Open Access Initiatives in Universities (my contribution to the CCCC IP Annual)

The CCCC Intellectual Property Committee publishes an annual review of interesting IP developments geared especially toward composition scholars. You can download a copy of the IP Annual here [pdf], under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States license.

Here’s the table of contents:

  • Introduction: Copyright and Intellectual Property in 2011 (Clancy Ratliff, Editor)
  • The Defeat of the Research Works Act and Its Implications (Mike Edwards)
  • Open Access Initiatives (Annette Vee)
  • One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: What Golan v. Holder means for the Future of the Public Domain (Traci Zimmerman)
  • “Sentence First—Verdict Afterwards”: The Protect IP and the Stop Online Piracy Acts (Kim D. Gainer)
  • A Dark Day on the Internet Leads to a Sea Change in Copyright Policy (Laurie Cubbison)
  • Occupy Trademark: Branding a Political Movement (Timothy R. Amidon)

The best thing about Creative Commons licensed and open access work is that we can distribute it more widely. In that spirit, I’m pasting my contribution to the IP Annual below (modified slightly: more linkified than in the pdf version). I wrote this as a short but relatively comprehensive review of the current status of open access initiatives in universities: what they are; why they’re happening; and what they mean for us as scholars. At the end, I include some good resources for understanding and negotiating open access scholarship.

Open Access Initiatives

by Annette Vee, excerpted from the IP Annual, published by CCCC IP Committee [pdf]

In September 2011, the Princeton University Faculty Senate approved an “open
access” policy for faculty research, adding the university’s name to a growing
list of research institutions opting for such policies. Harvard University adopted
a similar policy in 2005 (the first of such kind in the United States) and MIT did
in 2008. Following the lead of these elite institutions, many others have adopted
or are considering adopting open access policies, including University of
Pittsburgh, Columbia University, and Emory University. These initiatives aren’t
limited to the United States, either: University of Glasgow (Scotland), University
of Latvia, and University of Khartoum (Sudan) all have participated in open
access discussions and initiatives on campus (“Open Access Call”). A dramatic
graph of the increased numbers in open access initiatives can be seen at the
Registry of Open Access Repositories Mandatory Archiving Policies

The move in “open access” from buzzword to policy afects the
publication, circulation, and readership of our scholarship. These efects are
largely positive for writing researchers: greater circulation for our work;
enlarged rights and control over our scholarship; and new venues and formats
for publication. This brief report outlines trends in open access initiatives, some
of their recent precedents, and a few of the most salient implications for our

What Is Open Access?

Open access (OA) literature is freely available online and has fewer restrictions
on its use. According to Peter Suber, the Director of Harvard’s Open Access
Project, “OA removes price barriers (subscriptions, licensing fees, pay-per-view
fees) and permission barriers (most copyright and licensing restrictions).” OA
policies are often explained in terms of the labor, funding, and distribution of
scholarship: faculty contribute the bulk of labor for journals through their
writing and editing; faculty work is generally funded by universities and public
institutions; and free access to this work allows for greater distribution of
scholarship as well as some return to the public for funding its production. OA
scholarship is compatible with peer review: although scholars can make their
research available on blogs or institutional repositories without peer review, the
paradigm of OA policies is traditional, peer-reviewed scholarship.

Two major forces are currently moving scholarship towards OA. The first
originates from faculty or universities, and Princeton’s, Harvard’s, and MIT’s
open access policies for faculty research are examples. The second originates
from publication venues such as journals; examples are Springer Open, and the
journals Kairos, Enculturation, and Digital Humanities Quarterly, which publish
8scholarship online without paywalls or logins. Working in concert with both of
these forces are repositories for OA scholarship such as BioMed, ERIC, and
Harvard’s DASH.

Faculty OA Policies

The background copyright policy of most research universities assigns copyright
ownership in scholarship to the faculty who produce it. This copyright
ownership assignation distinguishes university faculty from most other kinds of
employees, whose “work for hire” basis means that their employers own the
copyright in their work. As copyright owners in their work, university faculty
are then at liberty to assign their copyrights to whomever they choose. Through
a Copyright Transfer Agreement, journal publishers often request copyright
ownership in exchange for publication of scholarship. Publishers may then
license back to the author limited distribution or reuse rights.

