the route supported by the Rights Retention Strategy
  • Route 3: Authors publish in a journal with a transformative arrangement that will transition a journal from hybrid to full open access. These are the arrangements being negotated by Jisc in the UK. You can find out more on the Library website: Publishing models and deals.

As we in the Library know all too well, it is difficult for researchers to navigate these different routes. To make it easier, cOAlition S have developed the journal checker tool where researchers can type in their journal of choice along with their funder and institution, and it will tell them how they can comply with Plan S, whether through the payment of a gold APC, under a transformative agreement that their library is already paying for, a transformative journal that their funder will cover, or if there is no available paid option and they will need to deposit a copy in a repository utilising rights retention.

Rights retention

In law – at least UK law – copyright is automatically assigned to works created by authors. Authors do not need to apply for it or register copyright in a work they have created. This means that when a researcher has an article accepted for publication, they usually are the copyright holder of that work. The version of the work at this stage in the publishing process is called the Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM).

Sally Rumsey on The cOAlition S blog

Licence to publish – the boot is on the wrong foot

It is important for authors to assert their ownership and not transfer their copyright to a publisher, rather they should apply a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY) to the accepted manuscript arising from their submission.

While publication services should be paid for, it is a firm principle that this does not entitle publishers to the ownership of the accepted manuscript, which should remain the intellectual property of the author.

It is very important for both funders and for universities to ensure that researchers are not deprived of their essential intellectual property rights and cOAlition S advocate that universities should also implement their own rights retention policy. This is something that Harvard in the United States have done for many years and recently implemented by the University of Edinburgh in the UK.

Empowering authors

Rights retention vastly simplifies the landscape by cutting through all the complexity of journal permissions. It also means that authors can reuse their own material without having to ask for permission, to reprint an article in a collection or or reuse specific data figures or tables from previous research.

It does however introduce a potential contradiction between a researcher’s grant agreement that requires immediate open access, and their publishing agreement that may disallow immediate OA from a repository on publication and impose an embargo of 6 or12 months.

Rights retention resolves this contradiction; the CC-BY license affirms authors rights and takes legal precedence. Once assigned it cannot be affected by any later copyright transfer.

Three steps to implementation

Essentially a Plan S funder requires the grant holder to publish their accepted manuscripts from their grant under CC-BY. They are of course obliged to inform their publisher which should be acheived by including a clear statement of the CC-BY status of the manuscript in their submission.

There has already been a lot of work to implement rights retention:

1. Update grant conditions

See the roadmap on the cOAlition S website for the stage that each of the funders are at.

2. Inform publishers

During 2020, cOAlition S contacted around 150 of the main publishers who publish their outputs about the rights retention strategy so they had prior notice

3. cOAlition S grant holders are asked to:

  • include details of the public licence in their submission
  • deposit a copy of the AAM in a repository on publication

Smoke and mirrors

There has been some strong opposition to Plan S and right retention from commercial publishers who see it as a threat to their revenue stream and some, by no means all, publishers are knowingly putting authors in a difficult situation. Publishers have been informed about Plan S, and are fully aware that authors have pre-existing agreement with their funder.

Sally emphasised that a publisher is perfectly within their rights to desk reject an article that contains a rights retention statement. They obviously don’t have to accept it, but they should not confuse, mislead or trick authors into breaking this prior contract between an author and their funder.

An author’s obligation under Plan S is clear and they should not sign any publisher agreement that conflicts with that obligation. If the publisher refuses to negotiate and to accept the terms they should withdraw their article and take it elsewhere.

However, often a publisher will wait until an article has gone all the way through peer review before presenting a contract to sign that conflicts with the author’s prior licence. It is very important for authors to be fully aware of what terms they are agreeing to before they sign.

The prior notice of the RRS takes precedence over conflicting provisions in your publishing agreement, and you have given the appropriate notice. However, if you specificlly sign an agreement agreeing to an embargo period, then you will be in breach of your grant conditions.

Authors should consider the value of their intellectual property, to be retained for themselves and for the benefit of society and not just to hand it over to a commercial publisher. It’s also important for universities, as well as funders, to consider how they can support their authors to retain their rights, as Edinburgh have done with their new policy.

A united approach from the sector will be to the benefit of all and make it less likely that publishers will reject articles where authors have asserted their statutory rights.

Sally also emphasised publishers’ double standards and that their objections to rights retention and immediate open access rather fall apart when they themselves often make subscription articles (temporarily) free to read after publication.

As part of its ‘sharing’ provision, Elsevier offers its published authors Share Links. It would appear, though, that the rhetoric surrounding these links does not match Elsevier’s own restrictions and dire warnings of the risks of sharing.

Sally Rumsey on The cOAlition S blog

Elsevier Share Links: The Schrödinger’s cat of Open Access

What to watch out for

  • This journal does not allow accepted manuscripts to be made open access under the rights retention strategy

This is not something the publisher is in a position to ‘allow’. An author may be asked to sign a separate contract to respect their embargo (despite the fact that the publisher is aware of the author’s pre-existing agreement with their funder). The author does not need to sign it, and if they do agree to an embargo under a new contract, they will be in breach of their grant conditions.

  • You cannot use the RRS statement when submitting to this journal

Yes you can. It is your right to use the rights retention statement or something similar in your accepted manuscript. Similarly the journal has the right to refuse it.

  • Choosing the green route means the work is under an embargo that is not compatible with your funder’s policy

The prior notice of the RRS takes precedence over conflicting provisions in your publishing agreement, and you have given the appropriate notice. However, if you specificlly sign an agreement agreeing to an embargo period, then you will be in breach of your grant conditions.

  • You must pay an APC to be compliant with your funder, even if your funder won’t reimburse you (e.g. hybrid jornal with no TA)

cOAlition S funders never make payment a condition for compliance. Where applicable, your funder will pay and APC for a journal that has a Plan S compliant route. Otherwise RRS will suffice.

  • Before proceeding with your submission, you must click here to agree to pay and APC (even if your funder does not)

Beware! The publisher is suggesting you enter into a contractual agreement. Check f there is an option to discuss the APC prior to submission. If you are not comfortable with the suggested approach, or in the case of hybrid journals, do ot have the funds to pay the APC, submit to an alternative journal.

Open letter: All publishers must provide researchers with clarity and transparency on Open Access

Is the rights retention approach working?

I have documented over 500 works published across hundreds of different outlets using the Rights Retention Strategy language in the acknowledgements section of the work. Authors are using it to retain their rights in preprints, journal articles, conference papers, book chapters, and even posters – this makes perfect sense; the RRS language is simple and easy to add to research outputs. 

Ross Mounce on the cOAlition S blog

Observing the success so far of the Rights Retention Strategy

Adoption of a similar approach across multiple major funders is paying dividends. Notably the new UKRI open access policy includes the same requirement and template wording to help authors retain their own rights. More recently, a similar policy from the NIHR represents the first non-cOAlition S funder to adopt the approach

Ross Mounce discovered over 500 works made open access using the rights retention wording which means that for all those articles, the accepted manuscripts are freely available without embargo while the version of record is behind a pay wall.

Further support

If you’re still reading, well done and thank you! The actual event went on well over the scheduled hour with Sally and Johan answering lots of questions from the audience, so a public thank you to them.

They also compiled a list of questions that they weren’t able to get to, even in extra time. Download here.

If you are unsure of any aspect of Plan S, or feel disoriented by publishers’ ‘smoke and mirrors’ please get in touch with the research support team. We’ll do our best to help, or reach out to Sally and Johan.

Plan S on th Library web site: https://library.leeds.ac.uk/info/14061/open_access/8/open_access_explained/7