Licence by Licence, Funder by Funder Change Can Only Take Us So Far – ALLEA Highlights A Systemic Need for Change to Scholarly Publishing

Image of a brick archway and a open gate leading to a garden.
Photo: Denisbin CC-BY-ND 2.0,

On the 12th of December, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA) launched a major statement on the legal and market situation that surrounds scholarly communication: “Allea Statement On Open Access Publications under “Big Deals” and the New Copyright Rules.”

Touching on many of the same areas that Knowledge Rights 21 is working in, the ALLEA position statement is strongly aligned with our own goals, and indeed cites Knowledge Rights 21’s work. 

Twenty years have now passed since the Budapest Open Access Initiative, and while great strides have been made in changing the scholarly communication cycle, in many senses the same publishing paradigm still exists. We continue to see a few disproportionately large publishers (who now also control vital digital research platforms and data analytics tools) and vast amounts of public money being spent on Article Processing Charges (APCs) – much of which goes back to these same publishers of course. In other words the chips have been moved around the scholarly communication board, but we are still locked into the very same game. Moreover, we are suffering from data extractivism where  our data, research and usage patterns are being weaponised against us by many of the same players to keep academics and research dependent on the proprietary status quo.

In order to make research and science work for society we need to create a publicly owned community-controlled infrastructure. As we have seen since 2002, much of the impetus for this has come from the library sector – in a sense in a bottom-up movement. The research community itself has also invested in work to change specific policies and practices where they have stronger influence, such as over the rules around funding and author licensing.  This should not, however, take attention away from the need for a parallel, top-down approach to Open Access. 

In other words, we should always remember the value of engaging with governments, given that legislative change can be a key trigger for meaningful change on the ground. After all, it goes without saying it is the copyright system – whose rules are set in legislation – which underpins scholarly publishing. As a result, in pushing for change that delivers Open Access, library trade bodies, funders and universities cannot afford to ignore this.

Therefore, in addition to Knowledge Rights 21’s work around rights retention, we are also calling for legislated secondary publishing rights, and the creation of a European copyright system friendly to research and innovation. We also strongly welcome other legislative proposals coming from our community in this area. Notably, in 2021 LIBER launched a Pan-European Model Law for the Use of Publicly Funded Scientific Publications under the title #ZeroEmbargo. 

Excitingly this year Spain has introduced in law both a secondary publishing right with immediate access to peer reviewed articles as well as underlining its commitment to rights retention in an amended “Law on Science, Technology and Innovation (Law 17/2022)”. Also in a landmark  development, the Biden Administration announced on the 25th of August 2022 that all federally funded research should be made “freely available and publicly accessible” immediately after its publication – the policy coming into force by the end of 2025.

We therefore strongly welcome this new ALLEA initiative. By moving beyond the sector’s own prescribed spheres of influence and seeking also to alter the systemic information and regulatory structures which define the entire information ecology within which education and research operates, we believe more sustainable community-publishing and data analysis infrastructures can become a reality.

In sum we wholeheartedly support ALLEA’s multi-pronged  strategy to make change happen:

To arrive at a more equitable and affordable system that takes into account the new EU copyright rules, ALLEA recommends:

  1. Researchers and libraries to better consider their rights under the new EU copyright rules when negotiating the next generation of deals.
  2. Researchers and libraries to depart from the rights assignment model that still prevails today.
  3. Harmonisation of EU national copyright legislation and introduction of EU-wide Secondary Publication Rights without embargo.
  4. Further development of a community-driven non-profit publishing ecosystem.

19 December 2022