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Celebrating Canada’s open access “tipping point”

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Michael Geist

As Canadians welcome World Book and Copyright Day on April 23rd, the three federal research granting institutions – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada – have provided yet another reason to celebrate.

After years of delay and debate, the Tri-Councils unveiled a harmonized open access policy that takes effect for all grants awarded after May 1st.  The key aspect of the policy is that it requires grant recipients to ensure that their peer-reviewed publications are freely available online within 12 months of initial publication.  Researchers can comply with the open access policy by either self-archiving their publications in an online repository that will freely post their work within 12 months or by submitting their manuscript to a journal that offers open access within 12 months of publication.

The policy sends a strong message to all researchers that the public should not be asked to pay for access to the research that it funds. Rather, researchers seeking taxpayer support can reasonably be required to make their research openly available to the public.

Given the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual research support, the Tri-Council policy could have a transformative effect on ensuring that Canadian research is openly and freely available. Coming on the heels of legislative reforms that firmly entrenched users’ rights within Canadian copyright law and the Supreme Court of Canada’s “copyright pentalogy” that has sparked greater reliance fair dealing, Canadian policies have emerged as world leaders in fostering access and enhancing dissemination of works.

The shift toward open access becoming the default form of disseminating research in many fields is a remarkable change given that conventional publishing in expensive subscription-based journals was the standard in many areas as recently as ten years ago. The move toward open access means that global research is far more accessible to everyone – scientists, researchers, and the general public.

The implications of open access policies extend far beyond shaking up the academic journal market. Openly available articles are already being incorporated into teaching materials, thereby replacing conventional textbooks and removing the need for copyright permissions and fees.  Open access may also help foster greater collaboration between researchers and the business community with improved access leading to commercialization opportunities that might otherwise be missed.

World Book and Copyright Day offers the chance to take stock of Canadian copyright and open access policies. With the latest developments, Canadian research appears to set to hit a tipping point where “open” is the default, making thousands of Canadian articles openly and freely available to a global audience.

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

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