Frequently Asked Questions

Open Access

The Compact

  • What is the compact for open-access publishing equity?

    The compact for open-access publishing equity is a commitment that a university makes to the timely establishment of durable mechanisms for underwriting reasonable publication charges for open-access journals.

  • What does it require of a university?

    Signatory universities commit to "the timely establishment of durable mechanisms for underwriting reasonable publication charges for articles written by its faculty and published in open access journals and for which other institutions would not be expected to provide funds."

  • Why is there a need for the compact?

    In short, open-access journals that charge processing fees are at a systematic disadvantage as compared to closed-access journals charging subscription fees, since the latter are subsidized by universities and funding agencies, whereas the former generally are not. To place the two on a more level playing field, universities and funding agencies should subsidize open-access processing fees, just as they do closed-access subscription fees. The compact commits universities to setting up mechanisms for underwriting such open-access journal processing fees.

    If a critical mass of institutions undertook this commitment, publishers would be more able to choose freely between the business models. Support for the compact "levels the playing field" for fee-charging open-access journals and subscription-charging closed-access journals.

    More detailed background is available in this Perspective article published in the open-access journal PLoS Biology.

  • How can I get my university listed as a signatory?

    Contact us and we can work to list your university as supporting the compact.

  • Who is organizing this effort?

    The compact arose as a result of discussions within the university community about providing alternative sustainable, efficient, and effective business models for journal publishing. The compact itself was suggested by Stuart Shieber, Welch Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University, and Faculty Director of Harvard's Office for Scholarly Communication, and has been discussed at a variety of venues (see, for instance, this video of a talk at Cal Tech), with a longer statement provided through a Perspective piece in PLoS Biology. The campaign for support of the compact is a bottom-up communal effort, with administration through this web site provided by the Office for Scholarly Communication. All aspects of implementation of the compact are the responsibility of the supporting universities; the compact envisions broad experimentation in all aspects of how to provide the underwriting of fees that the signatories commit to.

Implementation of the Compact

  • Who decides how the compact is interpreted and implemented?

    Each signatory university does.

    A signatory university will need to make choices about how exactly to implement the compact, how funds will be provided, under what conditions, and with what limitations. The questions in this section provide further information about some of the possibilities for implementation, but are by no means exhaustive.

  • What is meant by "scholarly publishers"?

    The publishing community referred to in the compact is construed broadly to include not only commercial publishers but nonprofit publishers, scholarly societies, and independent journals.

  • What kind of commitment does a university take on in supporting the compact?

    Each university will make its own determination as to what constitutes fulfillment of the commitment outlined in this compact. These explanatory notes clarify and emphasize the range of possibilities.

  • What constitutes "timely establishment"?

    Compact institutions will require some time to put in place mechanisms to fund open access publication charges. Some may choose to place other conditions on what constitutes timely establishment, for instance, a critical mass of co-signers, prior establishment of an open-access policy at the institution, or other governing conditions.

  • What is meant by "durable mechanisms"?

    It is important that journals are able to rely on the commitment implicit in the compact as a stable source of funding. Therefore, the mechanisms developed by compact institutions would not be short-term, experimental deployments but programs with an expectation of continuity for multiple years. Nonetheless, compact institutions will want to revisit the question of how best to support the funding of journals from time to time as conditions change.

  • What constitutes "underwriting"?

    By underwriting of a publication charge is meant the payment of all or substantially all of the charge either directly to the publisher or through reimbursement of the author subject to conditions on what constitutes reasonable publication charges.

  • What constitutes "reasonable publication charges"?

    Universities may establish various mechanisms for determination of what constitutes a reasonable publication charge, including per article caps or per faculty member annual budget limits.

  • What constitutes a "publication charge"?

    Publication charges might encompass some or all of a variety of fees charged by a publisher for article processing services, such as submission fees, article publication fees proper, page charges, and figure charges.

  • What constitutes a "faculty member"?

    Compact members may develop various approaches to handle cases of multiple authorship, authorship across institutions, authorship by other university community members than faculty, and so forth.

