This week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) declared 2023 its ‘Year of Open Science‘, announcing ‘new grant funding, improvements in research infrastructure, broadened research participation for emerging scholars, and expanded opportunities for public engagement’. This announcement builds on the OSTP’s open access policy announcement last year that will require immediate open access to federally-funded research from 2025. Given the state of the academic publishing market, and the tendency for US institutions to look towards market-based solutions, such a policy change will result in more article-processing charge payments and, most likely, publishing agreements between libraries and academic publishers (as I have written about elsewhere). The OSTP’s policy interventions will therefore hasten the marketisation of open access publishing by further cementing the business models of large commercial publishers — having similar effects to the policy initiatives of European funders.

As the US becomes more centralised and maximalist in its approach to open access policymaking, European institutions are taking a leaf out of the North American book by implementing rights retention policies — of the kind implemented by Harvard in 2008 and adopted widely in North America thereafter. If 2023 will be the ‘year of open science’ in the USA, it will surely be the year of rights retention in Europe. This is largely in response to funders now refusing to pay APCs for hybrid journals — a form of profiteering initially permitted by many funders who now realise the errors of their ways. With APC payments prohibited, researchers need rights retention to continue publishing in hybrid journals while meeting their funder requirements.

There is a curious internal logic here: the USA following the market-making of Europe, while Europe locking horns with the market and adopting US-style rights retention policies. Maybe this means that we’re heading towards a stable middle ground between the models of these two separate (but equally neoliberal) approaches, or maybe one of the hegemonic blocs is further along the road that both are travelling (not to mention the impact these shifts and market impacts have on Global South countries, or simply those outside Europe and North America).

Clearly I’m being too binary and eliding a great deal of complexity in this very short post, but it struck me that there is a curious internal logic at work here. The push for open access has forced a shift in the business models of academic publishers, but this very same shift causes more of the profiteering that open access was responding to in the first place. Policymakers dance back and forth trying to make open access workable for researchers and affordable for universities, but neither of these aims will be possible to achieve while researchers are required to publish in journals owned by a publishing industry more answerable to shareholders than research communities.