OAP Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why are we doing this?

Harvard University has long had a policy that "when entering into agreements for the publication and distribution of copyrighted materials individuals will make arrangements that best serve the public interest." In the eyes of many, including the Provost's Committee on Scholarly Publishing and large numbers of individual faculty members, this goal is best served by using the unified action of the faculty to enable individual faculty to distribute their scholarly writings freely.

Other organizations with a vested interest in scholarship are independently supporting such efforts as well. For instance, the Wellcome Trust requires any scholarly articles on research they fund to be made openly accessible. The National Institutes of Health, by congressional legislation, have instituted a similar requirement, mandating posting in the open-access PubMed Central repository.

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Q: What kinds of writings does this apply to?

Only scholarly articles. Using terms from the Budapest Open Access Initiative, faculty's scholarly articles are articles that describe the fruits of their research and that they give to the world for the sake of inquiry and knowledge without expectation of payment. Such articles are typically presented in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and conference proceedings.

Many of the written products of faculty effort are not encompassed under this notion of scholarly article: books, popular articles, commissioned articles, fiction and poetry, encyclopedia entries, ephemeral writings, lecture notes, lecture videos, or other copyrighted works. This is not to denigrate such writings. Rather, they are generated as part of separate publishing or distribution mechanisms that function in different ways and whose shortcomings, if any, the present policies do not and are not meant to address.

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Q: Why make this an automatic license? Why not just suggest that faculty individually retain a license for open-access distribution?

First, experience has shown that mere exhortations have little effect on authors' behavior. For instance, before Congress made it a requirement, participation in the NIH Public Access Policy was optional. During that period, there was only a 4% level of compliance.

Second, experience in many areas has shown that opt-out systems achieve much higher degrees of participation than opt-in systems, even while remaining noncoercive.

Third, by making a blanket policy, individual faculty benefit from their membership in the policy-making group. The University can work with publishers on behalf of the faculty to simplify procedures and broaden access. Without a blanket policy, the unified action benefit of the policy would be vitiated.

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Q: What are the advantages for authors?

The Internet and web have enabled individual faculty to make their articles widely, openly, and freely available. Research has repeatedly shown that articles available freely online are more often cited and have greater impact than those not freely available, and this trend is increasing over time. Consequently, many faculty already make their writings available on their web pages, sometimes in potential violation of copyright law and sometimes through individual copyright negotiations with publishers. The Open-Access Policy allows faculty authors to make their writings openly accessible, and it enables the University to help them do so.

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Q: What will Harvard do with the articles it has license to?

  • Availability in DASH. The University has set up an open-access repository called DASH to make available the scholarly articles provided by its faculty members. The repository is made open to harvesting by search services such as OAIster and Google Scholar.

  • Non-Commercial Distribution. Through the transferability provision, Harvard may further allow others to distribute content in DASH, provided that the articles are not sold for profit. For instance, faculty at other institutions could be given permission to make copies for free distribution directly to their students.

  • Instructional Purposes. The Open Access Policy grants Harvard the right to license articles for free use in a course pack, so long as the course pack is not sold for profit. Alternatively, those seeking to include articles in a coursepack could continue to get permissions from the publisher, typically by paying royalties to the publisher.

    To take another example, Harvard could also authorize others to make articles available online (for example, on a course website or another repository), provided that these were not sold for a profit.

  • Harvesting, Indexing, and Other Services. Consistent with the goals of open access and ensuring wide visibility and availability of scholarly articles, the license allows Harvard to enable both commercial and nonprofit entities to use the articles to provide search or other services, so long as the articles are not being sold for a profit.

    For instance, the license allows Harvard to enable the articles to be harvested and indexed by search services, such as Google Scholar, so that they can more readily be found, and to be used to provide other value-added services that don't involve selling the articles themselves for a profit. Harvard also could authorize use of the articles in a commercial service that provides information extracted from the articles (but not the full text itself), such as bibliographic data or citation lists.

  • Technological Innovation. If new means of distributing or making the articles available evolve during the lengthy term of copyright, the license is intended to give Harvard the flexibility to use those means to advance the purposes of the policy, provided always that the articles are not sold for a profit.

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Q: Will Harvard ever sell articles for profit or allow others to do so?

No. Harvard does not have—and cannot grant to others—the right to sell the articles for a profit or to sell a coursepack or book containing the articles for a profit.

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