The UK Scholarly Communication Licence: Attempting to Cut through the Gordian Knot of the Complexities of Funder Mandates, Publisher Embargoes and Researcher Caution in Achieving Open Access

Whilst take-up of open access (OA) in the UK is growing rapidly due partly to a number of funder mandates, managing the complexities of balancing compliance with these mandates against restrictive publisher policies and ingrained academic priorities, has resulted in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) often struggling with confused researchers, complex workflows, and rising costs. In order to try to address this situation, the UK Scholarly Communication Licence (UK-SCL) was formulated to bypass the root causes of many of these challenges by implementing a licensing mechanism for multiple-mandate compliance in one single policy. This is the first empirical study to focus on the genesis of the UK-SCL and how its implementation has been conceived thus far. A qualitative research method was used, taking the form of 14 semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders from the initiative across the UK. The results indicate that those working within UK HEIs are concerned with the co mplexity of the current OA policy landscape and are frustrated with the inertia within the current system, which has resulted in higher costs, further publisher restrictions, and has not addressed the underlying tensions in academic culture. The UK-SCL is seen by its initiators as a way to achieve further transition towards OA and take back some element of control of the content produced at their institutions. The study concludes by modelling the ways in which the UK-SCL is intended to impact relationships between key stakeholders, and discussing possible implementation futures.

The ‘restricting choice of publication’ threat | Danny Kingsley | Unlocking Research

“When you work in the open access space, language matters. It is very easy to distract the academic community from the actual discussion at hand and we are seeing an example of this right now. The emerging narrative seems to be that open access policies, and specifically the UK Scholarly Communication Licence (UKSCL), are going to threaten academics’ ability to choose where they publish. The UK-SCL Policy Summary is explicitly “an open access policy mechanism which ensures researchers can retain re-use rights in their own work, they retain copyright and they retain the freedom to publish in the journal of their choice (assigning copyright to the publisher if necessary)”. Let’s keep that in mind when considering the following examples of the ‘restricting choice of publication’ argument that have crossed my path recently….”


“RESEARCHERS RETAIN RE-USE RIGHTS IN THEIR OWN WORK The UK-SCL is an open access policy mechanism which ensures researchers can retain re-use rights in their own work, they retain copyright and they retain the freedom to publish in the journal of their choice (assigning copyright to the publisher if necessary) Re-use rights retention enables early public communication of research findings and use in research and teaching, including online courses. Increased visibility of research outputs greatly improves opportunities for increased impact and citations. A single deposit action under the model policy ensures eligibility for REF2021 and compliance with most funder deposit criteria. Researchers retain copyright and remain free to assign it to the publisher Researchers If an institution adopts the model open access policy, its researchers will retain re-use rights of their work, e.g. for teaching and conferences. Open Access increases the speed and reach of dissemination so that research can be put to use more quickly and by more people. Open Access also improves opportunities for increased citation and impact. Researcher outputs will be eligible for submission to the Research Excellence Framework (REF2021) and will comply with most funder deposit requirements. Funders The UK-SCL is a model open access policy which is aimed at furthering funder aims of a transition towards increased openness in research communication whilst supporting researchers covered under multiple funder policies. Universities Embedding the UK-SCL model terms as part of an institutional Open Access Policy enables research outputs to be made available under terms which go beyond the REF2021 minimum requirements as encouraged by the UK Funding Councils. It facilitates author retention of re-use rights whilst preserving the freedom to publish in the journal of choice.”

UK Scholarly Communications Licence – Briefing Paper (February 2016)

“A similar model, introduced successfully at Harvard University in 2008 and adopted by many US institutions (such as MIT), inspired the UK-SCL. Under the UK-SCL each member of staff grants the university a non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide licence to make the accepted final version of their scholarly articles publicly available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial (CC BY NC) licence. Under this licence, non-commercial reuse is permitted, as long as the author is credited. The university can sublicense these rights to all authors of the paper and their host institutions. The university will make metadata available publicly upon deposit and the manuscript within 12 months of acceptance or immediately upon publication, whichever is earlier. On request the university will usually (but does not have to) grant a waiver to these rights for up to 2 years from publication. [The exact embargo length and length of waiver are still under discussion] Imperial College London is leading the implementation of the UK-SCL. Discussions involve over 70 organisations in the UK including several Russell Group institutions. There has also been extensive consultation with the Russell Group Policy office, HEFCE, Jisc, the Wellcome Trust and a number of international organisation….”

