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Why cOAlition S’ Rights Retention Strategy Protects Researchers


Last month, cOAlition S released its Rights Retention Strategy to safeguard researchers’ intellectual ownership rights and suppress unreasonable embargo periods—Creative Commons (CC) keenly supports this initiative. 

Modernizing an outdated academic publishing system 

Plan S Rights Retention Strategy Screenshot

cOAlition S’ Rights Retention Strategy was developed “to give researchers supported by a cOAlition S Organisation the freedom to publish in their journal of choice, including subscription journals, whilst remaining fully compliant with Plan S.” Read more.

Under a traditional publishing model, researchers who want to publish their articles in a journal typically need to assign or exclusively license their copyright in the article to the journal publisher. Basically, they hand over their rights to the publisher in exchange for the opportunity to be published in the publisher’s journal. While this model may have worked several decades ago, it is currently unsuitable to the ways in which academic research is funded, conducted, and disseminated. It unjustifiably raises legal, technical, and financial barriers around knowledge and perpetuates unbalanced power relationships among the various players in academia and beyond, from researchers and research institutions to publishers, libraries, and the general public. 

Nowadays, with the help of new technologies and the internet, academic knowledge is produced, shared, and built upon at a pace and through methods that call for a completely different approach to publishing—one that favors access, collaboration, and fairness. Many funders (particularly governments and philanthropic foundations) require that research outputs be published openly to guarantee that the public can access, use, reuse, and build upon the knowledge created. This is where open access (OA) publishing comes into play. 

Open Access and Creative Commons licenses 

OA is a publishing model aimed at making academic and scientific research outputs (publications, data, and software) openly accessible. We are strong supporters of OA and open science and our licenses are the global standard for OA publishing. Our efforts are focused on encouraging and guiding public and private institutions and organizations in creating, adopting, and implementing OA policies. For example, we routinely submit comments to consultations on how to promote better access to publicly funded research, science, and educational content. A few examples include the 2013 White House memorandum on public access to the results of federally funded research, the 2020 US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) consultation on Research Outputs, and the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) consultation on its OA policy.

CC consistently advocates for OA policies on publicly funded research outputs; this has been demonstrated to stimulate knowledge creation and sharing, spur innovation, and provide a better return on investment for funders. Specifically, we advise research funders to require that their grantees publish their research results under the following conditions: 

  1. Zero embargo period, so everyone, everywhere can read the research fully and immediately at the moment of publication; 
  2. A CC BY license on article(s), to allow for text and data mining, no-cost access, and 
  3. CC0 on the research data, to be clear that the data is in the worldwide public domain to the fullest extent allowed by law.

The COVID-19 crisis has only reinforced the notion that openly sharing research is the best way to do research. How could anyone justify an embargo period on COVID-19-related research articles? Or impose a NoDerivatives condition, thereby preventing translations and other valuable adaptations of important scientific discoveries? In order to solve this crisis, scientific research must be shared as rapidly and as broadly as possible. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and guided by these  “open” values, we helped develop and are leading the Open COVID Pledge: a global initiative that works with organizations around the world to make their patents and copyrights freely available in the fight against COVID-19. We are also working with international organizations such as the World Health Organization in operationalizing the desire of many to freely share their intellectual property related to COVID-19 with anyone who needs it.

Open access and rights retention: the fundamentals 

It’s important to remind ourselves that when researchers publish their articles under an OA model using a CC license, they retain their copyright. They do not give any rights away to anyone, whether it be in the form of an assignment to a publisher, as it is the case under most traditional publishing models, or otherwise. Instead, researchers give several broad permissions to anyone to use and reuse the research article, but they continue to hold their rights and can enforce them in the event the reuser fails to adhere to the license. 

Further, all CC licenses include multiple safeguards against reputational and attribution risks. These safeguards, that are in addition to and not in replacement of academic norms and practices, are in place to provide an additional layer of protection for the original researchers’ reputation and to alleviate their concerns over changes to their works that might be wrongly attributed to them. CC licenses are also non-exclusive, which means that researchers publishing their articles under any CC license remain free and legally authorized to enter into different publishing agreements with different parties. 

Publishing under an OA model and transferring rights over to a publisher are antithetical. The mere suggestion that a researcher would give away their rights to a publisher defeats the whole purpose of what OA aims to achieve. By retaining their rights, as cOAlition S promotes through the aforementioned Rights Retention Strategy, researchers are empowered and keep their freedom to share their research outputs in ways that benefit the academic community and society as a whole. 

?: Featured image titled “2010 PopTech Science and Public Leadership Fellows” sourced from PopTech (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Posted 19 August 2020