open access

Act now to support public access to federally funded research

Timothy Vollmer, February 14th, 2012

Last week the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) was reintroduced with bipartisan support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. According to SPARC, the bill would “require federal agencies to provide the public with online access to articles reporting on the results of the United States’ $60 billion in publicly funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.” If passed, the legislation would extend the current NIH Public Access Policy (with a shorter embargo) to other US government-funded research, including agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and others. FRPAA was first introduced in 2006.

Unlike the Research Works Act, FRPAA would ensure that the public has access to the important scientific and scholarly research that it pays for. Creative Commons recently wrote to the White House asking that taxpayer funded research be made available online to the public immediately, free-of-cost, and ideally under an open license that communicates broad downstream use rights, such as CC BY. While FRPAA–like the NIH Public Access Policy before it–does not require the application of open licenses to the scientific research outputs funded with federal tax dollars, it is a crucial step toward increasing public access to research.

SPARC has issued an action alert, and there are several specific actions you can take in support of FRPAA. On this 10th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, please voice your support that the public needs and deserves access to the research it paid for and upon which its education depends.


Comments to the White House Inquiry on Public Access to Publicly Funded Research Publications, Data

Timothy Vollmer, January 13th, 2012

In November we wrote that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was soliciting comments on two related Requests for Information (RFI). One asked for feedback on how the federal government should manage public access to scholarly publications resulting from federal investments, and the other wanted input on public access to the digital data funded by federal tax dollars.

Creative Commons submitted a response to both RFIs. Below is a brief summary of the main points. Several other groups and individuals have submitted responses to OSTP, and all the comments will eventually be made available on the OSTP website.

Response to Publications RFI

  • The public funds tens of billions of dollars in research each year. The federal government can support scientific innovation, productivity, and economic efficiency of the taxpayer dollars they expend by instituting an open licensing policy.
  • Scholarly articles created as a result of federally funded research should be released under full open access. Full open access policies will provide to the public immediate, free-of-cost online availability to federally funded research without restriction except that attribution be given to the source.
  • The standard means for granting permission to the public aligned with full open access is through a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license.

Response to Data RFI

  • If the federal government wants to maximize the impact of digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research, it should provide explicit, easy-to-understand information about the rights available to the public.
  • The federal government should establish policies that insure the public has cost-free, unimpeded access to the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research. Access to this data should be made available as soon as possible, with due consideration to confidentiality and privacy issues, as well as the researchers’ need to receive credit and benefit from the work.
  • The federal government can grant these permissions to the public by supporting policies whereby 1) data is made available by dedicating it to the public domain or 2) data is made available through a liberal license where at most downstream data users must give credit to the source of the data. CC offers tools such as the CC0 waiver and CC BY license in support of these goals.
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Stop U.S. legislation that would block public access to publicly funded research

Timothy Vollmer, January 6th, 2012

In December 2011 the U.S. House of Representatives introduced The Research Works Act (H.R.3699), a bill that will ban public access to publicly funded research. SPARC says, “Essentially, the bill seeks to prohibit federal agencies from conditioning their grants to require that articles reporting on publicly funded research be made accessible to the public online.” The bill was introduced by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). The sponsorship by Issa is odd considering his strong support for OPEN Act, the tolerable alternative to the SOPA/PIPA legislation. The bill stands in stark contrast to OSTP’s recent request for ideas about how the U.S. government can support public access to federally funded research articles and digital data (note: you can still submit comments until January 12 to the OSTP call). One of the primary proponents of the The Research Works Act is The Association of American Publishers, who describe the bill in a press release:

The Research Works Act will prohibit federal agencies from unauthorized free public dissemination of journal articles that report on research which, to some degree, has been federally-funded but is produced and published by private sector publishers receiving no such funding. It would also prevent non-government authors from being required to agree to such free distribution of these works. Additionally, it would preempt federal agencies’ planned funding, development and back-office administration of their own electronic repositories for such works, which would duplicate existing copyright-protected systems and unfairly compete with established university, society and commercial publishers.

