How to make your own work open access

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  • I wrote these notes as an online handout for a talk at the Berkman Center on October 23, 2012. —Peter Suber.
    • These notes focus on open access for peer-reviewed research articles and their unrefereed preprints. They do not cover books, theses and dissertations, conference presentations, datasets, courseware, audio, video, multimedia, or source code, although I may add pages on other categories over time. The live audience for the talk consisted of Harvard people, which explains the many Harvard references. But the sources cited will be useful for scholars anywhere. The full title of the talk was, How to Make Your Research Open Access (Whether You're at Harvard or Not).
    • Now that I've got the notes online, I welcome suggestions.
    • This handout should be more useful than my slides from the talk. I keep it up to date, link to the sites I mention, and use complete sentences. But FYI, here are the slides.
    • Also see Chapter 10 ("Self-help") of my book, Open Access (MIT Press, 2012). The book is itself OA.

Publish in an OA journal ("gold" OA)

  • Find a suitable OA journal. Go to the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and browse by field.
    • As you scan, bear in mind that some OA journals will be high in quality, impact, and prestige. Some will be low.
    • Some will use liberal open licenses, like CC-BY. Some will use more restrictive open licenses like CC-BY-NC or CC-BY-NC-ND. Some will offer only gratis OA without open licenses.
    • Some will charge publication fees (also called article processing charges or APCs), and some will not.
  • If the best journal for your purposes charges a publication fee, see whether your funder or university will pay it.
    • There's no complete list of funders willing to pay publication fees on behalf of grantees. But see the incomplete list from BioMed Central. If the article you want to publish is based on funded research, check with your funding agency directly.
    • Many universities are willing to pay publication fees on behalf of faculty.
    • If you're at Harvard, apply to the Harvard Open-Access Publishing (HOPE) fund. For a Harvard-based project to spread HOPE-like funds to other institutions, see the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity (COPE).
    • If you're worried about paying fees out of pocket, here's some background to help you estimate the odds. Although charging publication fees is the best-known business model for peer-reviewed OA journals, it's not the most common. Only about 30% of peer-reviewed OA journals overall charge publication fees. When OA journals do charge fees, the fees are usually paid by funders (59%) or by universities (24%). Only 12% of the time are they paid by authors out of pocket. See Table 4 of the comprehensive Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP). That means that only 3.6% of authors who publish in OA journals overall (12% of 31%) pay fees out of pocket. At the same time, about 50% of articles published in peer-reviewed OA journals are published in fee-based journals. Hence, if we count by article rather than by journal, then only 6% of authors who publish in OA journals overall (12% of 50%) pay fees out of pocket. These figures are averages, and the rates depend significantly on field and type of employer; see Figure 8 of the SOAP study.
  • If you find an otherwise promising OA journal in your field, but have never heard of it, investigate it. Network with trusted colleagues to do so.
    • Have you heard of any of the editors? Are they respected in the field? Are the journal's papers any good?
    • Is the publisher on Jeffrey Beall's list of suspect or predatory publishers? Is the journal on his list of suspect or predatory journals? If so, avoid the journal or deepen your investigation.
    • Don't assume that unknown journals are weak. Low profile does not entail low quality, especially when journals are new. And all OA journals are new. Most new journals, both OA and non-OA, face the vicious circle of needing excellent submissions to generate prestige, and needing prestige to attract excellent submissions. Don't fault a journal for being only partway through the process of escaping this circle. Even new journals excellent from birth need time to develop a reputation for quality matching their actual quality. When an honest, new, and little-known journal is struggling for visibility, you can help it escape the circle by submitting some of your best work. In the words of Harvard's Faculty Advisory Council on the Library (April 2012), "move prestige to open access."
    • Is the publisher a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)? OASPA has a good code of conduct requiring peer review, requiring disclosure of a journal's vetting process, fees, and ownership, and prohibiting spam to solicit papers or members of editorial boards. Some honest OA publishers might not yet belong to OASPA. But honest publishers should be encouraged to join, if only to help spread the OASPA code of conduct to more publishers and more journals. If your investigation of a particular journal doesn't turn up evidence you trust one way or another, then follow the rule to avoid publishers who aren't members of OASPA, and don't hesitate to tell them that you are doing so. Similarly, if institutions must decide which OA journals to support, they could require OASPA membership and say so on a public web page (visible to authors and publishers). That will create an incentive for more OA publishers to join OASPA and live up to its code of conduct.
  • When you find a suitable OA journal, then submit your manuscript, just as you would to a conventional journal.
  • If you don't find a suitable OA journal, check again when you publish your next paper. Things are changing fast.
    • Just don't conclude that you can't yet make your article OA. If you don't make it gold OA (through a journal), you can make it green OA (through a repository). Details in the section on green OA, below.

