Earlier this week, SPARC submitted comments regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on a new open licensing requirement for educational materials and other copyrightable works created through direct grant programs. SPARC and a coalition of more than 100 organizations made a call this summer for the White House to adopt a policy of this kind government-wide, and we are thrilled to see the Department’s proposed policy as a first step in this direction. 

SPARC submitted our own comment, and also signed onto an OER coalition response signed by 26 allied organizations. A total of 147 public comments were submitted, most of which show overall support for the policy.

SPARC's comments focused on the following key points:

  • Maintain the strong definition of the open licensing terms outlined in the proposed rule. This definition will ensure that students, faculty, schools, and other members of the public can make full use of the materials without limitations, while also ensuring that authors and copyright holders are attributed for their work.
  • Specify a standard open license in grant contracts to maximize efficiency, usability, and reduce regulatory burden. Specifically, we recommend a Creative Commons Attribution License for non-software works, which has been used by other government grant programs (such as the Department of Labor's TAACCCT program) and private funders such as the Hewlett Foundation and Gates Foundation
  • Make open licensing the default for all Department-funded resources. Public access and use should be the rule not the exception, so we recommend removing regulatory limitations and exemptions, and instead establishing a process for exemptions on a case-by-case basis.
  • Grantees should distribute openly licensed works to the public. We recommend a regulatory requirement to post all applicable works on the open internet, and additional technical support from the Department to support best practices to ensure these works are discoverable and usable to the public. Long-term we recommend the Department move toward collecting all applicable materials in a repository.
  • Works covered by the rule should be openly licensed upon publication, or the end of the grant period, whichever comes first. This leaves it up to the grantee to determine when a work is of high enough quality to publish, while also ensuring that the public can get the full benefits of using the work immediately once it is.
  • Engage in dialogue with the community as the comments are discussed and the policy is implemented. 

Now that the comment period is closed, the Department will begin the process of reviewing the comments, and will publish a response along with the final regulation text in the Federal Register. The final comment pool includes a full spectrum of opinions, and given the strong case made by SPARC and our allies, we are happy to head into the holidays knowing that the Department has heard strong support for the policy.

We expect more news on the rule making process in the few months, so stay tuned for more updates in the New Year!

Useful Links:

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has become the first Federal Agency to publicly propose a policy to openly license federally funded educational materials to the public. Toward adopting the policy, the Department has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and has requested comments from the public on the proposed regulation. This is an important opportunity to demonstrate public support for this policy and provide information to help its successful implementation.
Comments are due Friday December 18, 2015 at 11:59pm EST

More Information:

As we near the end of 2015, there has been a flurry of activity coming from U.S. federal agencies in the Public Access policy arena. Late last week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) released its plan for ensuring public access to articles and data resulting from its funded research, laying out a comprehensive framework to ensure access and productive reuse of its funded research outputs. And on Monday, the publisher-based CHORUS initiative issued a press release touting a new agreement with National Science Foundation (NSF), designed to supplement its current Public Access plan for its funded articles. 

Let’s take a look at DOT’s plan first – there is a lot that’s new in this one. 

DOT’s Comprehensive Research Life-Cycle Approach

The DOT’s plan strikes a slightly different chord than many of the other plans released to date, weaving together existing practices for publication and data sharing, with some new enhancements that should allow the agency to more efficiently track its research at a project level throughout the research life cycle.  

DOT’s plan outlines a framework for tracking its funded research from project initiation to the generation of research outputs and products, treating each step as integral to the research process.  The agency will establish new terms and conditions for its funded research that will require new strong licensing requirements for articles, mandatory use of Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) for articles and data sets, as well as the requirement for researchers to secure and use a unique ORCID ID for all results submitted to DOT and for publication.  

DOT Plan for Articles: Local Deposit and Management

The DOT’s plan calls for all DOT-funded researchers to deposit their final peer-reviewed manuscripts into the National Transportation Library (NTL) digital repository upon acceptance in a peer-reviewed journal, and to make them available to the public with no longer than a 12-month embargo period.  

As with the other agencies, DOT will provide stakeholders with a mechanism for petitioning the agency to shorten or extend the allowable embargo period. Unlike other agencies, the DOT will limit any changes to no more than six months in either direction.  The DOT is also unique among agencies in announcing that they are developing an online mechanism that will allow any member of the public to petition for an embargo period change, noting that decisions will be provided within one month of such a request. 

