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Analysis Universities will be provided with funding to ensure that their academics' research papers are made more widely available, the government has said.

The government broadly backed recommendations contained in a report by the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings in its policy aimed at supporting 'open access' to research.

The seven UK Research Councils will provide universities that establish 'publication funds' with grants in order that the organisations can pay publishers an 'article processing charge' (APC) to publish their work.

"In all cases universities upon receipt of funding should transfer these charges to their institutional publication fund," Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said in a formal response [5-page 93KB PDF] to Dame Janet Finch who chaired the Working Group. "A university can then use these funds to pay for APCs for any article resulting from research council funding."

"Research Councils will monitor compliance with its policies at grant level through its outputs systems. Once Research Councils have established the payment mechanism, operational details will be set in discussions with the academic community," he said.

Footing the bill

Willetts said that the government recognises that while open access "means free access to the user and full right of search", that there is still a cost associated with the process.

He said that existing research funds would pay for open access terms and that any limitations that publishers place on the rights of use or re-use of the research should be compatible with copyright law and any future changes to exceptions to copyright that are currently under discussion, such as content mining.

"Where APCs are paid to publishers, the government would expect to see unrestricted access and use of the subject content and the details of how this should be best achieved will be addressed in the detailed policy statements to be published by funding bodies," Willetts said. "The government believes any [changes to the rules on] exception on copyright – on which decisions are yet to be taken – must be compatible with the broad approach of the Finch report."

Funding body Research Councils UK (RCUK) has outlined a new policy on 'open access' that will apply to "qualifying publications" from 1 April 2013. Under the policy wholly or partially publically funded peer reviewed research papers will be required to be published in journals that comply with its open access policy and detail information such as how the "underlying research materials such as data, samples or models can be accessed".

Under the RCUK's open access policy commercial use of research work would be legitimate, providing accreditation to the author is made. "Criteria which journals must fulfil to be compliant with the Research Councils’ Open Access policy are detailed within the policy, but include offering a 'pay to publish' option or allowing deposit in a subject or institutional repository after a mandated maximum embargo period," RCUK said in a statement.

"In addition, the policy mandates use of the Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ license (CC-BY), when an Article Processing Charge (APC) is levied. The CC-BY licence allows others to modify, build upon and/or distribute the licensed work (including for commercial purposes) as long as the original author is credited."

"The Research Councils will provide block grants to eligible UK Higher Education Institutions, approved independent research organisations and Research Council Institutes to support payment of the APCs associated with ‘pay-to-publish’.

"In parallel, eligible organisations will be expected to set-up and manage their own publication funds. The Research Councils will work with eligible organisations to discuss the detail of the new approach to funding APCs and to ensure that appropriate and auditable mechanisms are put in place to manage the funds," it said.

Publication embargoes not ruled out

Willetts said that the government was happy to enable publishers to put embargoes that restrict access to content in certain circumstances. He said publishers should be able to protect the value of their work where their funding is not mainly reliant on APCs but that length embargo periods may not be justified in the public interest.

"Embargo periods allowed by funding bodies for publishers should be short where publishers have chosen not to take up the preferred option of their receiving an Article Processing Charge," Willetts said.

"Where APC funds are not available to the publisher or learned society, for the publication of publicly-funded research, then publishers could reasonably insist on a longer more equitable embargo period. This could be up to 12 months for science, technology and engineering publications and longer for publications in those disciplines which require more time to secure payback. Even so, publications with embargo periods longer than two years may find it difficult to argue that they are also serving the public interest."

Willetts said that removing "paywalls" that limit access to taxpayer funded research would bring both "economic and social benefits" and help the UK "drive innovation and growth" in the field of global research.

"It will allow academics and businesses to develop and commercialise their research more easily and herald a new era of academic discovery," the Minister said.

The UK Publishers' Association welcomed the plans.

"Now that the UK government has set out its position clearly, and as all the elements in the Finch ‘balanced package’ can be seen to be moving forward, then publishers will play their part by delivering the initiative for walk-in access in public libraries and for extending access to high-technology SMEs," the trade body said in a statement.

Copyright © 2012, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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