Let’s Align International and National Copyright OA Policy Action

30th March 2021News, Open Access, Open Science

For so many years researchers have been confused about what they can and can’t do with respect to copyright …We can make the life of the author easier!”: these were some of the opening words of a joint SPARC Europe and EIFL webinar on international and national copyright policy for Open Access (OA). The event gathered eight international experts and a diverse audience: with over 300 researchers, librarians and policymakers dialing in from all over the world. To our delight, the interest was high, confirming that the questions of rights retention and open licensing are hot topics, debated among different stakeholders of the scholarly communications ecosystem.

The aim of the event was twofold: to inform the community about the latest development in rights retention and open licensing on a national and international level and to discuss how we might align on policy on these matters in the future.

Forget all that craziness … Authors need to be more in control of their own work

Johan Rooryck and Sally Rumsey from cOAlition S kicked off the session with a call for making things simple. As of 1 January 2021 all research funded by cOAlition S organizations is to be made immediately OA accessible through a repository preferably under a CC BY license. Authors can publish in the journal of their choice while at the same time ensuring open access to it for all.

Many researchers find themselves in a situation where the publishing copyright transfer agreements they sign are contradictory to the terms of their research grant agreements. The Rights Retention Strategy (RRS), presented by Rooryck, is to solve this precise dilemma by introducing the notion of “prior license” or “prior obligation”. The prior license option states that a CC BY license automatically applies to all future manuscripts once a grantee signs their grant agreement; while according to the “prior obligation” grant, beneficiaries themselves must ensure that a CC BY or equivalent licence is applied to the AAM or VoR versions. Sally Rumsey informed the audience that cOAlition S had also recently been in touch with university associations about adopting a similar RRS, since alignment of universities and funders will ensure that the RRS is adopted more widely than just by cOAlition S funded researchers.

cOAlition S is implementing the Rights Retention Strategy in three straightforward steps: by updating grant conditions, informing publishers about changes, and providing templated language that researchers can plug into submission letters or in acknowledgements. Sally Rumsey encouraged participants wishing to know more about the RRS to consult, download, and use a variety of resources that cOAlition S has put together for this purpose. They are particularly useful when liaising with researchers.

Rumsey also advised authors on how to deal with often challenging conversations with publishers by attempting to disarm the “smoke and mirrors” rhetoric or RRS myths and misinformation. Rumsey ended on a high note by saying: “Forget all that craziness… Authors can start being in more control of their own work if they use a very simple rights retention strategy.” In an ensuing discussion, Rumsey and Rooryck agreed that publishers should be called out on cases where they reject article submissions on the basis of this new policy. cOAlition S is interested in hearing about any such cases. These can be reported here:

Copyright is still often deterring OA and OS

Alea López de San Román (Policy officer at the European Commission (EC) talked about the issue of copyright and Open Science (OS) from the point of view of one of the world’s largest research funders. Like cOAlition S, the EC requires grantees to retain sufficient intellectual property rights (IPR) to comply with OA requirements and uses the prior obligation approach to open licensing.

López de San Román spoke in particular to the Horizon Europe Regulation and its recently published Draft Model Grant Agreement, which regulates beneficiaries’ obligations towards the EC with regard to peer-reviewed publications, research data and metadata. New provisions require beneficiaries to ensure the deposit of the AAM or VoR of scientific publications in a trusted repository and immediate OA under CC BY or equivalent (with CC BY-NC and CC BY-ND allowed for long-text formats). Metadata must be shared CC0 or equivalent and should include information on licensing terms. Research data must similarly be deposited in a trusted repository under CC BY, CC0 or equivalent following the principle of as open as possible, as closed as necessary.

Special rules apply in times of public emergency like Covid-19 when it is mandatory for grantees (if required by the call and requested by the granting authority) to immediately deposit any research output in a repository and provide OA under CC BY, CC0 or equivalent. In the case that access cannot be provided since it is against the beneficiary’s legitimate interests, beneficiaries must grant non-exclusive licenses – under fair and reasonable conditions – to legal entities that need the research output to address the public emergency.

López de San Román then went on to list a few of the other legal instruments the EC uses to stimulate copyright for OA including:

López de San Román concluded by saying that despite such efforts, copyright and IP management is still often deterring OA and OS. She called for a range of stakeholders from researchers to institutions to publishers to take responsibility and act together.

Brigitte Vézina (Director of Policy at Creative Commons) spoke to how CC supports facilitating access to research and Open Science, also outlining its strategic goals for the years ahead. Vézina then encouraged the use of CC BY licenses and warned against the drawbacks of CC BY ND licenses for OA since they do not facilitate re-use, adaptations, translation or use in OER/education. She went on further to question the motivation of anyone who justified the ND license or an embargo on research in times of emergency, leaving the audience with an arresting question: “How can anyone justify an embargo on COVID-19 related research articles when time is of the essence?”.

How is it done in …?

Thanks to presenters from Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK, the audience had a chance to gain a better understanding of specific national policy challenges experienced in these countries with regard to copyright and Open Access.
Niamh Brennan (Trinity College Dublin) and Susan Reilly (University College Dublin) talked about the first step to a national action on Plan for Open Science in Ireland which makes a direct reference to encouraging rights retention and open licensing aligning with Plan S. Brennan made the point that the policy language was directed towards researchers from all disciplines and on all levels; national consistency is key across all disciplines and funding streams.

