The Wellcome Trust has warned big publishers than unless they improve their service and lower their costs it could refuse to provide researchers with funds to publish in certain types of their journals.
Elsevier and Wiley have been singled out as regularly failing to put papers in the right open access repository and properly attribute them with a creative commons licence.
This was a particular problem with so-called hybrid journals, which contain a mixture of open access and subscription-based articles.
More than half of articles published in Wiley hybrid journals were found to be “non-compliant” with depositing and licensing requirements, an analysis of 2014-15 papers funded by Wellcome and five other medical research bodies found.
For Elsevier the non-compliance figure was 31 per cent for hybrid journals and 26 per cent for full open access. In contrast, for PLOS, which only publishes full open access journals, all papers were compliant.
Wellcome said it had had meetings with Elsevier and Wiley to make them aware of the problem and make sure it did not continue to happen. Following this, both publishers had retrospectively put papers in the right repositories.
Overall, the funding bodies had paid publishers an article processing charge (APC) for nearly 400 articles which had not subsequently appeared in the PubMed Central (PMC) open access repository.
“In financial terms this equates to around £765,000. Spending this level of money – and not having access to the article in the designated repository – is clearly unacceptable,” warned the analysis, Wellcome Trust and COAF Open Access Spend, 2014-15.
In addition, the Wellcome Trust found that APCs were 51 per cent more expensive in hybrid than in full open access journals.
“We find that hybrid open access continues to be significantly more expensive than fully open access journals and that as a whole the level of service provided by hybrid publishers is poor and is not delivering what we are paying for,” the analysis found.
The report concludes that a number of research funders, including the German Research Foundation and the Norwegian Research Council, had stopped funding APCs for hybrid journals because of these problems.
Wellcome “has not yet reached this position” but it said “doing nothing is no longer a valid option”.
“If hybrid publishers are unable to commit to the Wellcome Trust’s set of requirements and do not significantly improve the quality of the service, then classifying those hybrid journals as 'non-compliant' will be an inevitable next step,” it concludes.
The trust will re-run a similar analysis in May, and “if papers are still non-compliant we will need to re-consider the ways in which we make payments for APCs”.
A spokesman for Elsevier said: “The Wellcome Trust and Elsevier have partnered for a long time on open access publishing, and have steadily grown compliance over time.
“The availability of a hybrid open access publishing option for authors has been an important part of this success story given the fact that researchers who publish with Elsevier have a wide range of views on open access, creative commons licenses, etc. and yet want to comply with their funder’s policy while publishing in the quality journal of their choice,” he continued.
“We will continue to offer our authors compelling publishing options, and we will continue to work closely with our funding body partners.”
A spokesman for Wiley said that the publisher "recognises that our performance in depositing...funded papers should have been significantly better in 2015".
"While we are compliant with these and other funder mandates in making articles open access with the correct licence on Wiley Online Library, we accept there is an issue with the rate at which we successfully deposit these articles into PMC arising from manual processes employed at Wiley," he said.
"Wiley had a constructive meeting with...the Wellcome Trust during which we accepted their criticisms and recognised the importance Wellcome places on accurate and timely PMC deposition. We are committed to developing automated workflows that will eliminate manual checking. One of these became operational in October 2015; we anticipate this and future developments will speed up and improve Wiley’s rate of compliance," he continued.