I’ve been sitting on this post for what seems like an eternity, but the news embargo has been lifted, and we’re all free to share the fantastic news from Harvard Law School, where the faculty voted unanimously to provide open access to faculty scholarship in an online repository. This makes Harvard the nation’s first law school to make a public commitment to principles of open access (although such policies are well known in the scientific and engineering communities, where they have been driven by astronomical [and still rising] journal subscription fees).
Details of the motion come from the peerless John Palfrey, the new head of the Harvard Law Library who has served for several years as the Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. JP’s blog post has the full text of the motion, but the key provisions are:
“Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. More specifically, each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles authored or co-authored while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy.”
As John Willinsky has explained, open access is a force multiplier for scholarship: it correlates with increased influence (as measured by citations) and broader scholarly impact as compared with work published only in closed or proprietary fora. Harvard’s move thus makes sense from the perspective of deepening HLS faculty members’ (no doubt already considerable) influence in each of the scholarly domains in which they publish. But open access is the right policy even for reasons that have nothing to do with personal or institutional self-interest, of course. At some level, open access is preferable simply because it’s the right thing to do: it’s part of the public service mission of every university (especially, but not exclusively, for public universities like my own) to pass the benefits of faculty research along to the public at large. I personally think that there’s also something valuable about preventing scholarship from becoming more of an echo chamber than it already is — that open access actually ultimately makes for better research, although I confess that that’s just my anecdotal impression based on nothing in particular.
Individual faculty members whose colleagues aren’t quite ready to follow Harvard’s example and adopt an institutional commitment to open access aren’t left without options, of course. Tim Wu‘s Keep Your Copyrights is full of advice to non-IP-specialist authors to help ensure that they don’t needlessly waive the rights in their own works that are necessary to permit republication in open-access fora. The Open Access Law Program is another resource, one that aims to provide guidance to authors and law journals alike. The OALP maintains a list of law reviews that have formally adopted open access principles, although the list is hardly the end of the story — I had no difficulty persuading a journal not on the OALP’s list to publish my forthcoming piece under a Creative Commons license, for example.
For more on the news from Harvard, see: