Publisher Embargoes, Immediate-Deposit Mandates, and the Request-a-Copy Button

On Thu, Nov 28, 2013 Bo-Christer Björk wrote in GOAL: The idea that publishers would tolerate large scale mandate driven green OA (say 50-60 %) of articles with no embargoes or counteractions is pretty naive. Elsevier has shown the way with rules stipulating that Green OA is OK, unless its mandated, in which case they require special deals with the the institutions in question. And many publishers who previously had no embargo periods are starting to define such.”

Björk’s comment, unfortunately completely misses the point.

Yes, publishers can and will try to impose embargoes on Green OA, especially encouraged by the perverse effects of the UK’s Finch/RCUK preference and subsidy for Gold.

That is not being denied, it was being affirmed: “Joint ‘Re-Engineering’ Plan of UK Government and UK Publisher Lobby for ‘Nudging’ UK Researchers Toward Gold Open Access

But the immediate-deposit (HEFCE/Liege) mandates are immune to these publisher embargoes. They are the compromise mandate that fits all funders and institutions, regardless of how long a maximal publisher embargo they allow.

(Green OA after one a one-year embargo has been pretty much conceded by all publishers, whether or not they admit it, so that’s the worst case scenario; one year of access-denial is now the figure to beat: The HEFCE/Liege mandates get everything deposited in institutional repositories immediately upon acceptance for publication, whether or not it is made OA immediately. And that means that access to everything immediately becomes at most 2 keystrokes away, one from the requestor, one from the author, thanks to the repositories’ automated “Almost-OA” Button: see more below.)

As to Elsevier’s “special deals” for mandating institutions: sensible institutions will politely inform Elsevier that they are, as always, quite prepared to negotiate with publishers about subscription pricing (“Big Deals”) — but definitely not about university internal record-keeping and archiving policy, which is none of publishers’ business.

As to Elsevier authors (who — not their universities! — are the ones negotiating rights agreements with their publishers): They can rest assured that Elsevier is still completely on the Side of the Angels in its explicit, formal recognition of their authors’ right to provide immediate, unembargoed (Green, Gratis) OA to their final drafts, by self-archiving them online, accessible free for all, in their institutional repositories — a right that Elsevier has formally recognized ever since 2004.

Let me repeat that very clearly: All Elsevier authors today retain the right to make their papers OA immediately upon publication — no embargo — by depositing their final refereed drafts in their institutional repositories and setting access to them as OA immediately.

The recently added Elsevier double-talk about “voluntariness” and “systematicity” has absolutely no legal force or meaning. As it stands, it is just vacuous, pseudo-legal FUD and can and should be safely ignored by authors.

And if and when Elsevier (putting at further risk its already rather unhappy public image) ever does decide to bite the bullet and changes its rights agreements from what they state currently to state instead that, as of today, Elsevier authors no longer retain the right to make their papers (Green, Gratis) OA unembargoed, then the institutional repositories’ automated request-a-copy Button will tide over researcher needs during the embargo with one click from the user to request a copy and one click by the author to provide one. This is not OA, but it’s “Almost-OA.”

Once the immediate-deposit mandate, the Button, and X% Immediate-OA + (100-X)% Almost-OA prevail worldwide, it won’t be much longer till embargoes die their inevitable and well-deserved deaths under the overwhelming worldwide pressure for OA, which by then will already all be only one keystroke away.

Meanwhile, X% Immediate-OA + (100-X)% Almost-OA will already be incomparably more access than all non-subscribing would-be users have (or have ever had) till now.

It is rather hard to say on whose side Björk is on, and why! It’s one thing to objectively measure the level and growth rate of Green and Gold OA, Immediate and Delayed, across disciplines and time, as Björk does, valuably. It’s a rather different thing to advocate for Gold OA.

Now, I am myself an unambiguous and unambivalent advocate for Green OA, whether when I am objectively measuring its growth rates or designing tools and policies to facilitate and accelerate mandating it. And my reasons (likewise no secrets) are the many reasons that Green OA can be facilitated and accelerated by mandating it.

Gold OA, in contrast, costs extra money (over and above uncancellable subscriptions) and can only grow on publishers’ terms, and publishers’ timetable.

I know of no reason to believe that OA can or will grow faster via the paid Gold route than the mandated Green route: The reason Björk gives above (publisher embargoes) certainly does not entail that conclusion at all. Immediate-deposit mandates are immune to publisher embargoes and will accelerate the demand and supply of OA unstoppably as they are adopted more and more widely.

That suggests a new parameter whose growth rate Björk and others might now find it interesting to measure: The growth rates of various kinds of mandates, keeping a special eye on the most powerful and effective one: The HEFCE/Liege model. Because that’s where most of the action in the next few years will be taking place…

Stevan Harnad