The legislation would be toxic for progressive initiatives such as the NIH’s Public Access Policy, which requires scientists to submit final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts that arise from NIH funds to the PubMed Central digital archive. PubMed Central provides free public access to research the public pays for. SPARC’s Alliance for Taxpayer Access website has outlined specific ways that supporters of public access can speak out against this proposed legislation. Especially helpful is contacting the Congressional offices listed below. Please voice your support for public access to publicly funded research.

Representative Issa
Fax: (202) 225-3303

Representative Maloney
@RepMaloney (Using zip code 10128-3679)
Fax: (202) 225-4709

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – especially if you’re a constituent.

Your representative – through the Alliance for Taxpayer Access Action Center:

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Reminder: White House wants your input on Public Access to Data and Publications

Timothy Vollmer, November 30th, 2011

In the U.S., the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has released two Requests for Information (RFI) soliciting public input on long term preservation of and public access to the results of federally funded research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications. The deadline for responding to the RFIs is January 2, 2012.

Persons and parties interested in weighing in on the requests can find more information in the Federal Register announcements:

Our friends at SPARC offer some additional guidance, also listed below:

It is important that as many individuals and organizations as possible – at all levels – respond to these requests for information. For reference, the RFI specifically calls for comments from “non-Federal stakeholders, including the public, universities, nonprofit and for-profit publishers, libraries, federally funded and non-federally funded research scientists, and other organizations and institutions with a stake in long-term preservation and access to the results of federally funded research.” Both RFIs pose a series of questions, and respondents should answer those questions as specifically as possible. It should be emphasized that organizations beyond the U.S., with experience with open-access policies, are also invited to contribute.

The input provided through this RFI will inform the National Science and Technology Council’s Task Force on Public Access to Scholarly Publications, convened by OSTP. OSTP will issue a report to Congress describing: 1) Priorities for the development of agency policies for ensuring broad public access to the results of federally funded, unclassified research; 2) The status of agency policies for public access to publications resulting from federally funded research; and 3) Public input collected.

The main point to emphasize is that taxpayers are entitled to access the results of the research our tax dollars fund. Taxpayers should be allowed to immediately access and fully reuse the results of publicly funded research.

Again, the deadline for submissions is January 2, 2012. Submissions to the publications RFI should be sent via email to publicaccess [at] ostp [dot] gov. Submissions to the data RFI should be sent via email to digitaldata [at] ostp [dot] gov. Please note: OSTP will publicly post all submissions after the deadlines (along with names of submitters and their institutions) so please make sure not to include any confidential or proprietary information in your submission. Attachments may be included.


Free and unrestricted Public Sector Information: Study finds benefits outweigh costs

Timothy Vollmer, November 28th, 2011

Governments around the world are increasingly relying on open licenses to release public sector information (PSI). A September 2011 report titled Costs and Benefits of Data Provision, prepared by John Houghton for the Australian National Data Service, examines the immediate and wider economic costs and benefits to making PSI available.

The key takeaway from the study: “the direct and measurable benefits of making PSI available free and unrestrictedly typically outweigh the costs. When one adds the longer-term benefits that we cannot fully measure, cannot even foresee, the case for open access appears to be strong.”

The report offers an interesting and instructive analysis about the overarching cost-saving potential of making PSI available online for free and under open licenses (we assume the figures to represent Australian dollars):

[W]e find that the net cost to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) of making publications and statistics freely available online and adopting Creative Commons licensing was likely to have been around $3.5 million per annum at 2005-06 prices and levels of activity, but the immediate cost savings for users were likely to have been around $5 million per annum. The wider impacts in terms of additional use and uses bring substantial additional returns, with our estimates suggesting overall costs associated with free online access to ABS publications and data online and unrestrictive standard licensing of around $4.6 million per annum and measurable annualised benefits of perhaps $25 million (i.e. more than five times the costs).

The Houghton study suggests that open licensing is a key component to reducing friction in the downstream use of PSI:

It is not simply about access prices, but also about the transaction costs involved. Standardised and unrestrictive licensing, such as Creative Commons, and data standards are crucial in enabling access that is truly open (i.e. free, immediate and unrestricted) … The efficient economic solution for the dissemination of PSI is likely to be free libre and free gratis (i.e. making it freely available online and using unrestrictive licensing such as Creative Commons).

