Open acccess to scientific publications

Very recently I received an e-mail that appeared to be spam at first sight. And indeed it was an unsolicited email. Nevertheless it caught my attention since it contained a reference to the 2013 edition of the Future Internet Assembly (FIA) book. The mail was informing me, and obviously all other FIA book 2013 co-editors,  that the book was designated as “… today’s ebook of the day …”. Enough for me to start investigating.

During the investigation, I stumbled over the site Unglue.it which advocates a, what I think, pretty disruptive model for wide availability of publications. In a nutshell, it promotes crowd-funding for books that can be made available for free. The authors and the publishers decide what amount lets them freely share their books with the world while still making a living. Furthermore the site rewards creators that have set their books free, via Creative Commons licenses or some other sort of open access license.

This important innovation came at a time when I as chief co-editor for the 2014 edition of the FIA book had to cancel the production of this book, for “operational reasons”. In clear text the book had to be cancelled because the needed funds to publish it under an open access license could not be secured in time. The ambition has been to publish this book, as all other FIA books, under on open access license, and securing the necessary funds was always the most difficult task in the process.

All this coincides with the start of the new Framework Program for Research and Innovation of the European Union called Horizon 2020, which requires scientific publications to be made available under on open access license. The attentive reader of the rules that apply for Horizon 2020 should have noticed that in particular all projects funded under the two first ICT calls of the work program 2014-15 in the Leadership in Enabling & Industrial Technologies (LEIT) pillar, will participate in the Pilot on Open Research Data in Horizon 2020. This is in line with the European Commission’s Open Access to research data policy for facilitating access, re-use and preservation of research data.

In fact article 29.2 of the model grant agreement is quite explicit on this aspect and states that “Each beneficiary must ensure open access (free of charge, online access for any user) to all peer-reviewed scientific publications relating to its results…” This is rooted in the legislative act establishing Horizon 2020. Although there are some opt-out possibilities, e.g. for research pertaining to privacy, or national security, it will be hard to argue during grant agreement negotiations to opt-out from the open access policy.

This could have severe implications on all scientific publications that originate in EU funded research work, since this implies that work leading to scientific publications is only eligible cost for the project, if the publication is under an open access license. The minimum implication is that any publisher must be evaluated on whether and how the conditions of the EU model grant agreement on open access are acceptable.

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