In other words, they reject Plan S’ “Rights Retention Strategy” (RRS). This involves the inclusion of wording in a submitted manuscript asserting that the author has applied an open copyright licence, known as CC-BY, to the accepted version of their work. This ensures that it can be made available immediately on publication in a repository, instead of being kept under an embargo.
Following questions from the librarians about whether Springer Nature will reject papers that incorporated such language, the publisher later clarified that while it never rejects papers for reasons other than editorial merit, if authors declined to pay its APC (for which Springer offers various kinds of help) they must sign a licence imposing an embargo on sharing their manuscript.
While the funders behind Plan S, known as cOAlition S, have encouraged institutions to incorporate strategies such as the RRS into their policies, many have lacked the determination to counteract the pressure from publishers – which, for example, led to abandonment of Plan S’ original intention to impose a price cap on APCs. That is because they believe their academics would react badly to being told they can no longer receive sufficient funds from them to publish open access in high-profile journals such as Nature – even if, as funders, they have signed up to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (Dora), which states that research should be assessed on its merits rather than on the prestige of journals it is published in.
This outcome of cOAlition S’ concession on journal price caps – Nature’s non-negotiable €9,500 as the price of open access – underlines the need to equip ourselves to defend publication rights from early on in negotiations with publishers.
Even if only a few funders and institutions have the sufficient funding and power to instigate change, everyone must be behind that change, so that, as in California, threats of walking away from publishing deals do not ring hollow. Universities should do everything they can to raise internal awareness of what is at stake – as well as to rally support for initiatives such as European research libraries’ “#ZeroEmbargo” initiative, which is pushing for a Pan-European model law enshrining zero-embargo periods for lawful self-archiving in open repositories.
Academics themselves can follow the lead of Stephen Eglen, a researcher in computational neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, who has highlighted the benefits of the RRS to peers in his Primer on the Rights Retention Strategy and used his profile to advocate for it on Twitter. They can also join or establish peer networks, engage with campaigns and help cOAlition S document publisher practices in response to its RRS statement.
And we librarians can commit to creating environments where researchers can learn about the history of open access, talk openly about their concerns pertaining to losing control of their work, and explore the suitability of different Creative Commons licences to different disciplines.
The ins and outs of publishing deals are very complex, so it is understandable if busy academics lack the time to fully get their heads around what is at stake – and the implications for their careers and research practices – early in negotiations. But, as California showed, the result can be that research that was previous locked behind paywalls and embargoes suddenly becomes open to everyone. The alternative is for academics to become aware of the issues too late: when they have no choice but to dig deep in their research funds (or their own pockets) to comply with their funders’ perfectly reasonable open access mandates.
As the pandemic eats into national research budgets and institutional funds, making subscription fees and APCs even harder for scholars to afford, it will only become more important than ever that Plan S compliance does not depend on ability to pay.
Author Bio: Alice Gibson is a research support librarian at the Royal Veterinary College. She has recently completed her PhD in Philosophy at Kingston University.