The DOT stands out from other agencies in explicitly noting that will take a very proactive stance on copyright. The agency intends to establish new terms and conditions for all DOT funding agreements that require both the grant of a comprehensive, non-exclusive, paid-up, royalty-free copyright license to the DOT, and the submission all publications to the NTL digital repository.  This puts the agency in a very strong position to be able to meet the OSTP Directive’s requirement to enable productive reuse of their research outputs. 

Despite this requirement, the DOT still seems to have some hesitation around allowing bulk downloads of articles, and indicates that it will explore taking a tiered approach, distinguishing between “General Users” (allowed limited downloading and restricted crawling, but unlimited text and data mining rights) and “Qualified Users, ” (allowed mass downloads, and unlimited crawling and text and data mining rights).  It will be interesting to see the agency’s calculus on the overhead required to maintain these distinctions versus the potential risks/returns of simply considering all users “Qualified.”

The DOT expresses a strong commitment to requiring the use of DOIs, ORCID IDs and funding tracking numbers for all of its research outputs. This should give the agency an advantage when it comes to compliance monitoring, as these indicators can be tracked in a variety of different indices, including the Transportation Research Board’s TRID database, FundRef, and also potentially by the SHARE database. 

DOT’s Plan for Research Data: Building on an Existing Culture of Data Sharing

The DOT has a strong track record of making data generated by its intramural researchers accessible to the public1, and its Public Access plan builds on this foundation. The agency will join all other U.S. federal science agencies that have announced their plans in requiring that all extramural investigators requesting funding submit a Data Management Plan (DMP) outlining plans for managing and providing access to research data, or provide a rationale as to why their research cannot be made available. This continues the trend of effectively setting the default mode for federally-funded research data to “open.” 

DOT’s DMP requirements include some fairly standard elements, such as descriptions of the data to be collected, preservation strategies, description of standards and machine-readable formats used for data collection and storage, and descriptions of any applicable protections to be used for purposes of privacy, confidential business information, national security, etc.  

However, they also have some fairly unique requirements. DOT will require DMPs to include a section addressing reuse, redistribution, and creation of derivative products from DOT data, and they point to the strong preference given in OMB M-1313 for use of Creative Commons licenses as a guideline. The DOT plan states that they have a strong preference for the use of CC-BY or equivalent license on data generated by extramural researchers, and a public domain dedicated marking for data generated by intramural researchers. 

All DOT datasets will be required to carry a DOI or to be deposited into a repository that provides DOIs. They are also exploring dataset identification frameworks, and are evaluating the use of DataCite, Data-Pass and the Data Document Initiative. 

The DOT places a strong emphasis on making the data underlying its funded peer-reviewed articles freely available at the time of publication and effectively linked to the articles themselves.  The robust use of identifiers combined with the twin requirements that researchers deposit their articles locally into the NTL and their data into an openly accessible repository will go a long way in achieving this, but the DOT plan takes this one step further.

As noted earlier, the DOT is using the Public Access requirement as an opportunity to improve its tracking of its research portfolio at the project level. They plan to connect several existing internal databases, including the Research-in-Progress (RiP) data base, the Research Hub database and the NTL Digital Library, to provide an environment that seamlessly tracks and links research projects from inception to completion. Ultimately, the agency will be able to point to one publicly-accessible record for each of its funded projects that contains a full description of the funding and project, along with links to any data or publications generated from the research, improving the transparency and accountability of the agency. 

NSF Announces New Agreement with CHORUS

Along with the release of the detailed DOT plan, this week saw another notable recent development in the arena of U.S. public access policies. On Monday, the National Science Foundation officially signed an agreement with CHORUS (the publisher-backed Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States). CHORUS will support NSF’s existing partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), by providing distributed repository and search services – searching the NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) that will be hosted by the DOE, and following links that point back to articles hosted on publisher websites.

This approach—linking out to the full text of articles residing on individual publisher websites— is in contrast to the DOT’s comprehensive research portfolio enhancement approach.  While the use of CHORUS does facilitate the location of NSF-funded articles, questions persist.  

For example, with articles on hundreds of individual, proprietary publisher websites, each with their own unique technologies and legal restrictions, how will productive reuses, such as computation and text and data mining be enabled? Will uniform rights be granted to agencies and to end-users without individual negotiations for specific re-uses? How will data be effectively linked to articles?  How will the agency leverage the full collection of articles reporting on its funded research to further its scientific mission and ensure accountability when they are dependent on a third party for access to the full text of their articles?

