When last July Research Councils UK (RCUK) announced its new Open Access (OA) policy it sparked considerable controversy, not least because the policy required researchers to “prefer” Gold OA (OA publishing) over Green OA (self-archiving). The controversy was such that earlier this year the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee launched an inquiry into the implementation of the policy and the subsequent report was highly critical of RCUK.
As a result of the criticism, RCUK published two clarifications. Amongst other things, this has seen Green OA reinstated as a viable alternative to Gold. At the same time, however, RCUK extended the permissible maximum embargo before papers can be self-archived from 12 to 24 months. OA advocates — who maintain that a six-month embargo is entirely adequate — responded by arguing that this would simply encourage publishers who did not have an embargo to introduce one, and those that did have one to lengthen it. As a result, they added, many research papers would be kept behind publishers’ paywalls unnecessarily.
It has begun to appear that these warnings may have been right. Evidence that publishers have indeed begun to respond to RCUK’s policy in this way was presented during a second inquiry into OA — this time by the House of Commons Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) Committee. The Committee cited the case of a UK publisher who recently introduced a 24-month embargo where previously it did not have one. The publisher was not named, but it turns out to be a UK-based company called Emerald.
Why did Emerald decide that an embargo is now necessary where previously it was not? Why do the details of the embargo on Emerald’s web site differ from the details sent to the publisher’s journal editors? And what does Emerald’s decision to introduce a two-year embargo presage for the development of Open Access? To my surprise, obtaining answers to the first two questions proved more difficult than I had anticipated.
During the final evidence session in the inquiry into OA held by the UK House of Commons BIS Committee, one of the members of the Committee — Brian Binley — told the UK Minister for Universities and Science Mr Willetts that the Inquiry had been given information suggesting that the RCUK policy was having a negative impact on OA.
“We have received recent reports of a major British publisher revising its open access policy to require embargoes of 24 months, where previously it had required immediate unembargoed deposit in a repository,” Binley said. “Indeed, Alma Swan [Director of Advocacy Programmes for SPARC Europe] goes on to say that the really awful thing is that their university is in Australia, so ‘the dire consequences of the UK’s policy are, as we all predicted, damaging OA all over the world. 10 years’ work in getting mandates across the globe with maximum six-month embargoes are undone (embarrassingly) by the UK.’”
Binley added, “That is pretty heavy criticism.”