Apart from a handful of universities which were in the vanguard with respect to introducing Open Access policies, it has been the research funders that have made the pace over recent years (though the pendulum is now beginning to swing back to the universities again: see Policies on Open Access from institutions and funders).
The Wellcome Trust was the first funder to act, introducing its mandatory policy in 2005 and which has applied to all work funded by the Trust from October 2006. Wellcome’s policy required all grant holders to deposit (self-archive) their articles resulting from research funded by Wellcome into PubMed Central (a large Open Access database of biomedical research) or UK PubMed Central. Shortly afterwards, the world’s biggest research funder, the US’s National Institutes of Health which awards grants totalling some 28 billion USD per year, developed its own Open Access policy. this one was a voluntary one, leaving it to the researchers to decide whether to self-archive their work in PubMed Central or not. The result was that in the first twelve months fewer than 4% of the expected articles were self-archived by authors. The NIH has since moved to a mandatory policy, as a consequence of which the latest reported deposit rate was nearly 60%.
Researchers who receive grants from funders will be made aware of any Open Access policy requirements from their funder. For those who wish to check on funder policies, there is a list of all known Open Access policies here. This database is kept up to date by the EPrints service in the University of Southampton, UK.
Elements of a funder Open Access policy
Policies will state the funder’s position and requirements on the following things:
What should be self-archived
Funders usually specify that the completed, final version of the manuscript, once the peer review process has taken place and the author has made all the corrections and revisions, should be deposited in an Open Access repository. This ensures that users are able to access the final form of the article, though it will not have the layout and mark-up provided by the publisher. Nonetheless, for would-be users who do not have access to the article through a journal subscription the author’s final version is perfectly adequate.
Indeed, from the perspective of research progress, the author’s final manuscript is far better than the published paper. This is because the publisher generally provides the author with a PDF file of the article, and this format is extremely difficult to re-use. New technologies for mining texts for meaning and facts (so-called ‘semantic computer technologies’) work much better on articles in native file formats such as Word. Research funders are eager that research findings are used as effectively as possible and so some are now including provision in their Open Access policies to make sure that self-archived articles are in a file format that enables re-use through these technological means.
Where authors should self-archive their articles
Funders may specify a particular repository for the articles, as the Wellcome Trust and the NIH do. In these cases they specify that authors must deposit their articles in PubMed Central (or UK PubMed Central, the UK service). Some funders have repositories of their own. Others – in fact, most – stipulate that authors must self-archive their articles into an Open Access repository but do not specify which. This allows the author to choose and in the vast majority of cases the author’s institutional repository is the most appropriate.
When articles should be self-archived
Funder policies will also specify at which point authors should self-archive their work. This may be:
- at the point when peer review has been carried out and the revisions made
- at the time of publication
- at some specified time after publication. This varies according to the discipline but most funder policies do not permit an embargo period of longer than 12 months and it is usually much shorter in the sciences, medicine and engineering
Rights and restrictions
Sometimes, funder policies will explicitly state that grant holders are under an obligation to the funder with respect to disseminating their work. Even if not drectly stated, this condition exists. The point here is that funder requirements then override any requirements on the part of publishers. Funders may still permit grant holders to transfer copyright to publishers for the articles, but only if their own self-archiving requirements are accommodated. Such conditions on grant holders thus pre-empt any publisher demands that come later in the process and secure the freedom of authors to self-archive their work according to funder requirements. See the page on copyright and Open Access for more on this.