OA policies such as those at Harvard, MIT and Princeton are designed to
help faculty either reclaim some of those rights from publishers or to better
position them to bargain for retaining their copyright. Princeton’s policy states:
Each Faculty member hereby grants to The Trustees of Princeton University a
nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to exercise any and all copyrights
in his or her scholarly articles published in any medium, whether now known or
later invented, provided the articles are not sold by the University for a profit,
and to authorize others to do the same. […]The University hereby authorizes
each member of the faculty to exercise any and all copyrights in his or her
scholarly articles […]. (“Recommended open access policy” [pdf]).
Under this policy (which echoes Harvard’s), the author and the university can
both exercise copyrights; both have rights to distribute the work as long as they
do so without making a profit from it.

Faculty-driven OA policies can be classified as “opt-in” or “opt-out.” An
“opt-out” policy (such as the one adopted by Harvard, MIT and Princeton) is
more powerful—it is in force unless a faculty member requests to opt-out of it,
whereas the “opt-in” policy (adopted by Nebraska, Emory, and Michigan) is only
activated if a faculty member opts in. Because opting-out of the policy is made
relatively easy for faculty—for instance, Harvard ofers an online waiver request
form—one might suspect the policy to be of less force in practice. However, as
Princeton Faculty Committee explains, universities can use an “open-access
policy of this kind (even with waivers) to lean on the journals to adjust their
standard contracts so that waivers are not required, or with a limited waiver that
simply delays open-access for a few months.” Additionally, while faculty under
an “opt-out” policy can assign their copyright to a publisher, they cannot sign
away their university’s right, which means that the university can still freely
distribute that work, generally in an institutional repository.

Faculty OA policies also difer in terms of their deposit requirement—that
is, where the scholarship must be deposited to comply with the OA policy.
Harvard’s policy requires that faculty deposit their work in their OA repository,
DASH ( Princeton has no such repository (although the
faculty recommended the development of one when they approved the OA
policy) and does not require deposit. At Princeton, faculty can elect to deposit
their work in a repository specific to their field (e.g., PubMed or arXiv). Many
universities who do not yet have an official OA policy for faculty provide online
repositories for faculty to publish their work, for example: University of
Pittsburgh’s D-Scholarship@Pitt (, and University
of Illinois’ IDEALS (

OA Journals

Along with the trend in faculty-driven OA policies, a number of OA journals
have cropped up in the last few years. Most prominent are the Public Library of
Science journals (PLoS One, PLoS Biology, etc.,, which
publish print articles alongside digital versions. To cover costs, PLoS charges
authors’ sponsoring institutions for publication. Recently-launched humanities
journals such as the International Journal of Learning and Media (
and the International Journal of Communication ( are sponsored
by hosting universities (MIT and USC, respectively) and grants. The rhetoric and
technology journal Kairos (, operating as an
online open access journal since 1996, relies on grant support as well as support
from editors’ institutions.

The OA journals mentioned above are peer-reviewed and have editorial
boards comprised of leading scholars in their fields, proving that OA publishing
can be just as competitive and prestigious as publishing behind paywalls.

Why the Recent Trend in OA Initiatives?

OA has been driven by shrinking university budgets, better software platforms
for distribution, and faculty’s increasing recognition that wider distribution and
publicity means higher citation counts and better reputation. As it has become
easier and more accepted to do so, more and more faculty distribute their work
on public archives, blogs, or personal websites, and OA initiatives echo that

While university budgets have been cut worldwide, the cost of journal
subscriptions has risen. Libraries are forced to make difficult choices about what
to cut, yet the major commercial journal publishers have relatively high profit
margins. These financial concerns have become political concerns as well: why is
university research, much of it publicly funded, not freely available to the
public? University of Pittsburgh math professor Thomas Hales quips, “We
researchers create the content of the journals. We conduct the research, write
the articles, referee the papers and staf the editorial boards. We do this for free
every morning and buy the publications back again in the evening” (“Protest
“). In a recent Inside Higher Ed editorial, provosts of eleven large,
publicly-funded research universities wrote in support of OA scholarship: “we
believe that open access to such federally-funded research reports facilitates
scholarly collaboration, accelerates progress, and reinforces our government’s
accountability to taxpayers and commitment to promoting an informed citizenry
essential to the enduring stability of our democracy.” With shrinking public
10funding, faculty researchers are realizing that we are not isolated from
economics and politics. The push for OA scholarship is, in some ways, a response
to the economic and political forces of corporatization and anti-intellectualism.

