Panel: Europe’s Open Access Plan S Unlikely to Sway U.S. Policy

Panel: Europe’s Open Access Plan S Unlikely to Sway U.S. Policy

A coalition of European national research institutes’ bold plan to divert the researchers it funds away from publishing results in journals that collect subscription fees would face a tougher path in the U.S. — this was the consensus of a law and policy panel assembled Feb. 7 by the Association of American Publishers at its annual professional and scholarly publishers conference.

The panel cited differences between the states and Europe in history, law, process and a current U.S. policy that clearly acknowledges the role of publishers and the need for commercial innovation.

“It may be wishful thinking, but I don’t see the plan as currently proposed having much traction in the U.S.,” said Danny Marti, head of global government affairs, RELX Group. “The U.S. has a quite different history and regulatory framework.”

In September 2018, 11 national funding agencies across Europe got creative with the shift key dubbing themselves cOAlition S. Much like the name’s flip on cap convention, the group plans to flip conventions in the scholarly research publishing industry by mandating that all research it funds be published in journals where all articles are available for free. The group also proposes that its members place caps on the fee a journal can collect upfront in exchange for publishing an article openly on the web.

“That wouldn’t be so concerning if it was just going to impact Europe, but the plan will have an impact on publishers in the United States,” said Allan Adler, AAP executive vice president and general counsel. “The most active proponents of Plan S have come to the United States to convince officials here that they should adopt it as well.”

High impact journals across many fields operate under a hybrid model where any individual article can be published on an open access basis with payment of an article processing charge (APC), but other articles are locked behind paywalls and available only to institutions that pay hefty subscriptions.

The stance against hybrid journals has softened since the September announcement, but any exception or alternative the coalition has brought forth has an expiration date in a not-too-distant, subscription-free future. A price cap on APCs also remains a key element of the plan.

“There are items [in Plan S] that I think raise significant competition concerns—with bodies talking, parenthetically perhaps colluding, to fix prices and share pricing data, telling researchers where they can and cannot publish—to where I don’t see that taking hold in that form, in that manor here in the United States,” Marti explained.

Adler noted that the coalition’s plan was not developed with open public comment and recounted how hearings and open comment have been a staple of how U.S. open access policy has evolved going back to the early 2000s.

Current U.S. policy dates to a February 22, 2013 White House policy statement in support of open access to federally funded research output, including published scholarship and datasets. The memorandum, officially issued by the director of the Executive Office of Science and Technology, requires that every federal agency with R&D expenditures of over $100 million develop a plan to support increased public access to federally funded research. 

The U.S. policy statement included language recognizing that publishers provide valuable services including the coordination of peer review that are essential for ensuring the high quality and integrity of scholarly publications.

Alder pointed to language in the U.S. policy instructing agencies “to enhance innovation and competitiveness” and maximize “new business opportunities” whereas “Plan S has the single-minded objective of flipping the commercial publication models that we are familiar with and are operated by many of the companies represented in this room.”

 Even if Plan S proponents show up and make a convincing argument, it’s hard to see a path for any policy change given the current political upheaval in Washington and the looming Presidential campaign cycle.

It also appears as if some of Plan S support in Europe is coming from associated educational ministries and institutions, but not always the key funding body. Out of 43 possible signatories, only 11 signed on initially. Since the initial announcement, two additional national funders and three charitable foundations—the Wellcome Trust in the UK, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the US, and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond in Sweden—have joined the coalition. 

Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive, The Publishers Association (UK) said it is an open question as to whether the U.K.s main research funding body will adopt the key provisions of Plan S.

Even if the plan does not come to pass in the U.K. and the U.S., there is enough funding and individual researchers bound to it that publishers need to prepare for compliance strategies.

Simba Information offers reports covering issues relating to access in scholarly publishing including: Open Access Journal Publishing 2018-2022, Open Access Book Publishing 2018-2022, Scholarly & Professional E-Book Publishing 2018-2022, and Global Social Science & Humanities Publishing 2018-2022.