Following the death of Aaron Swartz, governments and higher education seem to have stepped up their efforts to make scholarly research more readily accessible. Now, the world's largest public research university, the University of California, has voted to make the published works of its more than 8,000 faculty members free to the public, by default, at the university's eScholarship website. Faculty at three UC campuses will start contributing papers on November 1st, with the rest to follow in November of next year.
"Doesn't the opt-out approach mean the policy has no teeth?"
There is that one caveat, "by default," because researchers and scholars can opt out of the program on a per-paper basis, say if they want to reserve their work for publication in a prestigious journal that doesn't want them to share, or if they wish to keep it private. The policy also won't retroactively include any articles published before today, so don't think you'll necessarily be able to look up any old peer-reviewed study and expect to find it there. Still, it seems like a welcome move, and the UC sees it as as an attractive one for its faculty members. In a lengthy question-and-answer section on the UC website, it asks itself "Doesn't the opt-out approach mean the policy has no teeth?"
"The intent of this policy is not to make publishers capitulate to Faculty demands for open access, but to find ways to make our work have greater impact and accessibility," reads part of the answer.
It's not clear if the move was driven by the US government's timetable on open access, but it seems likely. In February, the White House issued a memo ordering federal agencies that give out $100 million or more in research funding a year to make the resulting scientific papers free to the public within a year of publication, and UC admits that it currently receives roughly 8 percent of all research funding in the US. Government agencies had six months to figure out how to accomplish that goal, and the six-month deadline will elapse later in August.