These economic and political concerns about scholarship are
underscoring shifts in scholarship itself—moves toward digital scholarship in the
humanities and full, published datasets in the sciences. The Internet allows for
more complex scholarship to be published; slowly, that scholarship is being
done, and journals are publishing it. A wave of books about the crisis of the book
—notably Ted Striphas’s Late Age of Print, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned
(which specifically addresses the scholarly monograph)—have
highlighted the fact that our traditional, print-based and commerciallyoutsourced publishing model is untenable. Recently developed institutions and
technologies ofer excellent support systems for OA publishing; these include
Creative Commons Licensing (, Open Journal
Systems (, SPARC (, and
DSpace (

Changes in publishing, politics, budgets, and technology have all
contributed to this trend toward OA scholarship. However, recent OA initiatives
have a rich lineage. The dominant repository for math, statistics and physics,
arXiv ( was started in 1991, and its first web interface was
installed in 1994. While not peer-reviewed, this repository is the definitive record
for those fields, due in part to its comprehensiveness and its afordance of rapid
publication. The wide acceptance of the repository has enabled researchers in
these fields to negotiate with publishers for distribution rights to their work. Out
of a December, 2001 meeting of the Open Society Institute (OSI), the Budapest
Open Access Initiative grew out. This influential initiative strove to accelerate
progress in the international efort to make research articles in all academic
fields freely available on the inte it funded must be made publicly available
within a year of publication. Because so much medical research is at least
partially supported by the NIH, this mandate instantiated a de facto OA policy
for the field of medicine.

More specific targeting of commercial publishing has put a finer—and
more political—point on OA initiatives. In 2003, the Turing Award-winning
computer scientist Donald Knuth led a widely-publicized revolt against Elsevier,
the publisher for the Journal of Algorithms, which he had edited since 1980. In a
comprehensively researched letter to the JoA board [pdf], he outlined the paradox of
Elsevier’s decrease in publication costs and its increasing price for the journal.
Knuth, the originator of TeX, the popular typesetting system for math and
computer science), notes that in 1980 the publisher performed the typesetting,
keyboarding and proofreading, “[b]ut now, the authors have taken over most of
that work, and software out the rising price of the journal. Moreover, he was
skeptical of Elsevier’s claim to need exclusive publication rights to avoid
apocryphal publications and make the scientific record “clear and unambiguous”
(Knuth 8). He called a straw poll for the editorial board to decide whether to
stick with Elsevier. As a result, the Editorial Board resigned en masse in 2004 to
found the journal Transactions on Algorithms, published by the professional
organization ACM. Ironically, Knuth closed his letter by stating, “I’m
emphatically not a revolutionary. I just want to do the right thing.”

Another accidental revolutionary, Fields Medal-winner Tim Gowers,
launched a highly publicized action against Elsevier in early long held: he would
no longer review for or publish in Elsevier journals. He cited their high prices,
unorthodox practices of “bundling” journals and their support of the Research
Works Act (H.R. 3699), which threatened to undo some of the work NIH’s OA
mandate had done. His post was a spark in dry tinder: a commentor to his blog
responded by setting up a website, “The Cost of Knowledge”
(, to collect signatures for other scholars
interested in taking a public stand against Elsevier. The successful protest drove
Elsevier to drop its support of the Research Works Act and has raised awareness
among faculty about the predatory business practices of Elsevier and other
commercial publishers.

As a result of all of these forces encouraging OA scholarship, next year’s
IP annual report is likely to list quite a few more schools and journals committed
to OA.

What Does “Open Access” Mean for Our Scholarship?

