The Wellcome Trust OA mandate takes effectThe Wellcome Trust announced last November that it would soon start requiring OA to the results of all Wellcome-funded research. The policy took effect yesterday, October 1, 2005. The Wellcome Trust is the largest private funder of medical research in the UK and the first research funding agency in the world, private or public, to mandate OA to the publications arising from its research grants.
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #90
October 2, 2005
by Peter Suber
We're three policy steps ahead of where we were in April 2003, when the Wellcome Trust and other major research funding agencies met in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to discuss their interest in OA. (1) At that time, the funders decided to use what they called the carrot, not what they called the stick. Hence, in the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing (issued in June 2003), they agreed to pay the processing fees charged by OA journals but not to require OA archiving. (2) Then in the summer of 2004, both the US House of Representatives and the UK House of Commons recommended mandatory OA archiving for the results of publicly-funded research. In the US, the recommended requirement was weakened to a request and became the NIH public-access policy. In the UK, the recommendation was rejected by the government but picked up by the independent RCUK, which will announce an OA mandate next month to take effect next year. (3) The third step took place yesterday. We now have a working OA mandate from a major funder of research.
The Wellcome Trust policy is superior to the NIH policy in three key respects. First, it's a requirement, not a request. Second, it does not permit delays longer than six months from the date of publication.
The third difference is easy to overlook but at least as important as the first two. The Wellcome policy does not require publisher consent and therefore does not accommodate publisher resistance. The Wellcome policy points out that grantees have agreed to provide OA to their Wellcome-funded research, and that "[a]n author's obligations to the Wellcome Trust will therefore, in almost all cases, pre-date any agreement with a journal." If publishers insist on copyright terms inconsistent with the prior funding agreement, then the Trust simply tells grantees to choose among three options: (a) give the journal fewer rights than it wants and retain the right to comply with the funding agreement, (b) insert a Wellcome-written paragraph into the publisher's copyright transfer agreement allowing the grantee to comply with the funding agreement, or (c) find another publisher.
This is an exemplary solution to the problem. It's not only superior to the NIH policy, which depends on publisher consent, but to the draft RCUK policy, which makes its OA mandate "subject to copyright or licensing arrangements" that might be adopted by publishers.
The Wellcome Trust is a private charity, not a government agency. Hence, the "taxpayer argument" for OA doesn't apply to it. While the taxpayer argument is strong, and properly central to the NIH and RCUK policies, it has tended to steal the limelight from the other strong arguments for OA policies at funding agencies. I hope the Wellcome policy will bring these other arguments back to prominence. OA shares knowledge and accelerates research. It benefits everyone who does research and everyone who depends on research. Funders of research have the same interest in realizing these benefits whether they are using public or private money. If research is useful enough to fund, then it's useful enough to share.
November 2004 announcement of new policy to mandate OA archiving
September 30 press release announcing the October 1 implementation date
Authors Guide and FAQ to the Wellcome Trust OA policy
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