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Open-access Plan S to allow publishing in any journal

Funders will override policies of subscription journals that don’t let scientists share accepted manuscripts under open licence.

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Funding agencies behind the radical open-access (OA) initiative Plan S have announced a policy that could make it possible for researchers to bypass journals’ restrictions on open publishing. The change could allow scientists affected by Plan S to publish in any journal they want — even in subscription titles, such as Science, that haven’t yet agreed to comply with the scheme.

Plan S, which kicks in from 2021, aims to make scientific and scholarly works free to read and reproduce as soon as they are published. Research funders that have signed up to it include the World Health Organization, Wellcome in London, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, and 17 national funders, mostly in Europe. The European Commission also says it will follow the plan.

Under the initiative, scientists funded by Plan S agencies must publish their work OA. If a journal doesn’t allow that, researchers can instead post an accepted version of their article — an author accepted manuscript, or AAM — in an online repository as soon as their paper appears. This kind of author-initiated sharing is sometimes called green open access. Under Plan S, it comes with a key condition that has so far been anathema to many subscription journals: the AAM must be shared under a liberal ‘CC-BY’ publishing licence that would allow others to republish and translate the work.

Think green

“Very few” publishers allow the combination of both CC-BY and zero-embargo sharing of AAMs, says Bianca Kramer, a librarian at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Publishers often ask authors to sign agreements that stipulate that AAMs can be shared only under a more restrictive licence. For instance, some 2,800 journals from large publishers do allow scientists to post their accepted manuscripts immediately online, but fewer than 20 allow both zero embargo and CC-BY licensing, according to an assessment by Kramer and librarian Jeroen Bosman, also at Utrecht University. This has led some researchers to worry that they won’t be able to publish in subscription journals and comply with Plan S’s green OA route.

On 15 July, however, Coalition S, the group representing the plan’s members, announced that funders will simply override this prohibition. Plan S funders will make it a condition of grants that authors apply CC-BY licences to their AAMs, meaning that they retain the right to share their manuscripts in this way, no matter what a journal’s publishing agreement says.

That means researchers can publish in any journal, even behind a paywall, and still comply with Plan S. Funders hope that publishers will change their agreements to allow authors to share AAMs under a CC-BY licence online, says Robert Kiley, head of open research at Wellcome. But if they don’t, he says, then the already-agreed grant condition “has legal precedence over any later publishing agreement”. It’s still possible, however, that a publisher could simply refuse to consider such manuscripts at all, Kiley adds.

Freedom of choice

“This is great news, especially for funded researchers who feared that their choice of journal might be restricted as a result of current publisher policies,” tweeted Chris Banks, the director of library services at Imperial College London.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC, which publishes Science, says it might now permit CC-BY sharing of manuscripts. “As an option for Plan S compliance for authors who have relevant mandates or recommendations from their funding agencies, AAAS is exploring changes to our licence to publish and our policy that would enable authors to distribute the Author’s Accepted Manuscript — which we have long permitted to be available upon publication at an author’s personal website or in their institutional repository — under a public copyright licence (CC-BY),” says an AAAS spokesperson. (Nature’s publisher, Springer Nature, announced earlier this year that it will offer researchers a way to publish open access in Nature and most other Nature-branded journals in a way that is compliant with Plan S.)

There are still many questions about how Plan S will work, says Lisa Hinchliffe, a librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. “Will authors actually deposit their AAM immediately? And, how will that compliance be monitored and enforced in a timely manner?”

Coalition S says that Plan S will apply to papers generated by grant calls issued from 2021 onwards, although individual funders might choose to introduce it earlier. However, funders won't all insert the new language on AAMs into their grant agreements by 2021; many will, but others will implement it later.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-02134-6

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