As the last of the U.S. federal agencies report back on their plans for complying with the White House OSTP Directive on Public Access, these are important questions to keep in mind. Our community should consider whether the proposed solutions from U.S. agencies actually achieve the admirable aims of the Directive, and what actions we can take to  play a positive role in ensuring that they are successful.

[1] Note: DOT notes that its intramural researchers are already covered by the requirements set out in the White House Executive Order on Open Government Data and OMB M-1313 (Making Open and Machine Readable the Default for Government Data) along with DOT Order 1351.34, (The Department’s Data Release Policy). The agency indicates that they believe these policies together effectively achieve the aims of the OSTP Public Access Memo. 

Today, SPARC joined other leaders in the global OER movement to release Foundations for OER Strategy Development. This collaboratively-written document provides a concise analysis of where the global OER movement currently stands: what the common threads are, where the greatest opportunities and challenges lie, and how we can more effectively work together as a community. Ideas for this document came from across the OER community, following a 6-month drafting and feedback process. The document and full announcement can be found at

Members of the community can participate by reading the document and tweeting commitments to advancing opportunities at #oerstrategy.

SPARC played a central role in drafting the text of this document, and we look forward to working with the community to improve global collaboration on OER.

“The Right to Read is the Right to Mine…”

Those words are not only the tagline for an innovative text and data mining project called ContentMine, but are also a crucial component of the definition of Open Access. 

The facts contained in scholarly articles are what make them so useful and so valuable. Researchers recognize that the digital environment gives them the opportunity to use these articles, and to make sense of these facts in entirely new ways. They want, and need, the ability to fully use these articles – to freely download and search, text mine, data mine, compute on and crawl them as data – in order to advance their work, to discover, to innovate.  

Digital articles are, after all, simply small-scale aggregations of digital data. So it makes sense to empower users to employ the tools that are most appropriate to solving the problem at hand. Yet increasingly, we are seeing troubling signs that many commercial publishers are unwilling to support users who want to actually use the content in scholarly articles and not simply read the content in an analog fashion.

In an article in today’s TechDirt, Glyn Moody reports on a recent incident where a statistician attempted to use content mining techniques to advance his work, which involves improving detecting data fabrication – a legitimate and valuable academic pursuit.

The researcher, who works at an institution with a subscription to Elsevier’s ScienceDirect database, notes that he took care to conduct the necessary bulk downloading of articles from Elsevier’s database in a manner that would not disrupt other users.

Nevertheless, Moody reports that Elsevier contacted the researcher and instructed him to stop. The research notes that:

“Approximately two weeks after I started downloading psychology research papers, Elsevier notified my university that this was a violation of the access contract, that this could be considered stealing of content, and that they wanted it to stop. My librarian explicitly instructed me to stop downloading (which I did immediately), otherwise Elsevier would cut all access to Sciencedirect for my university.”

To be fair, Elsevier does appear to have indicated to the researcher that he could use an Elsevier-provided API to continue to content mine articles.  However, the researcher notes that the Elsevier API often returns only metadata to the user – rather than the full text that is so valuable, and that can be easily accessed by the user via the Web, making it a far less desirable option.

Elsevier’s response is troubling for a number of reasons. Using the threat of cutting off institution-wide paid access to ScienceDirect in response to a researcher’s legitimate use of content is extreme. Requiring researchers to use only Elsevier-approved tools to work on articles in an Elsevier-controlled environment is behavior that runs directly counter to promoting an open scholarly environment. And, perhaps the most troubling of all, is referring to the downloading of articles from an institution with a legitimate subscription to the content as “stealing”. The tragedy of Aaron Swartz starkly illustrated the folly of this kind of thinking.

In an era when many commercial publishers insist on selling our institutions access to digital articles only in large bundles, touting the benefits of these bundles as “databases,” restricting the rights of users to fully use these databases is unacceptable. As Peter Murray-Rust and his team at Content Mine so eloquently note:

“The Right to Read is the Right to Mine. Anyone who has lawful access to read the literature with their eyes should be able to do so with a machine. We want to make this right a reality and enable everyone to perform research using humanity’s accumulated scientific knowledge.” 

