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Princeton policy pushes academics to maintain copyrights in their scholarship

On September 19, Princeton University's Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy adopted an open access policy on scholarly research that prohibits faculty from giving all rights to their scholarly research to journal publishers without an instituitonal waiver for those cases in which a journal would not publish the research otherwise. As noted in the article on the issue (, the ability for faculty to apply for such waivers reduces the leverage the policy might otherwise create for making scholarly research from the university openly available. However, it does set the expectation that academic research should be open access to the extent possible, and thus may add to the pressure building within academe for new models of scholarship that leverage technology to advance the research enterprise.

Key selections from the policy:

We recommend a revision to the Rules and Procedures of the Faculty that will give the University a nonexclusive right to make available copies of scholarly articles written by its faculty, unless a professor specifically requests a waiver for particular articles. The University authorizes professors to post copies of their articles on their own web sites or on University web sites, or in other not-for-a-fee venues. Of course, the faculty already had exclusive rights in the scholarly articles they write; the main effect of this new policy is to prevent them from giving away all their rights when they publish in a journal.

The members of the Faculty of Princeton University strive to make their publications openly accessible to the public. To that end, each Faculty member hereby grants to The Trustees of Princeton University a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to exercise any and all copyrights in his or her scholarly articles published in any medium, whether now known or later invented, provided the articles are not sold by the University for a profit, and to authorize others to do the same. . . Upon the express direction of a Faculty member, the Provost or the Provost’s designate will waive or suspend application of this license for a particular article authored or co-authored by that Faculty member.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Does this take away rights from the faculty, or give the faculty more rights?
A. In a narrow sense, it takes away one right: the right to give away all the rights to your article when you sign a copyright assignment. The policy forces the University (and you in turn) to retain some rights, so that even as the journal publishes your article, you can post a copy on your own web site (or the University’s). So, in a broader sense, it helps you keep your rights. See also, Ulysses and the sirens: it ties you to the mast, but you still get to hear the song.


Q. What if this policy is absolutely incompatible with a journal’s copyright contract, and the journal won’t budge on this, and won’t let me publish?
A. You can obtain a waiver of the policy for any article, upon request. This waiver (which should be as easy to obtain as entering the bibliographic information into a web form) will then permit you, as before, to give away all the rights to your article.


Q. Doesn’t the waiver make the policy completely toothless in practice?
A. One might think so, but in fact the experience of other universities is that they can use a university open-access policy of this kind (even with waivers) to lean on the journals to adjust their standard contracts so that waivers are not required, or with a limited waiver that simply delays open-access for a few months.



1. First, congratulations to Princeton University (my graduate alma mater!) for adopting an open access mandate: a copyright-reservation policy, adopted by unanimous faculty vote.

2. Princeton is following in the footsteps of Harvard in adopting the copyright-reservation policy pioneered by Stuart Shieber and Peter Suber.

3. I hope that Princeton will now also follow in the footsteps of Harvard by adding an immediate-deposit requirement with no waiver option to its copyright-reservation mandate, as Harvard has done.

4. The Princeton copyright-reservation policy, like the Harvard copyright-reservation policy, can be waived if the author wishes: This is to allow authors to retain the freedom to choose where to publish, even if the journal does not agree to the copyright-reservation.

5. Adding an immediate-deposit clause, with no opt-out waiver option, retains all the properties and benefits of the copyright-reservation policy while ensuring that all articles are nevertheless deposited in the institutional repository upon publication, with no exceptions: Access to the deposited article can be embargoed, but deposit itself cannot; access is a copyright matter, deposit is not.

6. Depositing all articles upon publication, without exception, is crucial to reaching 100% open access with certainty, and as soon as possible; hence it is the right example to set for the many other universities worldwide that are now contemplating emulating Harvard and Princeton by adopting open access policies of their own; copyright reservation alone, with opt-out, is not.

7. The reason it is imperative that the deposit clause must be immediate and without a waiver option is that, without that, both when and whether articles are deposited at all is indeterminate: With the added deposit requirement the policy is a mandate; without it, it is just a gentleman/scholar's agreement.

[Footnote: Princeton's open access policy is also unusual in having been adopted before Princeton has created an open access repository for its authors to deposit in: It might be a good idea to create the repository as soon as possible so Princeton authors can get into the habit of practising what they pledge from the outset...]

Stevan HarnadEnablingOpenScholarship