Deposit in an OA repository ("green" OA)

  • If there isn't an OA repository in your institution or field, then consider a universal repository like Academia, Figshare, OpenDepot, or Zenodo.
    • You could also post your work to your personal home page. But repositories are a better long-term solution because they take steps toward digital preservation, they provide persistent URLs, and they will continue to hold your work and make it OA after you change jobs or die.
  • Most of the time, you may lawfully make your work OA through a repository even if you published in a non-OA journal. There are two reasons. First, most non-OA publishers give standing permission for green OA. Second, research institutions can adopt policies to assure permission for green OA even in cases where publishers don't already give standing permission. Unfortunately these are among the best-kept secrets of OA, and must compete against some of the most common misunderstanding about OA, for example, that all OA is gold OA, that publishing in a non-OA journal forecloses the possibility of OA, that non-OA publishers are doing nothing to adapt to an OA world or accommodate authors who want OA, and that the relevant rights always belong to publishers.

Permissions

  • No matter which path you choose ("gold" or "green" OA), the journal or repository will need permission to make your work OA. But permission from whom? The answer depends on what happened to the rights after you wrote the article.
  • When you write a new article, you are the copyright holder. You needn't apply for a copyright or register the work. It's automatic. If you haven't yet transferred rights to others, then permission for OA comes from you.
    • You may authorize publication in an OA journal (gold OA). Just sign the publishing contract.
    • You may authorize OA through a repository (green OA) for an unpublished manuscript or preprint. Just make the deposit. If there's a check box to affirm that you have the right authorize OA, check it. However, if you want to deposit a published article, then you may already have transferred some rights to a publisher. Hence, see next.
  • If you want to deposit a published article in a repository, then the repository will need permission from the relevant rightsholder.
    • If you retained key rights when you published, which is rare, then you may authorize OA through a repository on your own. You needn't consult or involve the publisher.
    • If you transferred key rights to the publisher, which is common, then you will need the publisher's permission.
    • However, most conventional or non-OA publishers give standing permission for author-initiated green OA.
      • To see whether your journal or publisher gives this kind of standing permission, read your publishing agreement with care. Or look up the journal or publisher in the SHERPA RoMEO database.
      • In most cases, this kind of standing permission for green OA applies to the text approved by peer review, not to the published edition. To take advantage of this permission, you'll need to put your hands on that version of the text, without any subsequent copy editing, and without the journal's pagination or look-and-feel. Tip for the future: always retain the peer-reviewed manuscript of every article you publish.
      • SHERPA also maintains a shorter list of publishers who give standing permission for authors to deposit the published editions of articles in an OA repository.
    • If your journal or publisher does not give standing permission for green OA, then try one of these strategies.
      • Ask for permission. Many publishers who don't give standing permission will agree to case-by-case requests.
      • Use an author addendum. An author addendum is a proposed revision to the publishing agreement, written by a lawyer, giving the author the right to authorize OA (and sometimes other rights as well). Because it's only a proposed revision, publishers may accept it or reject it.
  • For standing permission to make your future articles OA, without depending on publishers for that permission, work toward a Harvard-style OA policy at your institution.
    • Today eight of Harvard's nine schools have effective OA policies.
    • The Harvard Open Access Project (HOAP) can help you with a policy at your institution. Also see the HOAP guide to good practices for university OA policies. (Disclosure: I write and edit the guide with Stuart Shieber.)
    • Through Harvard-style OA policies, faculty grant the institution non-exclusive rights to their future scholarly articles, including the right to authorize OA through the institutional repository. This assures that faculty may lawfully make their work OA...
      • even when they publish in a non-OA journal,
      • even when the non-OA journal does not give standing permission for green OA,
      • and even when faculty members have not negotiated special access terms or permissions with their publishers.

Translations of this handout

This handout is also available in Greek (September 2013) and Spanish (January 2014). I welcome other translations.