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

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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, the original principles also left 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?

The cOAlition S partners have since then released implementation guidance for Plan S, which can be found here, which provides further information on the questions above. According to this guidance:

• The posting of preprints is not sufficient to be compliant with Plan S.

• The green route is allowed, but only if the author accepted manuscript (AAM) is made immediately available, under a CC-BY license, with no embargo period, no copyright transfer, and extremely stringent technical requirements for repositories to be compliant. This effectively rules out the majority of existing chemistry society journals, based on their current publication policies, as being Plan S compliant for the Green route, and we expect this to affect other disciplines as well.

• The threat of "sanctions" still remains in the implementation guidance, although it is unclear what precisely those sanctions will be.

• The implementation guidance does not explicitly address the implications for papers written by multiple authors, which remains a serious concern for cross-country collaborations.

• It remains unclear what authors should do if suitable open access publishing venues are not available in their disciplines.

• The implementation guidance says that cOAlition S members will provide financial support for publication in "hybrid Open Access" journals only under transformative agreements, although they emphasize that individual cOAlition S members are not obliged to enter such agreements nor to fund APC via such agreements. The impact of such agreements is due for review in 2023, and only applies to agreements concluded before the end of 2021, with contracts that do not last more than 3 years.

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 1793 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, or download a copy of our original press release. 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. Finally, see our feedback to cOAlition S on the implementation plan.

Update 31.05.2019: In May 2019, cOAlition S released both revised implementation guidance on Plan S as well as rationale for the revisions. Some of the changes are positive, but overall the changes compared to the original plan are small: the launch date has been delayed to 2021, CC-BY is no longer mandated but the default option with the possibility to apply for waivers to use e.g. CC-BY-ND, and hybrid journals are now compliant provided that either funds to pay for APC are found elsewhere or (if the journal allows) the final AAM/VOR is immediately deposited CC-BY into an approved repository (Green OA). Technical requirements on repositories have been (temporarily?) relaxed and transformative agreements are allowed through 2024. The issues of negative impact on international collaboration, maintaining quality controls on research, cost management, perverse effects of APC-based OA publishing and other concerns raised above have not been been adressed properly. We feel the revised plans still push too much towards APC OA models. Concerns raised by researchers, researcher organisations and academies about APC-based publishing, and the effects of Plan S on the quality of peer review and international collaborations have been largely ignored. We dislike the announced sanctions imposed on researchers. A more detailed response to the Plan S implementation guidance can be found here.