Reilly then went into the challenge of implementing the NORF recommendation, the relationship with the 2000 Irish Copyright and Related Rights Act, and the minimal progress made. She reported on an analysis of Irish academic institutions and showed that all such institutions listed in WIPO had, in their institutional IP policies, explicitly waived copyright over scholarly works produced by their employees – so therefore do not assert copyright over research articles.

Reilly also highlighted another key challenge in bringing about change here as there being certain discrepancies between authors being encouraged to retain copyright of their publications on the one side by some funders and institutions not being resourced enough to offer advice and support on this matter to their affiliated authors. Although Reilly welcomes the reference in the national OS policy, she would like to see legislation for a secondary publication right that is immediate and has clear usage rights in line with Plan S policy. Furthermore, she’d like to see how academic institutions could explore how they might exercise their rights to enable OA in the future in a joined up approach across Ireland.

Arjan Schalken (Programme Manager at UKBsis) shared lessons learnt from the ‘You Share, We Take Care’ project, which uses the Dutch Copyright Act to accelerate OA in the Netherlands. Schalken sees green OA as an important vehicle to reach the Dutch 100% OA target. However, it is difficult to implement due to diverse copyright hurdles and publisher embargoes. Schalken then reported on progress with implementing the Taverne amendment to the Dutch Copyright Act of 2015, which has the potential to accelerate OA by entitling authors to share some of their work.
He offered 3 tips for national OA policymakers: 1. someone needs to take the initiative, 2. make the policy “as powerful and as simple as possible”, and 3. show commitment and leadership by engaging with decision-makers. He also stressed the importance of institutions agreeing to share the risks were issues to arise. He reported on the 2019 pilot where all universities participated, sharing almost 3,000 articles with no legal incidents reported. As regards next steps, Dutch research institutions are keen to scale this up and improve on workflows. To make the policy future-proof, it could be improved to ensure more rights retention and immediate OA, include a wider range of research outputs, address the ownership of research, and to align more with Plan S. For more information, see

Chris Banks (Director of Library Services and Assistant Provost at Imperial College London) talked about the importance of rights retention to ensure academic freedom and choice and to restrain library OA publishing costs. She pointed out tensions that arise between publishers’ interests that delay or constrain re-use and funder policies that require immediate OA and stimulate re-use of research they fund for example. Furthermore, she explained that without an institutional rights retention strategy, under the pay to publish model, costs are likely to fall on research-intensive universities, who due to ensuing increased costs, may need to rely more on self-archiving. A further tension without change in this area is the growth in the number of hybrid journals versus growing funding restrictions for this very model which further limits funds for OA and thus the sharing and re-use of knowledge. Banks makes a clear case for an institutional rights retention OA policy as it increases the choice for publication venues for researchers while at the same time reducing the costs for OA for the institution. She ended by calling on funders, publishers, institutions and researchers to work together towards developing realistic and simple OA copyright policies.

International and national concerted action is vital

The webinar ended with a panel session to explore how one might align rights retention strategy and open licensing policies in the future.

Looking ahead, the EC will use knowledge gained from its study into author rights before exploring what actions it might undertake in the future, which might include legislative action.

Rooryck stated that more alignment was needed between funder and institutional policies, which can be implemented in different ways. One way forward would be to include rights retention and open licensing as a condition for employment while another would be to introduce these elements into copyright law.

Banks agreed that alignment between institutions and funders policies is the only essential one recognising that huge steps had been made since the initiation of Plan S.

Both Banks and Reilly agreed that policies should require the VoR to be made OA.

Both Brennan and Schalken agreed that a national united front was necessary to support change in institutional or national policy or legislation for author rights. Change cannot not be borne on the shoulders of a few organisations, and nor are many organisations willing to go it alone, so a joined up national effort is critical to progress this agenda.

Furthermore, as part of an advocacy effort, Rumsey pointed out that more information and capacity-building in this area is clearly necessary to reduce confusion and to remove some of the myths related to copyright. Libraries and institutions have an important role to play here.

When asked as to which areas need alignment most urgently, Rooryck started off the discussion stating that researchers who work at an institution funded by a national funder or government should license their work CC BY, contributing it to the commons. Schalken agreed, also saying that scholarly outputs should be open by default. The onus should not be on the author to make this happen, but for publishers, institutions or government to set the framework to enable this.

Reilly would like to see immediate OA of the VoR and clear usage rights, which is also easier for repository managers to manage. Libraries can have advisory roles but for real positive change to take place, national level action is crucial between institutions.

Vézina also felt that using standardised licenses would lead to better co-operation between countries, institutions and researchers.

López considered it important to evaluate and reward rights retention and open licensing good practice.

Brennan ended by making a critical point about taking an inclusive approach when setting policy, one that embraces bibliodiversity and one that reaches out to all sizes of publishers and disciplines.

EIFL and SPARC Europe ended by underlining that rights retention and open licensing sit high on their strategic agendas with plans to do more in this area with the above-mentioned stakeholders.

To sum up, the thought that seemed to unite all presentations and discussions, however, was that of working together on both national and international scales in order to advance alignment in copyright policies, empowering authors to take control over their research and for immediate open access to become a reality.

If you missed the webinar you can still watch the recording and view all the presentations.


Featured image by Alan Levine, CC BY 2.0