Reaction of Researchers to Plan S: Too Far, Too Risky

In September 2018, a group of European government funding agencies announced the creation of cOAlition S, an organization created to implement “Plan S,” an initiative designed to ensure that “by 2020 scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants provided by participating national and European research councils and funding bodies, “must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.” [1]

Plan S is built on ten principles, which include:

• A requirement that authors of funded research publications assign all of their copyright prerogatives (including republication, commercial use, and the creation of derivative versions) to the general public

• A prohibition on publishing in either subscription or “hybrid” (i.e. partially open access) journals, thus making more than 80%[2] (and for some fields more than 90%[3]) of journals off-limits to funded authors, included those published by scholarly societies, which are very important to many researchers

• A threat of “sanctions” against those authors who fail to comply

Apart from the significant constraints on authors’s freedom of publication created by the explicit terms of Plan S, it also leaves essential questions unanswered, including:

• Is preprint archiving + Green Open Access compliant with PlanS even for hybrid journals? If so, under which conditions?

• What are its implications for papers written by multiple authors, not all of whom are subject to the restrictions of Plan S?

• What will authors do if suitable open access publishing venues are not available in their disciplines? (Plan S promises that its funders will “provide incentives to establish and support” such journals where needed, but this is a long-term solution and not one that is guaranteed of success)

• What are the “sanctions” that will be imposed on noncompliant authors?

We note that the 11 original funding agencies who signed on to cOAlition S have been estimated to account for only roughly 3.3% of global scientific output, and roughly 4.1% of the world Open Access output.[4] However, COAlition S is not satisfied with imposing these rules in the European Union alone, and is now actively engaged in seeking to spread this approach to other countries as well, notably the United States.[5]

The views of researchers who will be directly affected by Plan S do not seem to have been solicited during its creation, and hundreds of them from around the world have now signed an open letter expressing their concern about its ramifications — not only for their own rights as authors and academics, but for the health of scholarly and scientific discourse worldwide.

View the full text of the Open Letter, view the list of signatories (currently 1157 researchers from all ranks, ranging from masters students & ECRs to full professors, department heads, institute directors, and Nobel laureates, from both cOAlition S countries and beyond), and add your voice of support by signing our letter. You could also take a look at our press coverage. Finally, a version of the original Open Letter has been archived for posterity on Zenodo, DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1484544. There you can download a pdf of the letter to distribute to your funding agencies, policy makers, university leadership, and any other relevant stakeholders.