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ERC backtracks on open-access embargo period

Supporters of open-access publishing have slammed the European Research Council’s decision to increase the open-access embargo period for social science and humanities research papers.

In a set of revised guidelines published last month, the ERC increased the maximum period before research papers must be made openly available from six to 12 months. The decision means the ERC will fall in line with the grant agreements in the European Commission’s next Framework programme, Horizon 2020. However, ERC sources say that the decision was made by the ERC’s own working group on open access.

“It’s very disappointing,” says Martin Eve, a lecturer in English language at the University of Lincoln, UK, and director of the Open Library of Humanities. “I think it’s ridiculous they’ve gone up just to be in line with other [funding programmes]. It doesn’t show the boldness and strength in a funder that you’d want.”

Curt Rice, vice-president for R&D at the University of Tromsø, agrees that this weakens the ERC’s open-access policy and says for-profit publishers will try to exploit the change to increase their profits. If the two grants systems had to be aligned, “it would have been nice if the change had gone the other way”, he says.

Although the ERC receives funds from the Commission, it functions as a semi-autonomous body with considerable freedom to set its own policies. Rice says he doesn’t think the embargo change marks a significant loss of autonomy for the council. “The most important domain for autonomy is in scientific integrity,” he says. “I don’t see this as a challenge to that, but it is a little something we should keep our eyes on.”

Meanwhile, Shearer West, a member of interest group Science Europe’s scientific advisory committee for the humanities, says the change is “very realistic and sensible” given the anxiety social science and humanities researchers have expressed about open access.

“We’re in a massive transition period and if we try to move too fast it will be destabilising for a lot of academics,” she says. “In the long run I think open access should become the norm and hopefully the embargo period will be gradually reduced over time.”