Intended for healthcare professionals


Academic publishers urge Trump not to demand open access for federally funded research

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 20 December 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l7064
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. Montreal

More than 125 journal publishers and scientific and medical societies have signed a letter to Donald Trump asking him to reverse a policy they believe is being prepared that would require any journal publishing research that received US federal funding to make the article freely available without a subscription, immediately on publication.1

Currently, under the terms of a 2013 agreement, journal publishers may charge readers for federally funded research articles for 12 months from publication, after which the paywall must come down.

The revenue from those 12 months is essential to pay the costs of publication, the letter’s signatories argue. But, they write, “we have learned that the Administration may be preparing to step into the private marketplace and force the immediate free distribution of journal articles.”

“Going below the current 12 month 'embargo' would make it very difficult for most American publishers to invest in publishing these articles,” the letter warns, suggesting that the government would then feel obliged to take on the task of publication.

“This cost shift would place billions of dollars of new and additional burden on taxpayers” and could force some scientific societies to close their doors, the letter argues.

The letter also appeals to the president’s economic nationalist instincts. Requiring immediate open access, it argues, would “effectively nationalise the valuable American intellectual property that we produce and force us to give it away to the rest of the world for free.”

But, the letter adds, “publishers make no claims to research data resulting from federal funding,” and they also support open access business models “as important options within a larger framework that assumes critical publisher investments remain viable.”

Signatories include the science publishers Elsevier and Wiley, the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the US Chamber of Commerce, the New England Journal of Medicine, and dozens of specialist medical societies.

A planned change in the rules has not been officially announced. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is believed to be drafting the new policy, said only that it would “not comment on internal deliberative processes that may or may not be happening.”

The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, based in The Hague, has also written to OSTP director Kelvin Droegemeier, protesting against the rumoured policy change.2

The publishing industry in Europe already claims to be threatened by Plan S, a European initiative in which a consortium of major national and international grant funders have agreed to require open access publication of any research they support.3

A Republican senator, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, joined the publishers’ cause, sending his own letter to the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross.

The BMJ is not a signatory to either of the publishers’ letters. All original research published in The BMJ and in its sister journal BMJ Open is immediately available through open access with payment of an article processing charge. Other BMJ journals also offer open access publication.

The BMJ’s editor in chief, Fiona Godlee, said, “We support the shift to open access publishing for biomedical research, recognising that there will be winners and losers and that the priority must be to safeguard the quality and integrity of academic communication.”


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