  • What are "fee-based open-access journals"?

    A substantial minority of open-access journals support their operations by charging processing fees (typically submission or publication fees) paid by or on behalf of an article's authors. It is these fees that the compact commits to underwriting.

    Many, indeed most, open-access journals do not charge processing fees. Such journals are no less deserving of support, and universities are urged to support them as well (as many already do), through direct subvention, support for personnel, equipment, and other facilities. However, the compact was not seen as the right method for institutionalizing this support.

  • What open access journals will be eligible for underwriting of their publication charges?

    Compact institutions will need to establish criteria for what constitutes an eligible open access journal. It is envisioned, however, that open access journals include those that at least provide unfettered online access to all scholar-contributed peer-reviewed articles. This does not preclude a journal from charging a subscription fee for the totality of the journal’s content or for formats other than online distribution. However, journals that require a supplemental payment for open access on an article-by-article basis, so-called hybrid open access journals, would not be expected to be eligible. Other factors affecting eligibility might include quality of the journal and fee-waiver policies of the journal.

  • What is meant by "for which other institutions would not be expected to provide funds"?

    The compact envisions that in a stable system a broad range of universities and funding agencies would be prepared to underwrite open access publication charges. Thus, a compact institution may reasonably expect that for an article based on grant-funded research, the funding agency should be responsible for payment of the publication charge, and the article would not be eligible for underwriting by the institution whether or not the funding agency actually covers the particular charge.

Supporting the Compact

  • I'm thinking of having my university sign the compact. What are signatories committing to?

    Signatories commit to the compact statement. Most importantly, signatories commit to "the timely establishment of durable mechanisms for underwriting reasonable publication charges for articles written by its faculty and published in fee-based open-access journals and for which other institutions would not be expected to provide funds."

    Each university makes its own determination as to what constitutes fulfillment of the commitment outlined in this compact. You are urged to read the implementation portion of the FAQ for explanation of the range of possibilities. In particular, signatories do not need to establish an open-access fund immediately. As described at the web site, they are free to determine when and with what triggering conditions it would be timely to do so.

  • How does a university become a signatory?

    To become a signatory, we need a letter from the provost of the university or equivalent academic officer confirming that they commit on behalf of the university to the compact statement.  The letter should also provide the name and contact information for a person at the university who will serve as the contact person for issues regarding the compact, perhaps an appropriate administrator in the provost's office or a university librarian.  It would further be helpful to have a description of the university's plan for implementing their commitment to the compact. The letter can be sent to

    COPE
    c/o Office for Scholarly Communication
    Wadsworth House 210
    1341 Massachusetts Avenue
    Cambridge, MA 02138

    or by email to .

  • Can non-US universities become signatories?

    Of course. Scholarly publishing is an international process, and all universities throughout the world are stakeholders in it.

  • Can non-university institutions express their support for the compact?

    Yes. Many other institutions are stakeholders in the scholarly publishing process as well. The compact is intended to serve as a statement of university support for a sustainable open-access journal ecology. Other institutions -- such as research institutions, funding agencies, and publishers -- may share this goal. Though it does not make sense to have such institutions as signatories, it does make sense to list them as supporting the goal of the compact. Consequently, we are happy to list such institutions on the signatory page as compact supporters. Again, a letter from an appropriate leader at the institution stating their support for the compact on behalf of the institution can be sent to the address provided here.

  • I'm a faculty member interested in getting involved in supporting the compact. What can I do?

    Talk to your colleagues and your provost to initiate a discussion about the compact with the goal to eventually having your university support the compact. While you're at it, it would be great if you could work toward open-access policies on campus. SPARC can provide advice on the process.

  • I'm a student interested in getting involved in supporting the compact. What can I do?

    Your best course of action is probably to find some faculty members who you can engage in a discussion about the compact with the goal to eventually having them enlist your university in supporting the compact. While you're at it, it would be great if those faculty members worked toward open-access policies on campus. SPARC can provide advice on the process.