‘Location-specific’ blocks on journal access could be OA ‘interim solution’

‘Geo-specific access models’ will help overcome problem of different nations having different policies towards open access, European Commission expert argues

November 8, 2019
Source: Getty

Restricting ability to view open-access journal articles in nations that have not reciprocated with policies to remove paywalls could provide an incentive to aid the global spread of open access, according to a European Commission expert.

Jean-Claude Burgelman, the European Commission’s open access envoy, said – speaking in a personal capacity – that one of the arguments against open access was that although publishers were willing to commit to it in Europe, large parts of the world had not yet done the same. This would leave these nations free to access articles through initiatives such as Plan S – a global open access plan unveiled last year by European funders under the auspices of the commission – when their own country had not reciprocated with similar plans.  

However, Dr Burgelman said “in a digital world that argument doesn’t make sense”.

“You know who is downloading what: for example, Amazon knows if someone is in the US or the UK and shows them different prices,” he said. Therefore, the same could be done for those accessing journal articles, Dr Burgelman told a Westminster Higher Education Forum conference.

Some audience members questioned whether it was truly open access if certain people were restricted from viewing certain articles. However, Dr Burgelman said “we can’t wait for the whole world to be open access at once” so it was important to find an interim solution, which he called a “geo-specific access model”.

“We already know that there are different prices being paid for access to publications in the world, there are different models, so the geo-specificity is only another model that’s not so radically different," he said.

Dr Burgelman added that he personally believed others would quickly follow suit with their own initiatives and that global open access was an achievable goal.

The problem, he argued, is that there are no formal platforms that are fit for purpose to have a global discussion about initiatives such as Plan S. Implementing open access must be a bottom-up approach, perhaps carried out by a federation of regional coordinators or by the International Science Council, he added.

“If we really want to go global, we'll need to be more creative,” Dr Burgelman said. “We can’t change the direction of the wind, but you can change the policy”.

He said he already believed that open access targets, such as for Plan S, would be hit before their deadlines.

“By 2030, I hope that access to articles will be the most marginal part of what we talk about globally, and that by then Plan S will have disappeared in our rhetoric; instead we will talk about a science system that is much more immediate and collaborative than is the case now,” he said.



Print headline: ‘We can’t wait for all the world to be open access’

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Reader's comments (3)

Quite unacceptable. Open access is what it says it is. Take the moral high ground. I would not be willing to participate in such a farce. Fortunately the Internet is designed to make information available. Information is like muck, of no value except it be spread around.
Since one of the prime arguments for OA is that many researchers in poorer countries cannot access the latest research because their institutions cannot afford the extortionate subscription fees levied by publishers, it would seem strange to then deny them access based on where they live. "OA in Europe" is not OA.
This doesn't make sense. First, an OA article that is OA in the Netherlands but not in Mexico isn't an OA article, it's some strange hybrid. Second, this scheme wouldn't work even if it was advisable, as it would be easy to circumvent it by using a proxy server or simply asking for a colleague in the Netherlands to send the article on to Mexico. APC's have their own major challenges for researchers in poorer countries, given that they don't currently have to pay anything in the subscription system to publish their work, they simply have to do work good enough to get published. Plan S is likely to exacerbate, not diminish, the wealth gap, and benefit some of the wealthiest countries in the world (Germany) at the expense of the poorer countries. Ability to pay will become paramount for publication in the most prestigious journals.