AOASG Response to Productivity Commission Inquiry Final Report on Intellectual Property Arrangements

This response was on behalf of the AOASG in February 2017 to The Productivity Commission Inquiry Final Report on Intellectual Property Arrangements

We are grateful to the Productivity Commission in their Inquiry Report on Intellectual Property Arrangements report for Recommendation 16.1[1] that the Government implement an open access policy for publicly-funded research, specifically

“The Australian, and State and Territory governments should implement an open access policy for publicly-funded research. The policy should provide free and open access arrangements for all publications funded by governments, directly or through university funding, within 12 months of publication. The policy should minimise exemptions.

The Australian Government should seek to establish the same policy for international agencies to which it is a contributory funder, but which still charge for their publications, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.”


  1. We strongly agree that there is a need for a national open access policy and that any policy at the states’ level should be aligned with that at a national level, and with international policy developments.
  2. We urge that the policy should require immediate access. Embargos are a substantial barrier not only to wide access to research, but also to the translation and impact of research. Furthermore, because of the reuse restrictions usually associated with outputs released after an embargo, embargos are not compatible with a long term sustainable model of open access
  3. In the development of the open access policy support should be provided for its implementation in accordance with the F.A.I.R principles (that research outputs be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable[2][3]). These principles articulate specific requirements, including on the appropriate licensing of the work and other core principles.

[1] p38



Open Access Scholarly Publishing

What is open access?

When used in relation to the dissemination of research findings, the phrase ‘Open Access’ refers to the practice of making the information freely available to anyone with an internet connection rather than leaving it hidden behind a subscription paywall.

Why is open access important?

Researchers formally share the results of their work by publishing it in the academic literature; primarily in the form of peer reviewed journal articles.  The research behind most of the articles produced in Australia is publicly funded but the vast majority of the articles are published in subscription journals which means that the information is only being shared with those who have a personal or institutional subscription.  By restricting access to only those who can afford to pay for access, the reach and impact of the research is severely constrained.   Practitioners such as pharmacists, teachers, nurses and business people are unable to see the latest developments in their field. Researchers in developing countries are unable to join the conversation.  Open access uses digital technology to maximise the visibility, accessibility and impact of research.

How is open access delivered?

The two main options for delivering open access include:

  • ‘Gold Open Access’ is where the published version of the article is freely available to anyone via the journal website.   If the journal is an open access journal, the entire contents of the journal will be freely available to all.  If the journal is a ‘Hybrid’ journal,  then only some articles will be freely available and a subscription will be required to read the full journal issue.  Some open access journals and all ‘Hybrid’ journals charge authors a fee to make their article open access.
  • ‘Green Open Access’ is where the author uploads, to an institutional or discipline-themed repository, an open access copy of an article published in a subscription journal.  In most cases, the version uploaded will be the ‘author’s accepted manuscript’ (AAM) version (which includes revisions made as a result of peer review but not the formatting, branding and ‘value-adds’ contributed by the publisher). No payment is required but many publishers require an embargo period (commonly 12 months) before the AAM is made open access.

Open Access Mandates

Around the world, 90 research funding bodies, including the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) have made it a ‘condition of grant’ that articles arising from their funding are made open access.   In most cases, the obligation applies only to peer reviewed journal articles, but, in the case of the ARC in Australia, the obligation applies to all formats including books. Most funders will accept embargoes of up to 12 months, so researchers are free to choose between ‘Gold open access’ (using part of their grant to pay any article processing charges) or ‘Green open access’ which does not involve paying a fee (but researchers must upload the appropriate version to a repository).

Predatory Publishers: the ‘dark side’ of open access publishing

The availability of  open source journal publishing software, such as OJS (Open Journal Systems), has lowered the cost of establishing a new journal.  Most of the new journals that have been launched using this type of software are managed by groups of academics or scholarly societies.  Generally, they receive subsidies from the host institution which allows the journal to be fully Open Access;   i.e. free to readers AND authors.