OA policies often allow for greater authorial control in publications, as they
permit researchers to retain their copyright. With copyright ownership,
researchers are free to distribute their work on personal websites, institutional
and collective repositories where they are indexed by finding tools such as
Google Scholar. Greater dissemination of scholarly work could lead to better,
more well-informed research. A 2001 article in Nature Debates was the first to
recognize that OA scholarship is more frequently cited (Lawrence), but this
finding has been confirmed through subsequent studies (for a more complete list
of articles charting dissemination of research in OA, see here: Moreover, OA scholarship is
available to independent researchers or those associated with less affluent
institutions. As research institutions in developing countries are growing
stronger, and as faculty positions associated with elite institutions with vast
libraries become more rare, the greater availability of scholarship may help to
erase some of the resource disparities between research institutions worldwide.
PLoS argues that the benefits of OA scholarship are:

Accelerated discovery. With open access, researchers can read and build on the findings of others without restriction.

Public enrichment. Much scientific and medical research is paid
for with public funds. Open access allows taxpayers to see the
results of their investment.

Improved education. Open access means that teachers and their
students have access to the latest research findings throughout
the world.

As the PLoS argument suggests, OA has implications for our teaching as well as
our research. Students, under financial pressure from a retracting economy and
tuition hikes, can access OA scholarship more easily and cheaply than work
behind paywalls. Additionally, OA education initiatives such as free online
12courses at MIT and Stanford are in line with the trend in OA scholarship. The
OA repository Open.Michigan strives to make course materials available not
only to members of their university community, but also to the public at large.

Although OA scholarship is clearly able to maintain high quality
standards, it is unclear whether it is compatible with the commercial journal
publishing system over the long run. Financing of journal publishing may be
taken up more by public grants and universities, which may lead to some painful
transitions in journal quality and budgets. Yet sanguine OA advocates claim
these risks are worth taking because OA promises so much for democracy,
education, and public knowledge.


Sherpa/Romeo allows people to check the copyright policies of journals and rates them according to their policies on open access:

DSpace is a turnkey, open source software platform for establishing institutional repositories:

OJS (Open Journal System) is an open source journal management and publishing platform sponsored by the Public Knowledge Project:

The Directory of Open Access Repositories registers OA repositores worldwide:

SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) provides an author addendum to add to copyright transfer agreements:

Director of Harvard Open Access Project and SPARC Senior Researcher Peter Suber’s Open Access Overview:

Harvard’s Model Open Access Policy for institutions:

The Open Citation Project – Reference Linking and Citation Analysis for Open Archives, catalogues the research on citation impact for OA scholarship:

Works Cited

11 Research Provosts. “Values in Scholarship.” Inside Higher Ed. 23 Feb 2012. Web. 8 Mar 2012.

“Budapest Open Access Initiative.” Open Society Foundations. n.d. Web. 7 Mar 2012.

“The Case for Open Access.” Public Library of Science. n.d. Web. 7 Mar 2012.

Gowers, Tim. “Elsevier—My part in its downfall.” Gowers’s Weblog. 21 Jan 2012. Web. 29 Jan 2012.

Knuth, Donald. Letter to Editoral Board, Journal of Algorithms. 25 Oct 2003. Web. 7 Mar 2012.

Lawrence, Steve. “Free Online Availability Substantially Increases a Paper’s Impact.” Nature Web Debates. 31 May 2001. Web. 7 Mar 2011.

“Open Access Call for Proposals.” EIFL. 29 Feb 2012. Web. 8 Mar 2011.

[Princeton University] Ad-hoc Faculty Committee to study Open Access. “Recommended Open Access Policy.” 24 Mar 2011. Web. 7 Mar 2012.

“Protest launched against journal publisher.” University Times, University of Pittsburgh. 9 Feb 2012. Web. 7 Mar 2012.

“Revised Policy on Enhancing Public Access to Archived Publications Resulting from NIH-Funded Research.” National Institutes of Health. 11 Jan 2008. Web. 8 Mar 2012.

Suber, Peter. “Open Access Overview.” 21 Jun 2004, last updated 3 Mar 2012. Web. 8 Mar 2012.

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