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Opening access to research data: Empowering researchers to operationalize Open Access policies and strategies

The recent release of the RDA-CODATA Legal Interoperability Guidelines for open access in September 2016 is yet another contribution to the plethora of international policies, frameworks and guidelines that have been adopted to facilitate the opening of access to the world’s research. This paper draws observations and lessons from a range of sectors that are now realising the need to embrace the open access movement at the grass roots level, and to ensure that open access initiatives are clear, equitable and above all else practical.

The shift to open access for research and data started with idealistic motives. With great enthusiasm and, in some cases, pressure from a wide range of stakeholders including private and public research funders, open access was justified on the basis that the full social and economic benefits of research should be available to everyone who could use and build on research to improve society and people’s lives.  Beginning almost 25 years ago, the primary features of free and unrestricted online availability of research and data were spelt out in various public statements including the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access. More recently, however, the growing awareness of, the benefits of open access has spurned even more international policies, statements and guidelines on the topic.  What many of these policies and statement highlight is that law has the potential to hinder or obstruct open access.

A recent example of attempts to navigate the legal complexities of open access is the work of the RDA-CODATA Legal Interoperability Interest Group. In September 2016, this group produced a set of principles and practical implementation guidelines on legal interoperability for open access. The intention is that these will be used by those engaged in activities related to access and reuse of research data including funders, managers of data centers, librarians, archivists, publishers, policymakers, university administrators and individual researchers. In this paper, we examine whether the numerous international and national open access policies, statements and guidelines provide a clear consistent approach to operationalizing the releasing of data on clear and equitable terms. In so doing, potential lessons are drawn from a range of sectors that, having adopted Open Access policies, are now turning to the more practical operationalization that needs to occur within their industries to enable researchers to embrace open access at the grass roots level.