In a separate internal document noted in the report, the Australian Bureau of Statistics described the impact of adopting CC licensing. It says that CC licensing “meets public expectations with regard to open government, facilitates data sharing (including across government), allows for more timely reuse of statistics, facilitates innovation, [and] makes sense to a growing percentage of people who recognise and understand CC licence symbols and conditions.”

The study urges us to try to understand and foster the unpredictable yet potentially powerful innovation that can be unleashed when PSI is made freely available online and released using unrestrictive licenses:

In the longer term, there may also be unforeseen uses and re-uses that simply cannot be accounted for, and again this may mean that the costs and benefits experienced in the early years of implementation tend to understate the longer-term advantages. Use and re-use can also have wider impacts, in terms of innovation and the development and introduction of new products, services and processes that, in turn, generate new economic economic activity, new business opportunities, better informed and potentially better government and business decisions.

The full report is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License.

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Open Course Library Launches 1st 42 Courses

Cable Green, November 2nd, 2011

On Monday, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) released the first 42 of the state’s high-enrollment 81 Open Course Library courses. The remaining 39 courses will be finished by 2013. Funded by the Washington State Legislature and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Course Library joins the global open educational resources (OER) movement, and adheres to SBCTC’s open policy, which requires that all materials created through system grants be openly licensed for the public to freely use, adapt and distribute.

All courses are available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported license (CC-BY).

The first 42 courses are available in multiple technical formats including:

Michael Kenyon’s students at Green River Community College used to pay nearly $200 for a new pre-calculus textbook. Now they pay only $20 for a book – or use it online for free. Kenyon’s pre-calculus textbook (CC BY SA) was written by community college faculty David Lippman and Melonie Rasmussen, who teach at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom. “We looked at a lot of textbooks,” Kenyon said. “There are some people who think this is the best book out there.”

“The courses were created with the needs of Washington’s college students in mind,” said Tom Caswell, SBCTC Open Education Policy Associate. “And with the idea we would share the courses with the world.”

Each course was developed and peer reviewed by a team of instructors, instructional designers and librarians. Use of the course materials is optional, but many faculty and departments are already moving to adopt them.

According to an informal study by the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), the Open Course Library could save students as much as $41.6 million on textbooks annually if adopted at all of Washington’s community and technical colleges. The study also estimates that the 42 faculty course developers will save students $1.26 million by using the materials during the 2011-2012 school year, which alone exceeds the $1.18 million cost of creating the 42 courses. “These savings will not only help Washington’s students afford college, but clearly provide a tremendous return on the original investment,” said Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate for the Student PIRGs.

Justin Hamilton, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, said the Washington state effort was groundbreaking for the nation. “Lowering college costs increases a student’s ability to take more courses, finish their degree on time, and enter the workforce prepared for success in a global economy. That’s not just good for them, it’s good for the country.”

“It really is the beginning of the end of closed, expensive, proprietary commercial textbooks that are completely disconnected from today’s reality,” said Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) of Washington State’s 36th District, a champion of the Open Course Library and OER. “This is a significant state investment in this era of massive budget cuts. We had little choice but to seize the opportunity of this crisis to challenge the status quo of the old-style cost models in both K-12 and higher education.”


The CC community participates in Open Access Week 2011

Jane Park, October 24th, 2011

Open Access (storefront) by Gideon Burton / CC BY-SA

Open Access Week, now in its 5th year, is taking place this week, October 24-30. “Open Access to information—the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need—has the power to transform the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted. It has direct and widespread implications for academia, medicine, science, industry, and for society as a whole.” The fifth annual OA Week is kicking off with events around the world, and the CC community is joining. Below we highlight a few of these activities!

Open Access Week Perú

Both CC Perú and CC Chile will present at Open Access Week Perú. CC Chile’s Alberto Cerda will be one of the speakers opening the conference on October 25, with CC Perú’s Rafael A. Salazar Gamarra giving a talk on CC, open access and copyright on October 26. Open Access Week Perú is a series of activities that addresses different aspects and approaches to open access internationally and aims to highlight the various initiatives that promote free access to academic and scientific information in Perú and elsewhere. The full program is available at

Open Access Seminar in Poland

On October 28, CC Poland’s Alek Tarkowski and Kamil Śliwowski will lead a seminar on open publishing models and the use of new media in scientific work. The seminar will take place at the Polish Culture Institute in the University of Warsaw. In addition, the Open Education Coalition in Poland is organizing several open access events throughout the country. For more information, see CC Poland’s blog post.

