Open Doors and Open Minds: What faculty authors can do to ensure open access to their work through their institution

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The Internet has brought unparalleled opportunities for expanding availability of research by bringing down economic and physical barriers to sharing. The digitally networked environment promises to democratize access, carry knowledge beyond traditional research niches, accelerate discovery, encourage new and interdisciplinary approaches to ever more complex research challenges, and enable new computational research strategies. However, despite these opportunities for increasing access to knowledge, the prices of scholarly journals have risen sharply over the past two decades, often forcing libraries to cancel subscriptions.  Today even the wealthiest institutions cannot afford to sustain all of the journals needed by their faculties and students.

To take advantage of the opportunities created by the Internet and to further their mission of creating, preserving, and disseminating knowledge, many academic institutions are taking steps to capture the benefits of more open research sharing. Colleges and universities have built digital repositories to preserve and distribute faculty scholarly articles and other research outputs. Many individual authors have taken steps to retain the rights they need, under copyright law, to allow their work to be made freely available on the Internet and in their institution’s repository. And, faculties at some institutions have adopted resolutions endorsing more open access to scholarly articles.

Most recently, on February 12, 2008, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) at Harvard University took a landmark step.  The faculty voted to adopt a policy requiring that faculty authors send an electronic copy of their scholarly articles to the university’s digital repository and that faculty authors automatically grant copyright permission to the university to archive and to distribute these articles unless a faculty member has waived the policy for a particular article. Essentially, the faculty voted to make open access to the results of their published journal articles the default policy for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University.

As of March 2008, a proposal is also under consideration in the University of California system by which faculty authors would commit routinely to grant copyright permission to the university to make copies of the faculty’s scholarly work openly accessible over the Internet.

Inspired by the example set by the Harvard faculty, this White Paper is addressed to the faculty and administrators of academic institutions who support equitable access to scholarly research and knowledge, and who believe that the institution can play an important role as steward of the scholarly literature produced by its faculty.  This paper discusses both the motivation and the process for establishing a binding institutional policy that automatically grants a copyright license from each faculty member to permit deposit of his or her peer-reviewed scholarly articles in institutional repositories, from which the works become available for others to read and cite.

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I. Overview   

  • A. Why Did the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences Adopt Its University License Policy?   
  • B. What Can You Do On Your Local Campus?   
  • C. What Is a University License and Why Is It Important?   

II. Plan of Action   

  • A. What Is the Right Process for Bringing About Policy Change?   
  • B. If a Vote by Faculty is Needed, How Can I Bring One About?   
  1. Case 1—Broad License Grant   
  2. Case 2—Intermediate License Grant   
  3. Case 3—Narrow License Grant   
  • C. What Is Needed to Implement a Policy Change?   

III. Conclusion   

Appendix A - Action steps checklist   
Appendix B - Sample addendum to publication agreement   

About SPARC   
About Science Commons  

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