Harvard Faculty Vote on Open Access Self-Archiving Mandate Today Stevan Harnad 12 Feb 2008 13:42 UTC

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Optimizing Harvard's Proposed Open Access Self-Archiving Mandate

Harvard faculty are voting today on an Open Access (OA) Self-Archiving
Mandate Proposal.

The Harvard proposal is to try the copyright-retention strategy: Retain
copyright so faculty can (among other things) deposit their writings in
Harvard's OA Institutional Repository.

Let me try to say why I think this is the wrong strategy, whereas
something not so different from it would not only have much greater
probability of success, but would serve as a model that would generalize
much more readily to the worldwide academic community.

(1) Articles vs. Books. The objective is to make peer-reviewed research
journal articles OA. That is OA's primary target content. The policy has
to make a clear distinction between journal articles and books,
otherwise it is doomed to fuzziness and failure. The time is ripe for
making journal articles -- which are all, without exception, author
give-aways, written only for scholarly usage and impact, not for sales
royalty income -- Open Access, but it is not yet ripe for books in
general (although there are already some exceptions, ready to do the
same). Hence it would be a great and gratuitous handicap to try to apply
OA policy today in a blanket way to articles and books alike, covering
exceptions with an "opt-out" option instead of directly targeting the
exception-free journal article literature exclusively.

(2) Unrefereed Preprints vs. Peer-Reviewed Postprints. Again, the
objective is to make published, peer-reviewed research journal articles
("postprints") OA. Papers are only peer-reviewed after they have been
submitted, refereed, revised, and accepted for publication. Yet
Harvard's proposed copyright retention policy targets the draft that has
not yet been accepted for publication (the "preprint"): That means the
unrefereed raw manuscript. Not only does this risk enshrining
unrefereed, unpublished results in Harvard's OA IR, but it risks missing
OA's target altogether, which is refereed postprints, not unrefereed

(3) Copyright Retention is Unnecessary for OA and Needlessly Handicaps
Both the Probability of Adoption of the Policy and the Probability of
Success If Adopted. There is no need to require retention of copyright
in order to provide OA. 62% of journals already officially endorse
authors making their postprints OA immediately upon acceptance for
publication by depositing them in their Institutional Repository, and a
further 30% already endorse making preprints OA. That already covers 92%
of Harvard's intended target. For the remaining 8% (and indeed for 38%,
because OA's primary target is postprints, not just preprints), they too
can be deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication, with
access set as "Closed Access" instead of Open Access. To provide for
worldwide research usage needs for such embargoed papers, both the
EPrints and the DSpace IR software now have an "email eprint request"
button that allows any would-be user who reaches a Closed Access
postprint to paste in his email address and click, which sends an
immediate email to the author, containing URL on which the author need
merely click to have an eprint automatically emailed to the requester.
(Mailing article reprints to requesters has been standard academic
practice for decades and is merely made more powerful and effective with
the help of email, an IR, and the semi-automatic button; it likewise
does not require permission or copyright retention.)

This means that it is already possible to adopt a universal,
exception-free mandate to deposit all postprints immediately upon
acceptance for publication, without the author's having to decide
whether or not to deposit the unrefereed preprint and whether or not to
retain copyright (hence whether or not to opt out).

This blanket mandate provides immediate OA to at least 62% of OA's
target content, and almost-immediate, almost-OA to the rest. This not
only provides for all immediate usage needs for 100% of research output,
worldwide, but it will soon usher in the natural and well-deserved death
of the remaining minority of access embargoes under the growing global
pressure from OA's and almost-OA's increasingly palpable benefits to
research and researchers. (With it will come copyright retention too, as
a matter of course.) It is also a policy with no legal problems and no
author risk.

Needlessly requiring authors instead to deposit their unrefereed
preprints and to commit themselves to retaining copyright today puts
both the consensus for adoption and, if adopted, the efficacy of the
Harvard policy itself at risk, because of author resistance either to
exposing unrefereed work publicly or to putting their work's acceptance
and publication by their journal of choice at risk. It also opens up an
opt-out loophole that is likely to reduce the policy compliance rate to
minority levels for years, just as did NIH's initial, unsuccessful
non-mandate (since upgraded to an immediate deposit mandate), with the
needless loss of 3 more years of research usage and impact.

I strongly urge Harvard to reconsider, and to adopt the
Immediate-Deposit/Optional-Access mandate (ID/OA) that is now being
adopted by a growing number of universities and research funders
worldwide, instead of the copyright-retention policy now being

Stevan Harnad

If you have adopted or plan to adopt a policy of providing Open Access
to your own research article output, please describe your policy at:

     BOAI-1 ("Green"): Publish your article in a suitable toll-access journal
     BOAI-2 ("Gold"): Publish your article in an open-access journal if/when
     a suitable one exists.
     in BOTH cases self-archive a supplementary version of your article
     in your own institutional repository.