Confusion and controversy continue to abound over the length of time before research must be made freely available through the “green” open-access route, despite Research Councils UK’s publication of revised policy guidance last week.
During the Lords inquiry, it emerged that RCUK had adopted a “decision tree” based on the Publishers Association’s reading of the government’s response to the Finch report, on which UK open-access policy is based.
The tree, which is endorsed by the government, makes clear that where no funding is available to pay “gold” open-access article fees, the embargo length for papers made available via the repository-based green route should be 12 months for science and 24 months for other subjects, rather than the six and 12 months stipulated in RCUK’s policy.
Rick Rylance, RCUK chief executive, told the committee that the shorter embargoes would not be enforced during a five-year transition period to open access, and that the revised guidance would make this clear. However, the guidance reiterates that the shorter embargo periods remain RCUK policy except where funding for gold has run out.
It also makes clear that while RCUK prefers gold to green, the choice ultimately lies with researchers and institutions.
An RCUK spokeswoman confirmed that even when funding for gold is still available via universities’ RCUK-provided block grants, researchers could still choose the green option with its shorter embargo periods.
But this reading of the decision tree was disputed by a spokeswoman for the Publishers Association. She insisted that if funds and gold options were available, researchers should choose gold.
“The only instance in which green with six/12-month embargoes would be countenanced is where the publisher does not offer gold,” she said.
The association’s chief executive, Richard Mollet, also expressed concern over RCUK’s continued insistence on a six-month embargo for work funded by the Medical Research Council, even when no gold funding is available.
RCUK pointed out that this had been MRC policy since 2006, but Mr Mollet said it was “at odds with the Finch recommendations and government policy”, and was unsustainable for most medical titles.
In a hearing of the Lords committee, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, described RCUK’s shorter embargo periods as “the nirvana of which they dream” rather than the policy reality.
However, a spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills supported the position set out in RCUK’s revised guidance. She said that although the government and RCUK had a “strong preference” for gold if the funds were available, researchers were not compelled to choose it.
Another senior publishing source, who did not want to be named, said it was the “clear understanding of all publishers” that the decision tree entailed that the shorter embargo periods applied only if gold funding was unavailable.
“The only measure of availability…is whether it is available to the author for a specific paper in a specific journal, not whether there is funding available in the institution’s publication fund,” he added.