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Researchers offered legal help in open-access pilot

Dutch universities have launched an open-access pilot under which they will add embargoed articles to their repositories “regardless of any restrictive publishers’ guidelines”.

The pilot, called You Share, We Take Care, is based on a 2015 amendment to the Dutch Copyright Act to encourage more open-access publishing. The project is seeking the support of individual researchers, who can join by giving permission to their library to share one or more of their embargoed scientific articles.

After getting this permission, the library will add the published version to the institute’s repository and make it available for free six months after the article’s publication in a scientific journal. This agreement will override any longer embargo periods stated in contracts with the original publisher.

According to the pilot’s organisers, the same rules will apply to book chapters of edited collections. If the publisher files a complaint against the author, the university administration will take over the case. 

“The researcher and the university both sign a licence in which the researcher gives permission to share his or her publication and the university declares that it will support the researcher legally and financially in case the publisher lays a legal claim,” says Arjan Schalken, project leader of the pilot and deputy director of the Vrije Universiteit’s library in Amsterdam.

The pilot will run until the end of July. It is made possible by the Taverne amendment to copyright law, which is named after Joost Taverne, a former Dutch member of the House of Representatives for the VVD party.

The amendment states that researchers are entitled to give the public access to their research articles within a “reasonable period”, regardless of any restrictive publishers’ guidelines, provided that clear reference is made to the source of the first publication of the work.

It does not, however, define what a reasonable period would be. The organisers say that a time limit of six months was chosen as they feel certain they could convince a judge that this was reasonable. They say that six months from the date of online publication of an article is long enough for publishers to recover their costs.

One of the conditions for joining the pilot is that the research described in the publication must have been financed at least partly by Dutch public funds, and at least one of the authors must be employed at a Dutch university. When an article is published by a foreign publisher, “they may perhaps attempt to invoke foreign law, but the Dutch universities assume that Dutch law will prevail”, according to the pilot’s website.

The pilot will be especially interesting in subject areas where no good open-access publications exist yet, the organisers said. They also hope that it will be attractive to young scientists.

Furthermore, it should make life easier for researchers, the organisers say. First, it will diminish the chances of incorrect citations resulting from errors in pre-publications, which many researchers draw on for their articles. Second, libraries will add the publications themselves. Until now, most publishers have only allowed authors to add articles to a repository, but this has often been hampered by technology and the fact that many authors do not have easy access to pre-publication versions of their articles.

Rectors of several Dutch universities have joined the pilot by sharing their own embargoed articles, to set an example.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe