A group of prominent UK-based history journals has thrown down the gauntlet to Research Councils UK over open access by announcing a new policy that is not compliant with the organisation’s requirements.
In an open letter published on the Institute of Historical Research’s website, 21 history journals - including several of the most prestigious in the field - say that although they will offer a “gold” open-access option on the payment of an article fee, they will not do so under the permissive CC-BY (Creative Commons Attribution) licence required by RCUK for the research it funds.
They say such a licence would mean that “commercial re-use, plagiarism, and republication” of an author’s work will be possible, subject to the author being “credited”, which would be “a serious infringement of intellectual property rights”.
Lyndal Roper, co-editor of the journal Past and Present and one of the signatories to the letter, said she was also concerned that early-career researchers could miss out on the institutional funds necessary to meet article fees.
The journals also say they will only permit authors to make use of the repository-based “green” open-access route after an embargo period of 36 months. Currently many of the signatories have embargoes of between 12 and 24 months. RCUK requires a maximum embargo of 12 months initially, eventually falling to six months.
Professor Roper, Regius professor of history at Oriel College, Oxford, said three years was the shortest period that would preserve journal sustainability by convincing libraries of an ongoing need to subscribe to them even if green open access became widespread.
The UK funding councils have also proposed that all papers submitted to the next research excellence framework, expected in 2020, should be open access.
Professor Roper said this heightened fears that UK authors would be unable to publish in journals based abroad, which were unlikely to bring their policies into line with UK requirements. This would make the UK a “laughing stock”.
Stevan Harnad, director of the University of Southampton’s Cognitive Sciences Centre, said the journals’ move lent weight to his prediction that publishers would react to RCUK’s policy by lengthening their green mandates beyond the acceptable period, forcing authors to choose the more lucrative gold option.
Several commentators have also taken issue with the journals’ suggestion that a CC-BY licence - which requires authors to be credited - would permit plagiarism.
Martin Eve, a lecturer in English literature at the University of Lincoln, said the signatories were “guilty of either a gross distortion for their own benefit or crass ignorance…of licensing”.
But Professor Roper emphasised that the principal aim of the open letter was to put pressure on funders to reconsider their position. She said another seven journals had signed up to the pledge since its publication, including five from outside history.
Noting that the humanities had been slow to recognise the implications of the RCUK policy, she said concern was now widespread, and she hoped subject associations would marshal similar statements from journals in their fields, adding: “The more we can get involved in this campaign, the greater the likelihood there will be a rethink.”
• See the journals’ letter