Gates Foundation announces world’s strongest policy on open access research

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced the world’s strongest policy in support of open research and open data. If strictly enforced, it would prevent Gates-funded researchers from publishing in well-known journals such as Nature and Science.

On 20 November, the medical charity, based in Seattle, Washington, announced that from January 2015, researchers it funds must make open their resulting papers and underlying data sets immediately upon publication — and must make that research available for commercial reuse. “We believe that published research resulting from our funding should be promptly and broadly disseminated,” the foundation states. It says it will pay the necessary publication fees (which often amount to thousands of dollars per article).

The foundation is allowing two years’ grace: until 2017, researchers may apply a 12-month delay before their articles and data are made free. At first glance, this suggests that authors may still — for now — publish in journals that do not offer immediate open-access (OA) publishing, such as Science and Nature. These journals permit researchers to archive their peer-reviewed manuscripts elsewhere online, usually after a delay of 6–12 months after publication.

 

However, the Gates Foundation’s policy has a second, more onerous twist that appears to put it directly in conflict with many non-OA journals now, rather than in 2017. Once made open, papers must be published under a licence that legally allows unrestricted reuse — including for commercial purposes. This might include ‘mining’ the text with computer software to draw conclusions and mix it with other work, distributing translations of the text or selling republished versions.  In the parlance of Creative Commons, a non-profit organization based in Mountain View, California, this is the CC-BY licence (where ‘BY’ indicates that credit must be given to the author of the original work).

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