A question of respect

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Publishers must respect researchers‘ rights to publish open access – this is what CESAER, the European University Association(EUA) and Science Europe call for in a joint statement from May, 25. The organisations represent over 880 universities, research institutions and funders in Europe. With this statement, they demonstrate a strong show of support for open access and against resisting efforts of publishers who tenaciously cling to outdated publishing models.

The statement is a reaction to an open letter published by cOAlition S in April 2021, that addresses researchers. The letter describes publishing practices that deliberately confuse authors, are non-transparent and undermine authors‘ rights to publish their accepted author manuscript (AAM) under a CC BY licence without delay in accordance with the Rights Retention Strategy (RRS).

cOAlition S describes some of these practices. For example, some publishers try to redirect submissions in a subscription-based journal to a full open access journal. Some publishers state that they do not support RRS and publisher-specific embargo periods apply. However, authors do not need the publisher’s permission to publish their AAM under a CC BY licence as long as the publisher has been notified of this pre-licensing. In other cases, authors are actively encouraged to violate their funder’s terms by being required to sign contractual clauses that prohibit them from immediately publishing their AAM. If they do sign, they are threatened with the possibility of loss of future funding in one case, and a lawsuit by the publisher in the other.

The deliberate concealment of information disenfranchises authors and does not allow them to meet the publisher on an equal footing. It reduces their role to that of a mere content generator for profit and also reveals the position of power in which some publishers see and unfortunately still often find themselves.

Transparency and trustworthiness of publishers are an important issue also in the context of predatory publishing. Organisations such as COPE and OASPAhave emerged to provide appropriate guidelines regarding publication ethics in the first place. The incidents described by cOAlition S certainly do not reinforce confidence in the publishing system. Where is the line between unethical and fraudulent behaviour?

And what does that mean for authors who are bound by conditions set by research funders? Well, at best it means spending more time on research where to publish due to a lack of transparency and, at worst, having to bear the publication costs themselves. Regardless of whether authors have to finance these costs personally or not, such experiences could have a negative impact on researchers. This in turn means that institutions need to inform their researchers about such practices and at the same time mitigate the uncertainties that arise from them.

In their statement, CESAER, EUA and Science Europe emphasise that such practices by publishers hinder progress towards an open science communication; research results must be made freely available without embargo periods. The publishers in question are therefore urged to change business models based on barriers and restrictions, which are therefore outdated, or to communicate processes and fees transparently and clearly. If a publisher requires authors to give up their rights, they should document this clearly and publicly so that authors can make informed decisions.

Ultimately, this is what it is all about: respecting the rights of authors, including the right to put their publications online freely and without embargo periods. Michael Murphy, President of the EUA, calls this „a simple question of fundamental values and respect.”

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