EU mulls open-source edict

March 2, 2007

Europe is not requiring grant recipients to publish in free online journals, but it might do so soon, says Keith Nuthall

The European Commission has shied away from forcing all recipients of research grants from the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to publish in open-source formats, but a policy paper says that the incoming European Research Council may do so.

In a new communication, the Commission "envisages, within specific programmes (managed by the ERC)", issuing "specific guidelines on the publication of articles in open repositories after an embargo".

It also says that FP7 funding will cover "costs related to publishing, including open-source publishing" and will "encourage the research community to make use of this possibility".

The Commission said that it would pump €50 million (£33 million) from the 2007-08 budget into linking European digital repositories and spend €25 million on boosting digital preservation.

However, this approach contrasts with the recommendations of the European Research Advisory Board, which suggested making open-source publishing a condition of most FP7 grants.

Support for open-source publishing remains strong in academia. Sijbolt Noorda, president of the Research Universities of the Netherlands and a member of the European University Association Council, said academics, professionals and the public "could benefit from a clear move to open source because it would make available to all (and faster) a lot of scholarly work that now only, or mainly, gets to colleagues".

He said: "In the digital age, we should have the same sort of service public libraries offered in the old days. That should be self-evident, but alas not all publishing firms hold these ideals."

Multimedia and multidata publishing "offers much more than just a transformation of the same journal article", Dr Noorda said, with "blended products" being "very welcome indeed".

The EUA said it was aware of the risks of open-source publishing. Peter Cotgreave, director of the UK Campaign for Science and Engineering, said:  "I support the Commission's caution."

He added that publishers' comprehensive peer review system was valuable. "You don't want to kick the industry in the teeth and then find you have lost something very important."

At a Brussels conference last week, Janez Potonik, the EU Research Commissioner, backed "rapid and wide dissemination of results, facilitated by new information and communication technologies", while giving "fair remuneration to scientific publishers".

* The Commission has legally established the ERC ahead of its launch in Berlin this week. Brussels formally agreed that the ERC would have a budget of €7.5 billion over seven years. This will be spent on groundbreaking basic research. The ERC will be led by a scientific council of 22 scientists from across Europe.

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