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Princeton University Faculty Commit to Open Access
Posted On October 6, 2011
The open access (OA) movement continues to add allies as the faculties of major universities, from which so much scholarship originates, join the cause. The latest addition to dozens of other higher education institutions with OA policies in place is Princeton University. The Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy of the Ivy League school unanimously agreed to a proposal recommended by the nine-member Ad-hoc Faculty Committee to study Open Access, set up in late 2010. Although details and procedures for implementing the policy have still to be worked out, the policy requires all faculty to ensure copies of their articles are available for public access. However, waivers can be granted in special cases, which may occur more often than OA proponents would desire as some publishers have begun to demand them as a condition for publication.

In a meeting on Sept.19, 2011, Princeton’s faculty agreed to grant the 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.” Not all content produced by Princeton faculty is covered by the new policy. It does not cover “unpublished drafts, not books, fiction, poetry, music, film, lecture notes, case studies, etc.”

As to waivers from this policy that might grant copyright to publishers, the language of the policy states, “Upon the express direction of a Faculty member, the Provost or the Provost’s designate will waive or suspend application of this license for a particular article authored or co-authored by that Faculty member.” In an FAQ for Princeton faculty, the question is posed, “Q. Doesn’t the waiver make the policy completely toothless in practice?” To which the response is “A. One might think so, but in fact the experience of other universities is that they can use a university 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.”

Andrew W. Appel, department chair and Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science, Department of Computer Science and chair of the Ad-hoc Committee, described the new policy: “Basically, this means that when professors publish their academic work in the form of articles in journals or conferences, they should not sign a publication contract that prevents the authors from also putting a copy of their paper on their own web page or in their university's public-access repository…. Action like this by Princeton's faculty (and by the faculties at more than a dozen other universities in 2009-10) will help push those publishers [those with restrictive policies] into the 21st century.”

The recommendation by the Ad-hoc Committee specifically indicates that the university should have a system in place for posting the articles for public access. “In addition, an open-access policy permits the University to run an ‘open-access repository’ where the faculty can conveniently make those articles available …. Although it makes sense to adopt such a policy even if the University does not establish an open-access repository of its own, we believe that the University and its faculty will benefit most from this policy if it does establish such a repository. The University already runs a public data-storage archive that could be adapted for this purpose. We recommend that the University establish such a repository, but we recognize that there are many issues of implementation and resources to be considered, so we do not make any specific recommendation regarding implementation.”

The recommendation points out additional benefits from a repository and hints rather heavily at the prestige factor such a repository would give as they have “at our peer institutions,” by enabling Princeton to “offer a picture of the range of scholarship in the University at large.”

Indeed, the devil is always in the details. One commentator urged Princeton to follow Harvard’s example in more than the wording of it OA policy and require an “immediate deposit” of articles. At present, Princeton does have a DataSpace (Dspace) system, and Karin Trainer, Princeton’s university librarian and a member of the Ad-hoc Committee, said that it was under investigation.

Trainer expected numerous changes would occur in response to the new policy. She stated, “We didn’t feel that it was initially as important to move on the institutional repository issue as to get the agreement on the upon access policy in place. The first phase for us was campus-wide approval of open access. The next step, Phase 2, will be more general education on open access throughout the faculty and university. While it passed unanimously and every faculty member had a copy of the proposal, we still think some faculty don’t quite grasp what the policy means or how to respond to it. Phase 3 will consider implementation details. We’re still working on that. We have had DSpace for some time and we’re used to dealing with it in the library and on the campus computer.”

Trainer did not expect much publisher resistance and was sorry to hear the rumor that Elsevier has been asking for waivers. “Frankly, we did not expect publisher resistance or at least not officially,” said Trainer. “We, suspected some, not all, would not be happy about it, but we didn’t predict any would step forward and officially oppose it. University policy is that faculty have rights to their own works, works created with the resources of the university. We know publishers are facing hard times, but the current system simply cannot be sustained. The precipitous decline in library budgets around the country means current financial understandings with publishers are on a collision course. Publishers inevitably must find that income streams from libraries will decline.”

And whose content is it anyway? Kevin Smith, director of scholarly communications at Duke University’s Perkins Library, pointed out in his blog:

Probably the most important fact about these policies, indeed, is that they represent an assertion of authorial control. We so often hear publishers and others in the content industry talk about protecting copyright, by which they usually mean the rights they hold by assignment from a creator, that it is salutary to remind academics that they own copyright in their scholarship from the moment their original expression is fixed in tangible form. Transferring those rights to a publisher is one option they have, and it has become a tradition. But it is only one option, and the tradition is beginning to be questioned.

The proponents of open access seem to increase daily and to more and more unify their efforts. For example, this summer they established the Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions (COAPI), scheduled to meet at the early November Berlin 9 Open Access Conference in Washington, D.C. and again at the March 2012 SPARC meeting in Kansas City, Mo. The only disunities seem to be minor scuffles between claimants to the status of “first to post a policy.” So far, the Right-the-Longest award seems to belong to the University of North Carolina, which, according to Peggy Hoon, UNC’s scholarly communications librarian, had all 16 campuses on board in the year 2000.

Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By Stevan Harnad10/7/2011 11:24:22 PM


1. First, congratulations to Princeton for adopting an open access mandate: a copyright-reservation policy, adopted by unanimous faculty vote.

2. Princeton is following in the footsteps of Harvard in adopting the copyright-reservation policy pioneered by Stuart Shieber and Peter Suber.

3. I hope that Princeton will now also follow in the footsteps of Harvard by adding an immediate-deposit requirement with no waiver option to its copyright-reservation mandate, as Harvard has done.

4. The Princeton copyright-reservation policy, like the Harvard copyright-reservation policy, can be waived if the author wishes: This is to allow authors to retain the freedom to choose where to publish, even if the journal does not agree to the copyright-reservation.

5. Adding an immediate-deposit clause, with no opt-out waiver option, retains all the properties and benefits of the copyright-reservation policy while ensuring that all articles are nevertheless deposited in the institutional repository upon publication, with no exceptions: Access to the deposited article can be embargoed, but deposit itself cannot; access is a copyright matter, deposit is not.

6. Depositing all articles upon publication, without exception, is crucial to reaching 100% open access with certainty, and as soon as possible; hence it is the right example to set for the many other universities worldwide that are now contemplating emulating Harvard and Princeton by adopting open access policies of their own; copyright reservation alone, with opt-out, is not.

7. The reason it is imperative that the deposit clause must be immediate and without a waiver option is that, without that, both when and whether articles are deposited at all is indeterminate: With the added deposit requirement the policy is a mandate; without it, it is just a gentleman/scholar's agreement.

[Footnote: Princeton's open access policy is also unusual in having been adopted before Princeton has created an open access repository for its authors to deposit in: It might be a good idea to create the repository as soon as possible so Princeton authors can get into the habit of practising what they pledge from the outset...]

Stevan Harnad

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