SHOW – Share Open Access Worldwide in Croatia

SHOW (Share/OpenAccess/Worldwide) will celebrate Open Access Week in Croatia. On October 26, CC Croatia’s Tomislav Medak will give a talk on CC licensing and Open Access at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Rijeka. The idea is to raise awareness among Croatian students about the importance of the free flow of information and open access to research literature, which is not a familiar term in the region, by raising questions about what students are already well familiar with, i.e., intellectual property. The students will be introduced to Copyleft movement, Creative Commons licensing, Open Projects, Open Content movement, Open Access movement and the Right to Research Coalition; and they will be invited to join the debate about the prospects for a world of open values. The full program is available at

Open Access Week online

CC staff are also promoting open access in various webinars and telecasts, including the New Directions in Scholarly Communication Online Seminar, the Right to Research Coalition’s webcast on Open Access and the Impact of Open on Research, and a telephone seminar for the State Bar of California. Today, October 24, CC Senior Adviser John Wilbanks joins the New Directions in Scholarly Communication Online Seminar to discuss the changing landscape of scholarly communication and scientific publishing. On October 26, John will also discuss Open Access and how open has the power to transform research for the Right to Research Coalition. On October 27, Aurelia J. Schultz, CC Counsel and Africa Regional Coordinator, will give a presentation on CC licenses for the Intellectual Property section of the California State Bar, to inform lawyers about CC licenses and how they can help their clients use CC licenses or CC-licensed works.

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European Commission hearing on access to and preservation of scientific information

Diane Cabell, June 8th, 2011

Along with over 50 organizations, I attended a recent European Commission public hearing on access to and preservation of scientific information. Among those present were representatives from national and regional ministries, higher education institutions, libraries, data repositories, public and private funders, scientific societies, supranational research centres, journal publishers and advocacy groups. A majority of those at the hearing were strong proponents of open access (OA).

Because science and digital technology are evolving so rapidly, the hearing was held to collect information in order to re-assess the European Commission’s 2007 Communication on scientific information in the digital age: access, dissemination and preservation. European Commission communications are used to make policy, propose legislation, fund research, and raise awareness. European Commission communications also have a substantial impact on member state national activity.

Supporters of open access asked for continued European Commission financial and political support. The following specific observations and recommendations were made.

  • Open access accelerates the speed of science. Time is wasted in serial submissions as researchers first seek the prestigious journals. Publication is not simply a method for communication among peers; it also has practical impacts (social, economic, consumer) that should also be taken into consideration when evaluating impact. A shift is needed away from evaluation of research based at the journal level to one that is based at the article level which can include a wider and more sophisticated variety of post-publication impact metrics beyond mere citations in other journals.
  • The European Commission should encourage rewarding the release of data as well as of text articles. Support curation and preservation of data (in digital and non-digital forms such as images, artifacts, and tissues) as well as access. These fields require research themselves to produce globally useful, efficient, transparent and realistic data management plans with sound policy guidelines, longevity and consistent terminology.
  • Careful investigation and planning will be required in order to build a strong and useful information architecture for a global research system. The architecture could do many things (link related information such as data sets and software to text articles, collect usage metrics, integrate user-friendly attribution and citation tools, develop unique identifiers for both research output and individual researchers, and develop methods of expressing linked data, structuring metadata, and for publishing data schema and code books that allow machines to give context); however choices should be made based on thorough study.
  • Research and dissemination belong together as do access and re-use. The European Commission should recognize OA as a main strategy and support an open access ethic among researchers to encourage them to understand and value non-traditional assessment tools—as well as the value of sharing data—and to willingly contribute useful metrics to the open access publication. Dedicated funding and training should be provided for OA publication and compliance should be monitored.
  • Scientific publication needs its own rules because it is profoundly different from revenue-generating work. Scholarship exists only as it is shared and circulated and should be treated as “give-away literature.” Intellectual property rights and even tax laws also need to be harmonized to enable, rather than inhibit, data use and mining and copying for preservation. An author’s right to self-publish in his own institutional repository should be ensured; a fair-dealing exemption should be established for text and data mining—including format shifting for technical purposes—for research purposes; and permissions should be extended for use of orphan and out-of-print works. Contract law should not be allowed to override such protections.
  • Government agencies should publish their data management plans and budget for compulsory data preservation. Open formats should also be used in preservation to ensure consistency and compatibility. Clinical trial data should be publicly available to ensure integrity.
  • OA needs to be approached globally. The European Commission should set standards for harvesting, curating, trusted processing and presentation of results.