Focusing upstream: supporting scholarly communication by academics

Abstract:  This article discusses the broad and complex funder open access (OA) policy environment in the UK and describes some of the challenges libraries face in providing frictionless services to support academic compliance. It offers a view on the actions of publishers in this policy environment, as well as outlining how strategic discussions have moved beyond the library to include the whole institution. Finally, it outlines the work being undertaken at Imperial College London to develop a new OA policy and licence which could support academics and institutions with compliance and HEFCE Research Excellence Framework eligibility in a single step. 

Correcting the record on the Harvard OA license

“Yesterday at the Scholarly Kitchen, Karin Wulf and Simon Newman posted some objections to the UK Scholarly Communications License, which is based on the Harvard OA license.

In the process they characterized the Harvard OA license and OA policies, sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly.

I posted a comment which is still undergoing moderation. I’m posting a copy here in case my comment is rejected, abridged, or delayed. …”

The UK Scholarly Communications Licence – supporting academics with open access | Zenodo

“To address these issues, a group of research organisations in the UK is working to implement a solution that ensures authors can make their work open access, meet funder requirements and always retain the right to reuse their own outputs – but without having to change the publishing process as it currently exists. The initiative is called the UK Scholarly Communications Licence (UK-SCL) and was started by Chris Banks and Torsten Reimer at Imperial College London. At the heart of the UK-SCL is a licence agreement between a research organisation and their staff: authors grant the organisation a non-exclusive licence to make the manuscript of a scholarly article publicly available under a Creative Commons licence that allows non-commercial reuse (CC BY NC). This arrangement pre-dates any contract authors might sign with a publisher, which allows the host organisation to license the rights back to the author after they signed the copyright transfer agreement. This process ensures that academics can retain rights and do not have to negotiate with the publisher. To be legally binding, publishers must be notified – but this is something research institutions working with sector bodies will undertake jointly, so that authors have no additional work….”

Missing the Target: The UK Scholarly Communications License – The Scholarly Kitchen

“There are any number of issues to be addressed in the premises of the UK Scholarly Communications License, among them the longstanding and keen interest of higher education in acquiring intellectual property rights to the work of their researchers. But we want to focus here on some of the implications for our discipline, history, as illustrative. History research is published in journals, but it is very much a book discipline. The publishing systems for each are themselves distinctive. History journals are mostly published by non-profit organizations, often university presses, and require intensive editorial work. Because the formulation of text in argument is the primary research output, derivative use is not as applicable or desirable as it might be for other fields. That is, we produce essays with interpretive arguments, not data or experimental findings. Additionally, institutional publication of scholarly articles raises all kinds of issues related to intellectual property and third-party rights. Scholars across the arts and humanities regularly cite or use in their articles third-party sources (including privately and institutionally owned manuscripts and printed works, poetry, literature music, art etc.). It is extremely unlikely that the rights holders of such materials will abandon their third-party rights and allow libraries to publish their materials. The result will be an administrative burden for libraries and academics, and create potential legal problems too. Historical organizations have devised a variety of ways to increase the reach of these outputs. And for these reasons and more, historians have strongly advocated for flexible approaches to Open Access. Many convenings have resulted in the development of Green OA to recognize the diversity of needs and practices of disciplines and fields, primarily but not only in HSS.”

Scholarly Communications Model Policy and Licence: Publishers’ Association Concerns together with UK-SCL Steering Group Responses

“The proposed policy is based on the Harvard model which has been in use since 2008 and has been adopted by over 60 institutions worldwide, including  Ivy League universities whose publishing outputs eclipse the numbers published in total in the UK. Under the Harvard model policy, waivers are  requested for less than 5% of articles. We are at a loss to understand why,  therefore, the estimate is so high for UK authors and why UK authors might  be treated differently to their counterparts in existing ‘Harvard policy’ institutions.”