European countries to end paywalls for publicly funded scientific studies

Major national funders of scientific research announced that by 2020 they’ll stop financing studies published behind paywalls. The open-initiative proposal, known as Plan-S, could dramatically alter how peer-reviewed articles are published.

Under the plan, 11 national research funders, including UK Research and Innovation, will require scientists who accept their public grants to publish their work in open-access platforms. The plan would exclude roughly 85 percent of peer-reviewed journals that, as of 2017, charge a fee to users to access studies (Universities UK). Plan-S has sparked backlash from scientific publishing companies, which largely support the subscription model.  

Why scientists support open-access

The 11 research agencies behind the plan fund approximately $8.8 billion in research every year, according to Nature. All of their funds come from taxpayers in Europe. Supporters of open-access argue the same taxpayers should be able to read the articles they helped finance, instead of paying scientific publishers, which make up a $24.4 billion global industry (Guardian).

Why publishing companies oppose open-access

Publishing companies claim open-access initiatives will “undermine academic freedom” and the solvency of future research (ScienceMag).

Open access under Plan-S

Definitions for open access range from free-of-charge downloads under standard copyright to genuine open licensing whereby authors grant users the freedom to modify and share their content subject only to attribution.

Plan-S provides for open licensing under its ten point statement (PDF). The plan covers all scientific publications deriving from research funded by participating bodies. The plan requires that (point 1):

  • authors retain their copyright (rather than assign this right to the publisher)
  • publications be open licensed in accordance with the 2003 Berlin Declaration
  • the Creative Commons attribution (CC-BY) license is preferred (version not indicated)

The plan also states that, in the interests of equity, open access fees are to be covered by funders and universities and not individual researchers (point 7). While open licenses remain silent on the question of payment, it is not feasible in practice to charge for a publication with an open license.

How will Plan-S change publishing?

Under the plan, publishers will be paid upfront by national research groups to cover the costs of editing and keeping studies online (European Scientist).

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