Speakers from the funding, publishing and research communities also urged the adoption of Creative Commons licenses because of their widespread use.

Some publishers expressed caution lest the strengths and values inherent in traditional publication be lost. One approach may not suit all disciplines. Slow science is good for some and enhances the longevity of articles. Careful review procedures produce works with the level of integrity and permanence that deserve high prestige. These include taking time and resources for refereed interaction, keeping review independent from research funding, removing barriers for unfunded/underfunded authors, and ensuring long-term preservation of authoritative copies. And, lastly, open access needs to be sustainable.

My personal observations:

The majority of the attendees were text publishers, so discussion around data was limited with even less said about tissue samples or patent concerns. There are many technical, legal and social hurdles ahead and serious questions about how to best use OA for certain research disciplines. This observer wonders whether the European Commission will be able to coordinate the development of data architectures, standards and guidelines in time to avoid a plethora of incompatible market-generated systems and, even if so, how the European efforts will be coordinated on a global basis.


Wellcome Trust urges universities to take leadership in open scientific publishing

Diane Cabell, May 4th, 2011

Creative Commons plays an instrumental role in the Open Access movement, which is making scholarly research and journals more widely available on the Web. Last month, Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, spoke at Oxford University on the role of open access in maximising the impact of biomedical research. Wellcome is one of the world’s leading funders of scientific research. Walport’s lecture was the fourth in a series on scholarship, publishing and the dissemination of research presented by the Oxford University Research Archive (ORA). The series is designed to stimulate debate on the issues surrounding changes in scholarly communications.

In a reflection of the venue — Bodleian Library’s Convocation House where the, audience perched on the same 17th century seats as Charles II’s parliament — Walport traced the history of Western scientific publication noting that scientists have delayed dissemination of their findings for centuries. When Gallileo discovered the rings around Saturn Galilei, for example, he sent a coded summary of his findings to his competitors so that once his work became public he would be able to unmask the perpetrator should any of them try to steal his credit. Walport also reported that scientific publication was banned during certain periods as too dangerous for public consumption.

Scientists today are still highly dependent on attribution for their status. Publication in prestigious journals remains the prime determinant of a researcher’s employment and funding opportunities. Open access journals historically suffered a lack of prestige as their peer review procedures were perceived as less rigorous.* Open data faces similar barriers; while Wellcome and other major funders in the genome field have mandated deposit of data in open repositories, most of the larger scientific community continues to hoard findings until a desired personal value can be extracted.

Traditional commercial publication is not the only way to protect scientific reputations, however, and Walport urged academic institutions to take back their traditional responsibility for the dissemination of knowledge by promoting open access mechanisms that still address the researcher’s needs for attribution. The PLoS business model presents alternative funding approaches capable of supporting academic publication. Most importantly, academicians are recognizing that they themselves have been providers of the major value of publication – the actual peer review – a free service that could be as easily provided to open access publishers as to proprietary ones. Alternatives such as PLoS One’s post-publication peer review mechanisms by the scholarly community at large may also prove effective.

Walport believes that science is on the cusp of an historic change in regard to publication practices and advised the university to take an aggressive role in the open access movement.

A video of Walport’s presentation will be posted shortly on the oxford scholarly communications debate website.

*Corrected from “Open access journals do not yet share that prestige as they rarely include peer review mechanisms.


CC Talks With: The Right to Research Coalition’s Nick Shockey: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, January 20th, 2011

Nick Shockey is the Director of the Right to Research Coalition (R2RC) and the Director of Student Advocacy at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).  The R2RC is an international alliance of 31 graduate and undergraduate student organizations, representing nearly 7 million students, that promotes an open scholarly publishing system based on the belief that no student should be denied access to the research they need for their education because their institution cannot afford the often high cost of scholarly journals. We spoke to Nick about similarities in the open access and open educational resources movements, the worldwide student movement in support of access to scholarly research, and the benefits of adopting Creative Commons tools for open access literature.

