In a move to disseminate faculty research and scholarship more broadly, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) voted Tuesday (Feb. 12) to give the University a worldwide license to make each faculty member’s scholarly articles available and to exercise the copyright in the articles, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit.

In proposing the legislation, Stuart M. Shieber, a professor at FAS, said, “There is no question that scholarly journals have historically allowed scholars to distribute their research to audiences around the world. But, the scholarly publishing system has become far more restrictive than it need be. Many publishers will not even allow scholars to use and distribute their own work. And, the cost of journals has risen to such astronomical levels that many institutions and individuals have cancelled subscriptions, further reducing the circulation of scholars’ works.

“This is a large and very important step for scholars throughout the country. It should be a very powerful message to the academic community that we want and should have more control over how our work is used and disseminated,” added Shieber, James O. Welch Jr. and Virginia B. Welch Professor of Computer Science.

“The goal of university research is the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge. At Harvard, where so much of our research is of global significance, we have an essential responsibility to distribute the fruits of our scholarship as widely as possible,” said Provost Steven E. Hyman. “Today’s action in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will promote free and open access to significant, ongoing research. It is a first step in the creation of an open-access environment for current research that may one day provide the widest possible dissemination of Harvard’s distinguished Faculties’ work.”

Harvard will take advantage of the license by hosting FAS faculty members’ scholarly articles in an open-access repository, making them available worldwide for free. The faculty member will retain the copyright of the article, subject to the University’s license. The repository contents can be made widely available to the public through such search engines such as Google Scholar. Faculty members may request a waiver of the license for particular articles where this is preferable. The new legislation does not apply to articles completed before its adoption.

The repository, which will be supported and maintained by Harvard University, will allow scholars and the general public from around the world access to scholarly works of FAS faculty. This access will benefit scholars at all research institutions, which have seen their ability to maintain subscriptions to a full range of scholarly journals seriously compromised over the past few years. Research centers in poorer countries have been especially harmed by the access limitations caused by the high cost of many journals, Shieber pointed out.

“Today’s vote in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences,” said Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the University Library, “addresses an issue that is of great concern to all of the Faculties of the University. All of us face the same problems and all of us can envision the public benefits of open access. Harvard Medical School, for example, is already working with its faculty to comply with a congressional mandate that articles based on funding from the National Institutes of Health be openly accessible through PubMed Central. By working, as individual faculties and together as a single University, we can all promote the free communication of knowledge”

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