RCUK Open Access Policy – Our Preference for Gold

In this blog post I want to outline the reasons why ‘Gold’ is the preferred route for Open Access for the Research Councils.

Our overall philosophy on Open Access is underpinned by four key principles, first detailed in our 2005 position statement on Access to Research Outputs.  These principles are around Accessibility, Quality, Efficiency and Cost Effectiveness, and Long-term Preservation.

The first of our four key principles is that the ideas and knowledge derived from publicly-funded research must be made available and accessible for public use, interrogation and scrutiny, as widely, rapidly and effectively as practicable.  It is this principle which is at the heart of our preference for Gold.

The scope of this principle is around ‘public use’, which covers many more potential users than just those within the research community.  Many of these users, and I am aware that there will be exceptions to this, are not familiar with how research papers are produced and distributed, and will not understand the subtle differences between pre-prints, post-prints and the publisher’s version of a paper.  Our concern is to ensure that all users have access to the highest quality version of a paper, and for us the most effective way of doing that is for a user to have access to the published version on a journal web site.  If a user wants to read a paper from Nature, the best way to ensure they are reading the definitive version is to read the version available from the Nature web site.  Gold delivers this universal access to the published version of the paper.

For us ‘use’ means much more than just being able to read research papers – it means having the ability to re-use and exploit research papers in the widest possible sense – be that text and data mining to advance new areas of research, to re-presenting collections of research papers in particular areas, to mashing together elements of research papers with other information to create new information products.  With maximal openness and accessibility, comes maximal opportunity to exploit, and thus maximal opportunity for innovation.  And from innovation comes growth, and benefit to the UK as a whole.  Gold delivers this maximal openness and opportunity for innovation through the CC-BY licence which we require where we pay an APC.

Widely’ means that access to the research outputs we fund must not be limited to those who can afford to pay for subscriptions, or for copies of articles from a journal’s web site.  Hence they should be available without cost.  Gold delivers free access for all users.

Rapidly’ means that articles should be available as soon as they are published, or with a minimum delay.  Gold delivers immediate access on publication with no embargo period.

Effectively’ means that the systems used to provide access must be straightforward for all users, and should be scalable and sustainable.  In the long-term, Gold with payment of APCs will provide a scalable and sustainable solution, to cover the costs of publishing, especially for the learned societies who are key members of the UK research community.  Gold is also straightforward for users – if you want a copy of a paper you go to a journal web site, rather than having to search a repository, and then possibly wait whilst you contact the author to request a copy.  It is also not clear to me how scalable a ‘request a copy’ or ‘Almost-OAfunction is for papers in high public demand.  An author might be happy to email copies to a few researchers, but what happens when they get 10’s or 100’s or 1000’s of requests from interested members of the public?

Basically, our preference for Gold can be summarised as we want to make the outputs of the research we fund accessible at the highest quality to the widest number of people, to do the widest range of stuff with, with the least restrictions.  We consider that, at the current time, Gold with CC-BY direct from a journal’s web site provides the route for ensuring that the papers arising from the research we fund are accessible to the widest number of users to meet this preference.

Questions about our Open Access policy?  Please email openaccess@rcuk.ac.uk.