Germany's DFG adopts an open access policy
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #96
April 2, 2006
by Peter Suber
The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) has adopted an OA policy instructing grantees to provide OA to DFG-funded research.  Here's the gist of it from the English version of the announcement:

The DFG expects the research results funded by it to be published and to be made available, where possible, digitally and on the internet via open access. To achieve this, the contributions involved should either be deposited in discipline-specific or institutional electronic archives (repositories) following conventional publication, or should be published in a recognised peer-reviewed open access journal.  When entering into publishing contracts scientists participating in DFG-funded projects should, as far as possible, permanently reserve a non-exclusive right of exploitation for electronic publication of their research results for the purpose of open access. Here, discipline-specific delay periods of generally 6-12 months can be agreed upon, before which publication of previously published research results in discipline-specific or institutional electronic archives may be prohibited.  Please ensure that a note indicating support of the project by the DFG is included in the publication.

Later this month the DFG will issue updated author guidelines that reflect the new policy.

The DFG is the largest research funder in Germany.  While it's independent, like the RCUK in England, it disburses public funds.  Hence, a DFG policy is a national policy, making Germany the second country after US the to adopt a policy encouraging or mandating OA to publicly-funded research.  The UK has an OA mandate in draft form, and the Ukraine has an OA mandate in a bill before Parliament, but neither has yet been adopted.  (If I'm overlooking any, I hope readers will let me know.)

Is the DFG making a request, like the NIH, or imposing a requirement, like the Wellcome Trust?  Neither, really.  It says that authors *should* provide OA to their work (the German verb is sollen, not mussen), which is stronger than a request and weaker than a requirement.  When I asked Johannes Fournier, a program officer at the DFG, whether this characterization seemed right to him, he agreed.  It remains to be seen whether this middle ground will be as effective as the Wellcome's mandate, as ineffective as the NIH's request, or something in between.

I asked Fournier why the DFG didn't go with a straight mandate (using the verb mussen).  Here's how he replied.

You need to realize that the DFG is self-governed by academics and scientists. Consequently, decisions like the one on the open access policy are not made by the DFG's head-office as the administration but by the researchers themselves. Researchers don't like to be forced to do something and they certainly won't force themselves. Germany's basic constitutional law has an article on the so-called freedom of research. It is felt that the decision to publish wherever one wants is an essential part of that freedom of research that should not be restricted at all. An even more important reason for not requiring open access lies in the fact that it can be very difficult for young researchers to publish in highly reputed open access journals (especially in the humanities and in the social sciences there aren't so many of them) and that it could be difficult for them to retain their copyrights in order to self-archive (N.B.: Again, especially in the humanities and in the social sciences, we have to deal with many smaller publishing houses in Germany whose self-archiving policies are not yet included in the SHERPA/ROMEO database; however the DFG just funded a project that will work on assessing those policies in order to contribute to the database). Thus if the DFG made open access mandatory, young researchers could be forced to e.g. publish their best works in journals of lesser reputation which of course would be obstructive for their careers. This is not at all in the interest of the DFG.

We agree that the freedom of authors to publish wherever they like (and can be accepted) is critical.  But there are at least two ways to craft a mandate that is compatible with author freedom.  Here they are, briefly, in the hope that they can fine-tune conversations within DFG and at other funding agencies.

(1) The Wellcome Trust has a clear and strong mandate which, admittedly, appears at first to limit author freedom.  If Wellcome grantees want to publish in a journal whose copyright terms or access policies are inconsistent with the Wellcome OA mandate, then the grantee-authors may try to negotiate, for example, proposing a Wellcome-written amendment to the copyright transfer agreement.  If the journal doesn't accept these terms, then Wellcome tells its grantees to "reconsider where to publish".  While this could in principle limit author freedom, in practice publishers have been eager to work with Wellcome to avoid conflicts of just this kind.  The reality is that no journal wants to exclude Wellcome-funded authors, just as no journal wants to exclude NIH-funded authors.  As a result, Wellcome can take this strong stand, publishers adapt to it, and authors may comply with both their funder's mandate and their publisher's (revised) access policies.  As more funding agencies take a similar stance, the probability will only increase that publishers will adapt rather than force authors to make a painful choice.

Details on the Wellcome Trust OA policy

(2) A very different way to enforce an OA mandate without limiting author freedom is to distinguish deposit in a repository from OA release or dissemination.  If the funding agency separates these two and only mandates deposit, say, at the time the article is accepted for publication, then it might choose not to mandate OA release at all (and merely request or encourage it) or it might mandate OA release only at a later time (after a delay worked out with the copyright holder).  Publishers have no reason to object to deposits that are not OA and therefore should not make life difficult for authors trying to comply with funders who mandate them.  During the time that the article is on deposit but not yet OA, the repository can release the metadata for harvesting, searching, and discoverability, but hold the full text until the embargo has elapsed.  This elegant solution, proposed by Stevan Harnad, deserves a test. 

I hope the DFG policy as it's now written generates a good compliance.  We need more models of funder policies that work.  But if the DFG's "sollen"-path doesn't generate a good rate of compliance, then I hope it will consider one of these two "mussen"-paths.

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG)

DFG's Open Access Guidelines (in English), January 30, 2006
Same, in German

The DFG's position on OA, in German only

News and comment on the DFG policy have been remarkably scanty.  Apart from my own blog posting of the news, I can only find Stevan Harnad's blog posting:

Stevan Harnad, Optimizing Open Access Guidelines of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Open Access Archivangelism, March 12, 2006.

Also see Hendrik Bunke, Open Access allerorten,, February 21, 2006.  Pointing out a few recent OA developments in Germany, including the OA and a DINI Certificate for Bremen's E-LIS server.  He doesn't mention the DFG policy, probably because of the lag time between writing and publication.

* Postscript.  Here are two other recent moves toward national OA policies. 

On March 3, Italy's Istituto Superiore di SanitÓ (National Institute of Health) signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Acces to Knowledge.  Because the ISS is a public agency, this signature could be a sign that it will look for ways to assure OA for publicly-funded medical research.

Back on January 31, Spanish National Research Council (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones CientÝficas, CSIS) also signed the Berlin Declaration, raising the same possibility.

How soon might Italy and Spain convert these OA commitments into national policy?  In the Ukraine, it took 10 months after a Ukrainian conference called for OA to publicly-funded research for a corresponding bill to appear in the Ukrainian parliament (February 2005 - December 2005).  But don't stop the clock yet; the bill has not yet been adopted.  The DFG took 39 months after signing the Berlin Declaration to announce that it had adopted an OA policy (October 2003 to January 2006).  Institutional change does not take place in internet time!


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