Nick Shockey
Nick Shockey by Right To Research Coalition / CC BY

“It all started in a hotel room in Paris,” explains Shockey, who while studying abroad at Oxford and on a brief trip to France happened to catch a CNN special about MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) program. Nick was immediately impressed by the idea of OCW, and upon his return to Trinity University campaigned to get his school to implement a similar program. For a number of reasons, OCW didn’t catch on at Trinity, but the experience Shockey gained in advocating for it provided him with two crucial pieces that led to his work at SPARC: a deep interest in opening up the tools of education, and an introduction to Diane Graves, Trinity’s University Librarian and then SPARC Steering Committee member. Shockey began advocating for open access to research at Trinity, and convinced the student government to pass a resolution supporting the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), as well as a later resolution endorsing the Student Statement on the Right to Research. The statement calls for students, researchers, universities, and research funders to make academic research openly available to all. These principles formed the foundation for what was to become the Right to Research Coalition.

Growth of R2RC

In the summer after Shockey moved to Washington D.C., he was able to add new signatories to the Student Statement on the Right to Research, including the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) and the National Graduate Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students. It soon became clear that a larger impact could be made by organizing as a coalition that actively advocated for and educated students about open access, and Nick joined SPARC full time to lead the Right to Research Coalition.

R2RC has grown to include 31 member organizations and now represents nearly 7 million students worldwide. “The incredible diversity of our membership speaks to how important access to research is to students,” says Shockey. R2RC’s members range in size from groups with less than a hundred students to organizations with more than a million. But Nick notes that all the member groups have two things in common: they believe students should have the benefit of the full scholarly record (not just the fraction they or their institution can afford), and they recognize that the Internet has made unfettered access possible by driving down the marginal cost to distribute knowledge virtually to zero.

Federal open access advocacy

SPARC and the Right to Research Coalition have been supportive of the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), a law which would require 11 U.S. government agencies with annual output research expenditures over $100 million to make manuscripts of journal articles stemming from research funded by that agency publicly available via the Internet. While FRPAA didn’t pass in 2010, Shockey’s very happy with the remarkable progress made, which culminated last year in the Congressional hearing on the issue of public access to federally funded research. Shockey, colleague Julia Mortyakova, and R2RC members have been advocating in support of FRPAA in various ways, such as letter-writing campaigns and in-person office visits. Shockey estimates his membership has reached out to well over two hundred Congressional offices.

Student support for OA around the world

Shockey describes that the current situation of limited access to academic research is a widespread problem that affects students all around the world. But, he explains that the real difference isn’t between the United States and the rest of the world, but between the developed and the developing world. “Paying $30 for access to one article is expensive even for many researchers in the U.S.,” says Nick, “but when you realize that $30 is an entire average month’s wage in Malawi, you can see the huge disparities in access faced by huge swaths of people around the world.”

At the end of last summer, R2RC began a concerted effort to expand their coalition to incorporate international student groups, and launched their Access Around the World blog series to feature stories and activities from students across the globe. In fall 2010, Shockey pitched the importance for student access to scholarly research to the European Medical Students’ Association’s General Assembly in Athens and the European Students’ Conference in Berlin. “The students understood the issue right away and have gotten involved immediately,” says Nick. The President of the European Medical Students’ Association has already made a presentation on Open Access and the R2RC at a major international medical conference, and just this month, the coalition welcomed the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), the world’s largest medical student organization, which operates in 97 countries around the world.

Access is crippled by cost; OA enables novel downstream benefits

The high cost to users to access academic journals and educational materials is a criticism shared by advocates of open access (OA) and open educational resources (OER). Scholarly journal prices have increased at 200% the level of inflation, similar to that of college textbook prices. Shockey believes that the that the greatest value of open access is to help knock down the prohibitive barriers that high prices pose to individual users. “A singe U.S. university we studied spent about $900,000 for only 96 journal subscriptions–and that was at a well-funded school,” says Shockey. “At less wealthy institutions, or those in the developing world, the price barriers often prove insurmountable. Students and researchers must make do with what their school can afford rather than what they need.”