Today the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced a new campaign to encourage schools to adopt free, openly licensed educational materials, capping off a historic month of developments for the U.S. open educational resources (OER) movement. Entitled #GoOpen, the new campaign was launched at a Symposium on Open Education, where more than a dozen representatives of the OER community participated along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith. 

The #GoOpen campaign includes several exciting components:

  • The Department of Education is proposing a new policy that would ensure educational resources and other intellectual property created through its discretionary grant programs would be openly licensed. This proposal is the first major step the Obama Administration has made toward fulfilling a call made by more than 100 organizations this summer for a federal government-wide policy to open up federally funded educational materials. A 30 day comment period is expected to open next week when the notice is officially published in the Federal Register.
  • A cohort of 10 K-12 school districts have committed to "take the #GoOpen challenge" and replace at least one traditional textbook with OER. Six additional districts that have experience successfully implementing OER have volunteered as ambassadors to provide mentorship and support for districts just starting out.
  • A group of technology companies and civil society organizations have made commitments to support school districts who want to #GoOpen. AmazonMicrosoft and Edmodo have announced a set of tools that integrate with the Learning Registry and enable schools, teachers and students to more effectively find and use OER. Creative CommonsASCD and the Illinois Shared Learning Environment have pledged professional development and platform support.

This announcement is the latest in a string of increasingly positive OER developments in the U.S. government. In September, Secretary Duncan announced the appointment of Andy Marcinek as its first Open Education Advisor during a back-to-school tour of the Williamsfield Unified School District in Illinois (which has since become a #GoOpen ambassador). Earlier this month, legislation was introduced in both chambers of the U.S. Congress to help advance open textbooks in higher education. And on Tuesday, the U.S. government released its new Open Government National Action Plan, which included a commitment to expand open licensing of federally funded resources.

Many conversations will follow in the coming months about the implementation of the new policy proposal and other commitments. It is exciting to see so many new allies interested in working to improve education through open resources, and the OER community stands ready to work with ED and its #GoOpen partners to ensure the campaign is a success. 

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Today the White House released its 2016-2017 Open Government National Action Plan, which includes commitments to expand access to open educational resources and the results of federally funded research. This exciting development shows continued support from the Obama administration for these issues, and sets the stage for continued progress beyond the 2016 elections.

The commitment to Open Education has been highly anticipated by the community since this summer, after more than 100 U.S. civil society organizations — including SPARC — sent a letter to the White House calling for strong executive action to make federally funded educational resources openly licensed. While the OER commitment released today stops short of the broad policy changes that civil society called for, it lays out several meaningful steps in the right direction.

The OER commitment begins with a strong statement in support of the benefits of open educational resources:

Open educational resources are an investment in sustainable human development; they have the potential to increase access to high-quality education and reduce the cost of educational opportunities around the world. Open educational resources can expand access to key educational materials, enabling the domestic and international communities to attain skills and more easily access meaningful learning opportunities.  

It also specifies three activities the U.S. will take to advance open education: 

  • Openly license more Federal grant-supported education materials and resources, making them widely and freely available.
  • Publish best practices and tools for agencies interested in developing grant-supported open licensing projects.
  • Convene stakeholders to encourage further open education efforts. 

The OER commitment builds on momentum that has grown since the U.S. became the first Open Government Partnership (OGP) member country to introduce open education into its National Action Plan last fall. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), State Department and Education Department recently held a workshop in New York City to fulfill one of the commitments in this plan, which was recently featured in a White House blog post

On the Open Access and Open Data fronts, the plan released today reiterates U.S.'s firm commitment to opening access to articles resulting from publicly-funded research, citing the language from the 2013 OSTP Directive on this subject. Additionally, the plan calls for robust attention ensuring that data — including code, applications and technologies — generated from publicly-funded research be made openly accessible as well. This is a strong nod to an eventual full U.S. Open Science Agenda.

The plan's release also coincides with the Open Government Partnership Summit in Mexico City, where for the first time ever, a workshop on open education is featured in the program. SPARC's Nicole Allen is on the ground helping to organize the session, along with the U.S. and Slovak Governments and Creative Commons United States. We are hopeful that this session can begin laying the groundwork for collaboration between the government and civil societies to implement the U.S. commitment announced today and open education overall. 

SPARC stands with our coalition partners ready to continue the conversation with the White House and federal agencies to help implement the commitment announced today, and to reinforce our call for a federal government-wide policy to ensure that taxpayer funded educational and research materials are openly licensed.

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


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