9 Apr 2012

UNESCO Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access

The UNESCO Policy Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Open Access (written by Alma Swan) were released on April 6th. The guidelines aim to support open access policy development at government & institutional level, in order to create an environment which promotes the increased accessibility of scientific information. As well as outlining the importance and benefits of OA, the guidelines discuss business models, copyright & licensing issues in non-legal language, and strategic aspects, and are intended as an advisory rather than a prescriptive tool for decision- and policy-makers.

The guidelines also highlight some of the key and emerging issues in open access today including:
  • The varying levels of open access publishing across disciplines, with some fields still "lagging behind" to a considerable extent;
  • Copyright as "a bundle of rights": authors have traditionally signed the whole bundle of rights over to the publisher, when this is not normally necessary. Instead, authors can retain the rights needed to make the work open access, and assign the right to publish the work to the journal publisher (essentially a 'licence to publish' - this is preferable than seeking permission post-publication);
  • The advantages of formally licensing scientific work: Creative Commons licensing is viewed as best practice because it is a well-understood and transparent system, which provides a suite of machine-readable licences covering multiple needs;
  • The maximum embargo length permitted in science should be 6 months at most;
  • Open access is now also part of a broader ‘open’ agenda encompassing concepts such as Open Educational Resources, Open Science and Open Data.


  1. Funnily enough. Today's Guardian headline covers the whole toxic mix of research funding, open access and paid-for subscription journals. The Wellcome Trust - spending more than £600m on scientific research per year and is the largest non-governmental funder out there - has put its full weight behind a campaign to boycott journals/publishers that restrict free sharing. Going forward, the trust intends to restrict funding to researchers who publish their researh papers either immediately or within the notable 6-months timeframe. Interestingly, the Trust will also launch its very own journal, eLife, which is in direct competition to top-tier publications such as Science and Nature.

    Publishers, such as Wiley, Elsevier and Springer among others, argue that they ad value to the publishing process through the peer-review process. Whatever argument publishers put forward to this end, it doesn't stick. Walport (the director of the Wellcome Trust) rightly says that "publishing is a cost of research in the same way as buying a centrifuge is a cost of research".

    Other interesting people to look out for on the whole open access debate are Peter Suber and Stefan Harnad.

  2. Thanks for the information on the Guardian piece Alex. I do think the recent Elsevier debate has actually been incredibly damaging for commercial publishing in terms of influencing popular opinion and support, and there is growing momentum (and indeed, pressure) behind open access models at present.

    It is sometimes forgotten that there are certainly costs involved with publishing content however (be it print or digital): hosting & bandwidth, platforms, copy-editing, typesetting and design etc. PLoS One operate on a not-for-profit basis but still have to charge the 'author' €1350 per successful submission in order to cover their costs. Obviously there are other available channels (both green and gold) which do not require any such payment. Clearly the pricing of journal subscriptions by commercial publishers does not reflect the production costs, but open access is intrinsically an accessibility issue rather than a financial one in my opinion.

  3. ... more so then to support the argument then that the cost of publising/peer-review must be built into the process of research, i.e. funders - right across the board - must acknowledge and fund this cost element as part of the the research process.

  4. Absolutely, and indeed many agencies already have the requirement that funded research must be made available on an OA basis (SFI, HRB etc.), so this cost is already being acknowledged and funded (albeit in an implied way).