Nick explains that through open access, the entire scholarly record could be available for anyone to read and build upon, leading to innumerable public benefits.  But he’s most excited by the uses of open access scholarship we can’t even think of at the moment. “Lawrence Lessig points out that the real ‘secret sauce’ of the Internet is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to innovate on it,” says Shockey, “and I believe open access will finally bring this ability to academic research.” Nick describes a world of open access in which researchers will not only be able to read any article, but also be permitted to perform semantic text mining to uncover trends no one person could discover and connect together. But for this promise to be fulfilled, he reinforces that researchers need access to the entire scholarly record, not just a selected subset, and the rights necessary to reuse these articles in new and interesting ways.

Open access and Creative Commons

Shockey explained that Creative Commons plays a crucial role within the OA movement by providing a standard suite of prepackaged open content licenses. “To make an obvious point,” he said, “very few researchers are also copyright lawyers, and the CC licenses make it simple for scholars and journals to make their articles openly available. CC also helps prevents a patchwork system where it’s unclear which uses are allowed and which are not.”  Nick notes that this sort of ambiguity can be very harmful–particularly to reuse of content, so it’s important that the open access community leverages CC to ensure access and communicate rights.

Shockey says that the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license has become the gold standard for open access journals. In general, scholars want recognition for their work, and the CC BY license ensures attribution to the author while allowing anyone to read, download, copy, print, distribute, and reuse their work without restriction. Shockey notes that several studies have shown a strong increase in article views and citations when an article is made openly available. “This makes intuitive sense,” Nick says. “If an article is available for more people to read and build upon, it’s unsurprising that it will also tend to be cited more often. Given the importance of citation counts in academic advancement, the citation increase can be an important benefit that flows from open licensing.”

OA support via the university

Open access (and increasingly, OER) initiatives at universities have been promoted in part through the university library. For example, at some schools librarians help educate faculty and students about the options available to them for scholarly publishing, including administering the Scholar’s Copyright Addendum. Shockey thinks that the library is a natural central organizing venue for OA and OER work, and meshes well with the library’s fundamental mission to provide their community with access to the educational resources they need.  Nick also noted that libraries are perfectly positioned to play an OA/OER organizing role because they are one of the only institutions that reaches every department and every member of the campus community. Shockey said that some libraries have already taken the lead by supporting initiatives such as the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity (COPE), which sets aside money to pay for the publication fees that some open access journals charge, in order to help transition to an open model.

OA and OER working together

Open access advocates argue that access to scholarly literature should not be limited to scientists and academics, but available to patients, parents, students at all levels, entrepreneurs, and others. Shockey believes that since the OA and OER movements are both working to enable free access to the tools of education, it’s important to explore the ways in which these movements can work together. Even though the R2RC is centered on open access, it’s begun to weave OER into its messaging alongside open data and open science. Nick thinks it’s important for R2RC members to see the larger network in which they work. “When we hit roadblocks in one area,” said Shockey, “there are often opportunities in others, and advancing one of these pieces (be it OA, OER, open data, open video, etc) opens the door for further progress in other areas. Furthermore, once you’ve convinced someone about one of these issues, be it a friend, colleague, or the U.S. Congress, it’s much easier to engage them on the others.”

Shockey is optimistic with regard to the future of the student open access movement, but stresses the need to move ahead with the clear vision that advancements in education, science, and scholarship require access to raw research materials. “We must always remember what it is we’re fighting for,” said Shockey, “academic research is the raw material upon which not only education but also scientific and scholarly advancement depend. When we allow these crucial resources to be locked away, it hinders the entire mission of the Academy – student learning suffers, scholarly research is impeded, and scientific discoveries are slowed.” Nick says that widespread open access promises to benefit science and scholarship in radical ways that are almost unimaginable today. “Open access will improve how we teach, learn, and solve problems in ways that are impossible within a closed system.”

While there are many ways to get involved with the Open Access movement, Shockey stressed that the most important was simply to learn about this issue of access to research and start conversations with friends, colleagues, mentors, and students to raise awareness.  The R2RC website has an individual version of their Student Statement on the Right to Research open for anyone to sign, as well as a host of other education and advocacy resources for those interested in Open Access.

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