Unfortunately, a number of opportunistic entrepreneurs are exploiting the willingness of some research funders and universities to for ‘Gold Open Access” and launching new journals that are money making ventures disguised as scholarly journals.   These journals claim to be peer reviewed but articles are generally all accepted without revision provided the author pays the, generally modest, article processing charge.  Articles containing serious flaws and plagiarised content have been linked to these so called ‘predatory publishers’ as a consequence of the absence any quality control mechanisms.  While these journals represent less than 3% of all the Open Access journals currently available, it is essential that researchers (especially early career researchers) learn how to identify potentially bogus journals.   Clues that a journal may not be truly scholarly include:

  • Journal is not listed in standard periodical directories (eg Ulrichs) and not indexed by the major indexes (eg ProQuest, EBSCO, Scopus, Web of Science).
  • Journal does not identify a formal editorial / review board.
  • Journal’s claims to publish articles within an improbably short timeframe (eg 21 days)
  • Journal claims to have an ‘impact factor’ when they are using metrics with no international standing ( eg Global Impact factor, Index Copernicus, View Factor etc) .
  • Journal falsely claims journal is indexed in legitimate abstracting and indexing services or claims that its content is indexed in resources that are not abstracting and indexing services.
  • Journal/publisher sends email requests for manuscripts, peer reviewers and editorial board members to scholars in unrelated disciplines.
  • Journal publishes papers already published in other venues/outlets without providing appropriate credits.
  • Publisher claims to be a “leading publisher” even though it is a novice organization.
  • Journal has a ‘shop front’ in a Western country for the purpose of functioning as a vanity press for scholars in a developing country.
  • Publisher does minimal or no copyediting.
  • Journal’s “contact us” page does not reveal its location.
  • The journal/publisher website includes spelling and grammatical errors.

For more information about predatory publishers (including a list of ‘suspect’ companies), refer to the website maintained by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian in Colorado.

This work by Paula Callan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This post is also available as a downloadable WORD document: Open Access_Briefing_Paper

Open Access Champion 2013 – Open Journal Project

To celebrate Open Access Week 2013, the Australian Open Access Support Group is recognising two ‘Open Access Champions’ – an individual and an organisation.

The Open Access Champion 2013 – Organisation Category has been awarded to the not-for-profit international development organisation Engineers Without Borders Institute’s Open Journal Project.

Julian O’Shea, the Director of the EWB Institute, who is heading up the project, spoke to Danny Kingsley about what has happened in the three months since the AOASG featured a story about the project in July.


In bestowing the Open Access Champion 2013 award the AOASG is recognising the excellent work that Engineers Without Borders (EWB) has been doing to open access to research. The Open Journal Project publishes the Journal of Humanitarian Engineering (JHE)  which is not only open access, but provides easy to understand interpretations of the technical papers, translated into the local language(s) and addresses other issues of accessibility.

This project exemplifies a true commitment to open access in its pure form. The Project has considered all aspects of accessibility, well beyond the first step of simply providing access to the original research. In addition, the stated intention of the Project to act as a stimulus for others to follow the example set further increases the already impressive impact of the Project.

Increasing academic engagement

Since the project launched there has been a great deal of interest, explained Julian. “What is really pleasing is the level of academic interest,” he said.

The EWB have been talking to practitioners in the area of WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene Wash) research. Despite the focus on development, much of this research is still published in closed journals.

“This is probably one of the most important groups for development practice”, he explained. “But even people who would like to be out in the open publish in closed journals”.

The group has been offering them the opportunity to publish in the JHE. And to increase interest, the EWB have started discussions with organisers of the international WASH conference being held next year in Australia. The JHE is intending to publish a WASH-themed issue at the same time.

“The conference brings together leading academics and practitioners in WASH, so we will be using this as a platform to showcase our relatively young journal,” said Julian. “We want to build a network of the WASH and to formalise this as another opportunity to publish”.

The project is also looking to engage researchers in many of the countries where the humanitarian work is being conducted.  “We are looking at opportunities for them to publish”, said Julian.

The Project has considered the issue of different academic standards in different countries. “If you apply a fixed standard to your journal you are ruling out many parts of the world that do not have that experience,” he said. “English is the primary language of our journal”.

Many people who work in the area of humanitarian engineering may not have higher education degrees and may not have done formal academic writing. “If English is their second language we are happy to provide people in international research who can support and collaborate on the work”, said Julian. This is an open invitation, he explained, noting the journal is still a peer-reviewed journal committed to academic and technical rigour. “Their ideas have no less merit to their work but they do face academic hurdles”.

Sharing the message in the community

The target audience for the journal’s articles are practitioners in the field in developing countries. “What we have found is the idea that something is on the web so therefore it can be accessed is a bit of a stretch”, explained Julian. The EWB have a program which is a design challenge for Australian students – to come up with research outcomes that can be more readily understood.

