EU backs open-access science publishing

Samsung tablet. Picture:Clare Matthes/EWN.

LONDON - The European Commission, which controls one of the world's largest science budgets, has backed calls for free access to publicly funded research in a move that could force a major change in the business model for publishers such as Reed Elsevier.

The Commission said on Tuesday that open access will be a "general principle" applied to grants awarded through the 80 billion euro ($97.92 billion) Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation.

"Taxpayers should not have to pay twice for scientific research and they need seamless access to raw data," said Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice-president for the Digital Agenda.

The most prestigious academic journals, such as Nature, Science and Cell, earn the bulk of their revenues through subscriptions from readers.

They have large and lucrative deals with university libraries -- worth about 150 million pounds to 200 million pounds a year in the UK, to give access to the same scientists who produce and review, usually without payment, the research that they publish.

Open-access journals, such as the Public Library of Science, are often internet-based and charge researchers a fee for publication, allowing free access for anyone after publication.

From 2014 all articles produced with funding from Horizon 2020 will have to be accessible and the goal is for 60 percent of European publicly funded research to be available by 2016.

The open-access market has been growing rapidly over the past decade but still only accounts for about 3 percent of the $8 billion global market for scholarly journals.

The subscription model has come under attack from some scientists, who argue that publishing companies are making fat profits on the back of taxpayer-funded research.