Centre for Internet & Society

The Department of Biotechnology and the Department of Science, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, recently published a draft Open Access Policy in consultation with several open access experts, government officials and CIS. This post discusses open access and the exercise undertaken to draft this policy.

The Department of Biotechnology (“DBT”) and the Department of Science (“DST”), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, released their draft Open Access Policy (“the Policy) on July 5, 2014 (the Policy may be accessed hereand comments may be sent to [email protected] by July 25, 2014). This step by the Ministry of Science and Technology is laudable, especially from the view of increasing access to research undertaken at these institutions. DBT/DST’s endeavour to provide open access applies to scientific research directly (including ad-hoc) or indirectly funded by them. It also applies to scientific research which has received benefits, infrastructure or other support from the DBT/DST.  Providing open access may also ensure percolation of cutting edge research at a rapid pace into higher education curriculum, thereby raising the standard of technical and scientific education.

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (“CSIR”), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (“ICAR”) and Institute of Mathematical Sciences (“IMSc”) are the few Indian government institutions to have implemented open access policies applicable to the research undertaken at their respective institutions. While the CSIR and ICAR present outlines of their open access policies, the IMSc provides access to a digital repository containing digital theses/dissertations, matscience reports and other publications of institute members. CIS had sent comments to the ICAR upon release of ICAR’s draft policy.

Open Access in Scientific Research

Presently two models of scientific research publications exist, namely, the commercial model and the open access model. The scientific research ecosystem traditionally functioned on the commercial model, until open access was embraced by a part of the scientific community. It is reported that presently, there exist approximately 25,000 journals in the areas of science, technology and medicine. The conventional model of communicating research is  by publishing it in printed journals. These journals are usually subscription based, and demand  hefty amounts from interested authors for publication. Further, research was only accessible to that select group of persons willing to pay a high monetary sum for the same. These industry practices led to restrictions on access to scholarly research, including restrictions on sharing and building further on work already created.   . Over the past few years, this trend has witnessed a change, with research being increasingly published in online, open access journals.

Open Access is free, immediate, permanent online access to the full text of research articles for anyone, web-wide, without severe restrictions on use commonly imposed by publisher copyright agreements. Open access was first defined in 2002 at the Budapest Initiative. The Bethesda Statement (2003) provided:

An Open Access Publication is one that meets the following two conditions:

The author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship[2], as well as the right to make small numbers of printed copies for their personal use.

A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials, including a copy of the permission as stated above, in a suitable standard electronic format is deposited immediately upon initial publication in at least one online repository that is supported by an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or other well-established organization that seeks to enable open access, unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long-term archiving (for the biomedical sciences, PubMed Central is such a repository).

The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities is another significant milestone of the Open Access movement. Globally, USA and Europe have been instrumental in adopting open access policies across a wide range of institutions. Illustratively, the US’ National Institute of Health open access policy is a comprehensive document detailing every aspect of the policy and its implications. Several premier academic institutions (Harvard) under experts (Peter Suber) have drafted documents containing guidelines on drafting a suitable open access policy.

 The advantages of adopting an open access policy are manifold- free access to scientific research irrespective of subscription affiliation, decrease in publishing and research costs for industry and academia; It has also been argued that restricting access to government funded research is unethical, since scientific research conducted by government agencies is partly, if not entirely, funded by the taxpayers’ money. Further, adoption of open access alone could improve visibility and impact of Indian science,

Open Access and Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is the essential instrument used to effect principles of open access. The extent of rights under copyright which the owner chooses to exercise over scholarly publication in question determines whether a publication may be openly accessed or not. Traditionally, journal publishers ran an inequitable policy which required all publication and reproduction rights (copyright) to be exclusively transferred by the author or institution to the publishers in consideration of publication in reputed journals. This practice created artificial and expensive barriers to scholarly research.  Contrast this with open access principles wherein to provide open access- Generally, the author or the institution (depending on the jurisdictional copyright laws) retain certain rights in the publication, whilst permitting zero-barrier access to their research. This requires careful balancing and distribution of rights between three stakeholders- author, institution and the publisher.

About the DST/DBT’s Open Access Policy

The Open Access Policy Document for DBT/ DST was drafted by the Open Access Policy Committee on a specific request from Dr. VijayRaghavan, Secretary, DBT.  The Policy was drafted after multiple rounds of consultation with Ministry officials, eminent academics and experts on open access, government officials with prior experience of set-up of institutional repositories and CIS. Prof Subbiah Arunachalam led the discussions along with the Open Access Policy Committee and brought different perspectives to the fore. The Policy may be accessed here. The Policy will be applicable to publications in peer reviewed journals, and aims to maximise the distribution of these publications by providing free online access by depositing them in a gratis open access repository (deemed mandatory). Authors can make their publications open access by publishing in an open access journal, or if they choose to publish in a subscription journal, by posting the final accepted manuscript to an online repository. The Policy suggests a maximum embargo period placed on authors by journals to not exceed one year. It also addresses the methodology of depositing in a repository and provides for a proposed copyright addendum between the author and publisher.

CIS’ Contribution

CIS participated in discussions along with experts brought on board by Prof. Subbiah Arunachalam to develop and review an open access policy for the purposes of DST and DBT. CIS, inter alia, commented on the legality of clauses in the policy pertaining to Indian copyright law and supplied a note on utilisation of ‘public domain’ in open access policies. Legally, a work is said to have entered the public domain when it is free from copyright protection. The note recommended usage of the phrase “made available to public” as opposed to “public domain” since the said policy permitted the institution and/or author to retain rights in the scientific paper. You may access the note here.


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