The new open access policy recently announced by the University of California (UC) seems to have engendered a lot of confusion, at least in the press. Physics Today even has an article on the confusion, noting that the press coverage is largely focused on the OA political debate rather than what UC is actually doing. In that regard I think that two features of the new policy are worth noting. First it is as much a project as a policy and second that in an important sense the publishers are calling the shots.
The project aspect is reflected in the policy’s implementation timeline, which extends until June 2015, or roughly two years from now. The project only begins on November 1, 2013, when faculty at three UC campuses must start participating. After that various things happen, including two policy reviews, adding the rest of the campuses, and most interestingly, an attempt at automated manuscript harvesting. It sounds like this harvesting will be from the journal websites but I could find no further information on this aspect of the project.
Also interesting is the lack of any specific compliance mechanism, nor any mention of penalties for non-compliance. There is an extensive FAQ page but I can find no mention of compliance. Instead the FAQ Q&A wanders off into a discussion of OA per se. But the Policy Statement itself ends with this intriguing sentence:
“The Faculty calls upon the Academic Senate and the University of California to develop and monitor mechanisms that would render implementation and compliance with the policy as convenient for the Faculty as possible.”
This suggests that that the issue of compliance has been left to a later date, perhaps after the first review, in May 2014.
The publisher’s role is only apparent when one looks at the draft entry form which authors use to specify the status of their articles, including asking for embargoes and waivers. Most of the UC documentation and much of the press coverage makes it sound like the author can specify an embargo period or get a waiver for their article as they like. But the entry form defines embargos and waivers as follows:
“Embargo: Request verification that your publication will not be displayed in UC’s eScholarship repository until your publisher’s required embargo period has expired.”
“Waiver: If required by your publisher, request a waiver to opt-out of the Open Access license for a single publication.”
So basically the UC policy works like this. If the publisher allows it, then the article will be posted by the repository immediately. If there is a publisher-specified embargo period then it will be honored. If there is no such period then the article will not be posted by the repository. In short the UC repository is simply doing whatever the publisher allows. How this is a political victory for OA is beyond me. Perhaps the confusion stems from the fact that none of this is mentioned in the UC press release or the FAQ. Or maybe I too have missed something in this complex project. Speaking of complexity it is worth noting that the authors have a lot to do for each article, as does the library. Given that in many cases that article will be available free from the journal one wonders if it is worth it?
I did enjoy this FAQ title:
It suggests that UC is not a big fan of Gold OA.