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Who should own and control the dissemination of research? Not academic publishers, according to a new framework developed by library leaders at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The framework, published this week, asserts that control of scholarship and the way in which it is distributed should reside with scholars and their institutions. The document contains six core principles that will be used by MIT as a starting point for future contract negotiations with academic publishers.

The principles aim to ensure that research is available openly and appropriately archived. They also call for fair and transparent pricing of publisher services and say that no author should be forced to give up a copyright in order to publish their work. Instead, authors should be provided with “generous reuse rights,” the framework says.

Dozens of institutions have already endorsed the MIT framework, indicating that they too will use it as guiding principles when negotiating deals with publishers such as Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, SAGE and Taylor & Francis.

The core principles in the framework are:

  • No author will be required to waive any open-access policy from an institution or funder to publish in any of the publisher’s journals.
  • No author will be required to relinquish copyright, but instead will be provided with options that enable publication while also providing authors with generous reuse rights.
  • Publishers will directly deposit scholarly articles in institutional repositories immediately upon publication or will provide tools/mechanisms that facilitate immediate deposit.
  • Publishers will provide computational access to subscribed content as a standard part of all contracts, with no restrictions on nonconsumptive, computational analysis of the body of subscribed content.
  • Publishers will ensure the long-term digital preservation and accessibility of their content through participation in trusted digital archives.
  • Institutions will pay a fair and sustainable price to publishers for value-added services, based on transparent and cost-based pricing models.

The ideas in the framework are not new for MIT, Chris Bourg, director of MIT Libraries, said in a news release. But they are a clear articulation of what MIT faculty members want from scholarly communication -- a “scholar-led, open and equitable environment,” she said. Bourg added that the framework “gives us a starting point for imagining journals as a service.”

Brandon Butler, the director of information policy at the University of Virginia Library, said he approved of the MIT framework. In particular, he cited the emphasis on authors retaining their copyright, which he feels is important. The UVA Library has officially endorsed the framework.

“There is no doubt that publishers do important work,” said Butler. “But we should be paying reasonable fees for what they contribute, and we should retain exclusive control of our scholarly work. Sometimes we find ourselves buying back our own work.”

Institutions That Have Endorsed the MIT Framework:

  • Bates College
  • Dartmouth College Library
  • Duke University Libraries
  • East Carolina University
  • Gettysburg College Library
  • Greater Western Library Alliance
  • Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication
  • IUPUI University Library
  • MIT Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to MIT’s Research
  • MIT Committee on the Library System
  • MIT School of Engineering
  • MIT School of Architecture and Planning
  • MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
  • MIT School of Science
  • MIT Schwarzman College of Computing
  • MIT Sloan School of Management
  • Montana State University Library
  • Ryerson University Library
  • Syracuse University Libraries
  • UCLA Library
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press
  • University of Guelph
  • University of Massachusetts Libraries
  • University of Nebraska at Lincoln Libraries
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries
  • University of North Texas
  • University of Pittsburgh Library System
  • University of San Diego
  • University of Tennessee Libraries
  • University of Toronto Libraries
  • Virginia research libraries
  • Virginia Tech
  • Virtual Library of Virginia consortium
  • Wayne State University Library System
  • Yale University Library

In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Bourg said MIT has started to use the framework in its negotiations with scholarly societies and commercial publishers and already is finding it to be a productive tool.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to sign new contracts with publishers that more closely reflect the principles in the framework,” she said. “We have also used the process of developing the framework to develop support across campus for this approach, so we are negotiating with confidence that the framework reflects the needs and perspectives of our community.”

The framework was developed by the MIT Libraries with the MIT Committee on the Library System and the Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to MIT’s Research, which released its final report on how to increase open-access practices at MIT last week.

MIT doesn’t currently have contracts that are 100 percent in line with the framework, but many reflect the principles to varying degrees, said Bourg. “Most of the publishers we have contracts with don’t require our authors to opt out of MIT or funder open-access policies, and many publishers provide generous reuse rights and offer author licenses that don’t require authors to relinquish copyright.”

The MIT Libraries are working with several publishers to make it easier to add journal articles to the institutional repository, said Bourg. MIT signed a contract with Springer in 2016 includes the automatic addition of MIT articles to its open-access repository. Responsibility for archiving articles in institutional repositories often falls on individual authors or librarians. But in the MIT-Springer deal, the publisher provides this service. MIT wants other publishers to add this service. Just under 50 percent of MIT faculty-authored journal articles are freely available in the institution’s repository, DSpace@MIT.

MIT is early in discussions to negotiate a new subscription deal with publisher Elsevier, said Bourg. “It is too early to predict the outcome of those negotiations, but the framework puts us in a much better position to negotiate for a contract that reflects our values and needs and preserves our ability to share MIT research openly with the world,” she said.

MIT is not the first institution to develop guiding principles for negotiating with publishers. The University of California system, which did not renew its big deal with publisher Elsevier earlier this year, published similar principles in 2018. But the principles outlined by UC focus on gold open access -- a standard where journal articles are freely available on the publisher’s website for anyone to read. The MIT principles focus more on green open access, which enables authors to republish their articles in open-access repositories.

Iowa State University also recently developed principles for advancing openness in journal negotiations. The university’s Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution supporting these principles last week.

Curtis Brundy, associate university librarian for scholarly communications and collections at Iowa State, said work on the principles began a year ago. The library wanted to keep them simple and landed on three guiding principles: prioritize openness through open-access sources, reject nondisclosure language in agreements with publishers and pursue financially sustainable journal agreements.

“We felt it was important to have a conversation about what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” said Brundy. Negotiations can be very complex, but the library wanted faculty to understand at a high level what it is trying to achieve.

When publishers enter negotiations on subscription deals, they are often “very presumptuous,” Brundy said. “Publishers seek to speak on behalf of authors, but the library also has a relationship with authors.”

Faculty endorsement of Iowa State’s principles is a signal that the library is not just negotiating on behalf of the library, but also the community it serves, he said. “These principles aren’t going to immediately lead to publishers caving in, but they do show that we have support.”

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