Centre for Internet & Society

In this blogpost, Nehaa Chaudhari discusses the newly adopted Open Access Policy of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

Earlier this month, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) adopted an Open Access Policy. Inter alia, this policy requires each ICAR institute to set up an Open Access Institutional Repository (OAIR), with the ICAR to set up a central harvester to harvest the meta data and full text of all the records from the Open Access (OA) repositories so set up. What is interesting from the IPR perspective is that the meta-data and other information of these repositories is copyrighted with the ICAR and has been licensed for research and academic purposes, for using, re-using and sharing. Commercial and other reuse would require the written permission of the ICAR. In a nod to the increasing importance of social media, ICAR’s Open Access Policy encourages its institutes to share their works on public repositories and social networking sites, besides adopting the mandate to have all publications, including its journals placed under Open Access. What might be harder to realize, however, is the publication of their research by scientists and other researchers across ICAR institutes or elsewhere, with publishers that allow self archiving Open Access Institutional Repositories. The ICAR Open Access Policy is available here.

In May, earlier this year, the ICAR had released a draft version of this policy, inviting comments. CIS’ comments had lauded the Policy as being comprehensive, detailed, and as being a positive step in the right direction, and had suggested some possible changes to the same.

It is observed that the adopted Open Access Policy (OAP) differs from the Draft Policy (DP) in certain respects, some of which are a cause for concern, whereas a few others expand the scope of the OAP. First, while the OAP requires that Institutional Repositories be established; the requirement contained in the DP to use Free and Open Source Software which was OAI-MHP compliant has been removed. Given that this is an endeavour to foster openness, requiring the use of Open Source Software was definitely a welcome step sought to be adopted by the ICAR, and its elimination renders the OAP lacking in the spirit of openness to its greatest realizable extent. Further, compliance with OAI-MHP would have ensured interoperability, as noted by us in our comments to the DP, and a failure to utilize this would reduce the accessibility and impact of archived materials. Second, the OAP requires that authors of scholarly articles deposit both, preprints and post-prints of their papers accepted for publication in the OAIR. This is a departure from the position in the DP, which required only preprints be deposited. Given that there is likely to be a difference in content and form of the article between the preprints and post-prints (which are after peer review), the inclusion of both preprints and post-prints in the OAIR is seen to be a beneficial move. Third, the period of embargo while signing copyright agreements with publishers had been envisaged to be six months in the DP, whereas the OAP extends the same to twelve months. It is felt that scientific writing is likely to be time sensitive, and twelve months might be an inordinate delay for its availability in the public domain, possibly reducing its applicability and relevance. Therefore, it is suggested that the earlier embargo period of six months might be the better alternative between the two. Fourth, the OAP incorporates an End Note, that was absent in the DP, which stipulates the time period of three years for compliance with the Open Access initiative, and recognizes the OAP as the first stage of a larger process. Both, the time period for compliance, and the recognition that the adoption of the OAP is but the first stage, are appreciated.

In sum, the OAP of the ICAR, while addressing some of the issues associated openness does leave room for desirability. Besides the suggestions that we had made earlier, other concerns include those reflected in this blog post, particularly regarding the departure from the DP in certain specific instances. Nonetheless, the adoption of the OAP by the ICAR is a welcome move- one that would hopefully be followed by other Government agencies such as the Department of Atomic Energy, the University Grants Commission, the Department of Biotechnology, etc.

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