Thursday, February 14, 2008

Robert Darnton, Harvard Library Director, Outlines Harvard Arts & Sciences Faculty Adoption of Mandatory Opt-Out Open Access Academic Publication

The biggest academic news of the year is the adoption by the Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences of a mandatory "open access" opt-out policy regarding scholarly articles published by that faculty. Via The Chronicle of Higher Education, we are blogported to the Open Access News of Peter Suber as also to Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library, and his article at the Harvard Crimson, which outlined the new policy prior to the acceptance vote:

"Although this initiative is being submitted to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, it concerns all the faculties of the University. All of them face the same problems. Harvard Medical School, for example, is working on ways to help its faculty members comply with the recent legislation by Congress mandating that all articles based on research funded by the National Institutes of Health be made openly accessible through PubMed Central, the database maintained by the National Library of Medicine.

The Harvard University Library will set up an Office for Scholarly Communication to make the open-access repository an instrument for access to research across all disciplines in the spirit of the “one-university” environment that the HOLLIS catalog now provides for holdings in all the libraries, more than 80 of them, throughout the University system. The Office for Scholarly Communication will also promote maximum cooperation by the faculty. Many repositories already exist in other universities, but they have failed to get a large proportion of faculty members to submit their articles. The deposit rate at the University of California is 14 percent, and it is much lower in most other places. By mandating copyright retention and by placing those rights in the hands of the institution running the repository, the motion will create the conditions for a high deposit rate.


What further sets Harvard’s proposal apart from the others is its opt-out provision. Whereas other repositories depend on faculty opting in by volunteering to provide digitized copies of their work, the Harvard system would have all faculty members grant a non-exclusive permission to the President and Fellows of Harvard to distribute their articles. The system would be collective but not coercive. Anyone who wanted to retain exclusive rights to her- or himself could do so by obtaining a waiver. Of course, those who cooperate with the system will also retain full rights to the publication of their work. By sharing those rights with Harvard, they sacrifice nothing; and they will have the collective weight of Harvard behind them if they resist a journal’s demand for exclusive rights. We have designed a legal memorandum called an author’s addendum to reinforce them in negotiations with commercial publishers."


Harvard thus becomes "the first university in the United States to mandate open access to its faculty members’ research publications".

This is the beginning of a revolution in academic publishing.

The text of the resolution presented to the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences was:

"On behalf of the Provost’s Committee on Scholarly Publishing, Professor S. Shieber will
move:

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University is committed to disseminating the
fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible. In keeping with that commitment, the Faculty adopts the following policy: Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. In legal terms, the permission granted by each Faculty member is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles written while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy. The Dean or the Dean’s designate will waive application of the policy for a particular article upon written request by a Faculty member explaining the need.

To assist the University in distributing the articles, each Faculty member will provide an
electronic copy of the final version of the article at no charge to the appropriate representative of the Provost’s Office in an appropriate format (such as PDF) specified by the Provost’s Office. The Provost’s Office may make the article available to the public in an open-access repository.

The Office of the Dean will be responsible for interpreting this policy, resolving disputes
concerning its interpretation and application, and recommending changes to the Faculty from time to time. The policy will be reviewed after three years and a report presented to the Faculty."

Inside Higher Ed writes inter alia:

"Harvard University’s arts and sciences faculty approved a plan on Tuesday that will post finished academic papers online free, unless scholars specifically decide to opt out of the open-access program. While other institutions have similar repositories for their faculty’s work, Harvard’s is unique for making online publication the default option.

The decision, which only affects the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, won’t necessarily disrupt exclusivity agreements with journals or upend the academic publishing industry, but it could send a signal that a standard bearer in higher education is seriously looking at alternative distribution models for its faculty’s scholarship. Already, various open-access movements are pressing for reforms (from modest to radical) to the current economic model, which depends on journals’ traditional gatekeeping function and their necessarily limited audiences but which has concerned many in the academic community worried about rising costs and the shift to digital media....

“This is a large and very important step for scholars throughout the country. It should be a very powerful message to the academic community that we want and should have more control over how our work is used and disseminated,” said Stuart M. Shieber, the James O. Welch Jr. and Virginia B. Welch Professor of Computer Science, who sponsored the bill before the faculty governance group.

In an op-ed published in The Harvard Crimson on Tuesday, the director of the university library, Robert Darnton, wrote: “In place of a closed, privileged, and costly system, it will help open up the world of learning to everyone who wants to learn ... ideas would flow freely in all directions.”"

We are very gratified at this development in the availability of academic publications, a problem about which we posted previously at some length on LawPundit.

Update: ars technica covers this development, via digg

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