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Open Access

Open Access Week takes place the last week of October. Washington University participates with relevant events and sessions. Watch the library website for announcements. For a complete listing of open access events, visit the Open Access at Washington University Research Guide.

There are a series of issues around copyright in academic publishing, many directly affecting degree candidates and early career academics. This page attempts to lay out in a general way some of the main areas of concern and debate, how they interrelate, and how they might affect different categories of people submitting to the Open Scholarship site, as well as users of the site. As an outline, many aspects of these issues are not dealt with in any detail.

"Open access" is a phrase that originated with the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002. This initiative was undertaken primarily to make current scholarship widely and freely available and secondarily to pressure for-profit publishers of scholarly journals, whose prices have been rising well above inflation rates, by some count, for over thirty years (see for example the Right to Research Coalition site for a brief overview of the history of journal price increases). The means to this end was re-publication of journal articles in institutional repositories. Although a relatively late arrival, the Open Scholarship site is an example of an institutional repository.

Authors' Rights

A significant obstacle to the goals of the Open Access was copyright. Under U.S. copyright law, the author of an intellectual work is the copyright holder. But most academic publishers, as a condition of publication, require authors to sign standard agreements that transfer all or most of the intellectual property rights to the publisher. Open access advocates and organizations (like SPARC) worked with academic journal publishers to allow for more flexible terms of author publishing agreements to allow for free distribution of some version (often a version before edits made in response to peer-review) typically in an institutional repository.

A significant miscalculation made by the early open access movement was its dependence on the "self-archiving" model, which relied on faculty members to manage copyright issues and post articles on their own to institutional repositories. While the Washington University Open Scholarship is, strictly speaking, an "institutional repository" (IR) we avoid that designation due to its association with the self-submission model. (For more on this issue, see the blog post on the subject "To IR is Human.") The Washington University Libraries by contrast are ready to assist any faculty member who is interested in making his or her articles freely available in the Open Scholarship site. As a result of their reliance on the self-submission model and the underwhelming response of faculty in submitting articles, many early IRs were left with little content and correspondingly little activity.

Authors are always free to request that publishers modify that agreement to allow for more flexibility in reposting of their work outside the publication, including in repositories. Scholars at Washington University can employ the publishing agreement addendum available in the Authors and Copyright section of Washington University Scholarly Communications site.

ETDs & Repositories

While many repositories struggled to acquire quality scholarly content, managers began to recognize that a source of high quality content was available to them, in the form of master’s theses and dissertations that had were typically deposited in libraries as a requirement of the degree. This coincided with the transition by many institutions to electronic deposit of theses and dissertations as a more efficient process, which made the mounting of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) in repositories relatively simple. While ETDs have made many repositories successful (including the Open Scholarship site) it must be acknowledged that this represents something of a diversion from the original aims of the open access movement, to make quality, specifically peer-reviewed scholarly articles freely and widely available. Many institutions (mostly academic libraries) have since abandoned the self-submission model, acting instead to assist faculty in making their work freely available. Others have shifted their focus from the re-publication of articles in for-profit academic journals to supporting the creation and management of journals that provide open access in the first place. And the Washington University Libraries, together with units like the Humanities Digital Workshop, are exploring these options locally.

Copyright & Career Decisions

As noted throughout the site, the Open Scholarship site was launched in support of the open access resolution passed at Washington University in 2011. The resolution "encourages" faculty to provide open access to their scholarly output. In contrast to some resolutions, this is a resolution expressing broad support for this practice—it is not a mandate, like some resolutions (notably the Harvard resolution of February 2008).

For faculty—particularly early-career faculty—there are pros and cons to consider in making decisions about making their material open access, and prior decisions about retaining additional rights when publishing. Some of those issues, as well as questions and answers about how the University Libraries can assist in the process of adding articles to the Open Scholarship site, are discussed on the Faculty Publications page.

For degree candidates, there are similar concerns in considering some of the options when submitting a master's thesis or dissertation, including whether or not, or for how long, to embargo a work, offer it for sale, and what those implications might be for possible future publication of a revised work. Some of those considerations are laid out, along with specific steps in the submission process on the PhD degree candidates and Master's degree candidates pages, respectively.

For all the above, and the entire community, there are not only immediate concerns of how decisions might impact one's career path, but the broader considerations at stake: the ever-rising costs of for-profit scholarly journals (certainly part of the equation of rising costs of education); the role of the university in the nation and society, and the potential benefit of wide dissemination of research and scholarship.

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