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The rights of UC authors are at stake: Here’s what we are doing about it

UC has recently learned that academic publishers are attempting to subvert the rights of authors to control how their own work is used and shared. Through licensing agreements that authors are required to sign, some publishers even attempt to place restrictions on earlier drafts and supporting data — flying directly in the face of UC’s principles and values.

“We are disappointed to learn that publishers are deliberately undermining the stated will of UC faculty,” wrote UC President Michael V. Drake, M.D., and UC System Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Katherine S. Newman, in a recent letter (PDF) responding to concerns raised by the leadership of the University of California’s Academic Senate.

“We have learned that many publishers are requiring UC authors to sign misleading License to Publish agreements, which undermine the spirit and intent of [UC’s open access policies],” wrote Susan Cochran, Chair of the faculty Academic Senate (PDF).

By purporting to restrict an author’s abilities to reuse their own work, “these agreements essentially turn faculty authors into readers, as opposed to creators and owners of their own work,” the Academic Senate chair concludes.

The team that leads negotiations with scholarly publishers on behalf of the university, including representatives from UC’s California Digital Library, the 10 campus libraries, and the Academic Senate, is now taking up the charge, making author rights the next frontier in advocating for the UC research community.

Building on success

Working in close collaboration over the past five years, the faculty and libraries have made tremendous strides in advancing open access publishing, which supports UC’s mission as a public university by making research freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world.

In 2019, UC made headlines when it terminated its contract with academic publishing giant Elsevier, taking a bold stance on behalf of open access publishing in scholarly journals. UC now has open access agreements with 15 scholarly journal publishers, including Elsevier. As a result, half of UC research is eligible to be published open access.

“We seek open access and author rights not just for the benefit of UC faculty, students, researchers, and clinicians,” Drake and Newman concluded, “but to ensure that all Californians and the world can access research immediately and without barriers, and that all authors can be assured that their rights are honored.”

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