“They make plain language guides rather than just the 10 page article,” he said. “So part of the process is we have readable understandable summaries of the research.”

The EWB are also planning to start spreading the word in person. “As of next year we will be disseminating these outcomes in country,” he said. “Because we have a network of people in country, with our local partners we will be holding local workshops targeting the groups we know about and share in person about what some of these outcomes have been”.

The group hopes to run some workshops in Nepal, one on water and one on energy. This will be using a human connection. “We can’t underestimate that,” said Julian. “Sharing in person makes it a lot more real. We will be working on the networks within their communities that spread the word”.

This AOASG award is not the only recognition the project has had. It was shortlisted for the World Youth Summit awards which recognises ICT and technology solutions addressing poverty alleviation. “We were the only program nominated from Australia”, explained Julian.

Future plans

The Project continues to innovate, with a summer project planned. “A student will develop a technology solution that converts an academic paper’s pdf or preprint into a low bandwidth version”, explained Julian.

The EWB are hoping to be able to automate the conversion, to allow the process to be scaled up across whole journals. “We expect to have a prototype by early next year that will enable editors and publishers to have a version that is low bandwidth friendly,” he said. “So these can be accessed in the developing world where downloading a pdf can be a technical challenge – this will give practitioners more scope to download. The outcome of the project will be open source so it can be shared.

Julian and the EWB team are brimming with ideas, but time is an issue as the Open Journal Project is just one of the projects currently running. Julian would like to develop a resource pack for editors and publishers to help them with these access issues. “It could help them with the change from one type of licensing to other”, he said.  “That would make it more of a movement.”

Accessibility is more than making the paper OA


Proponents of open access generally agree that there are many benefits to open access, but discussions about the processes involved in achieving open access often stop at making the published research available. But what happens when the issues of accessibility are considered?

A remarkable project is underway in Australia, spearheaded by the Australian chapter of a not-for-profit international development organisation, Engineers Without Borders (EWB). The Open Journal Project aims to explore and promote techniques to make academic information genuinely open and accessible – with a focus on groups that are often excluded from access to this type of information.

EWB is a volunteer organisation, sending volunteers overseas to a local non government organisation to work on the ground on a project. The Open Journal Project considers the needs of individuals and practitioners in other countries.

“The Project doesn’t finish the day you press publish – that’s when it starts,” explained Julian O’Shea, who is the Director of the EWB Institute, the education, research and training section of EWB, and is heading up the Project.

“We are thinking about what we can do to make the work more accessible.”

The EWB Institute is based in Melbourne, and is publishing a peer-reviewed journal as a pilot and case study in their work. The Journal of Humanitarian Engineering (JHE) is piloting innovations in open access, including multi-language access, developing country access, low-bandwidth websites, and disability-accessible content.

“We want to pilot innovations and share our experiences with doing this,” explained Julian. “We want to work out what is world’s best practice, do it and live it and show it is not too hard.”

The problem

The EWB has noticed that practitioners overseas are under-served by the current publishing process. As an example, Julian stated that the leading university in Cambodia does not have access to the largest database in the field of engineering.

The idea for the focus of the journal began because the group saw there were very few that focused on experience, drawing on outcomes from developments and disseminating that information.

“The aim of the journal is not to be published or cited, but to provide outcomes in communities,” explained Julian. “This is different to other research organisations as a metric of success. It gives us a different angle or lens.”

The group wanted to encourage this as a field of research in academia. They were not sure what level of interest there would be in the journal because from a purely technical point of view they are not publishing innovative technologies. Rather, the focus is on new ways of applying this technology.

“We have been surprised and pleased that the journal has been really positively responded to,” said Julian.

Open access

The journal is published open access, with no cost to the author or to the reader. It uses an open source program called Open Journal Systems to run the administration of the peer review and publication. All papers in the journal are available under a CC-BY 3.0 license.

“We have had no negative feedback at all from people wanting to publish in the journal,” said Julian. “People doing this kind of research don’t have any issue with making their work freely available.”

Accessibility – language issues

Academic papers can be difficult to read even for people within a field. They can become impenetrable to researchers in parallel fields. This problem is further exacerbated in an international environment, working with practitioners on the ground who may not have any tertiary education.

There are several issues with language. The first is the problem of making the technical reports understandable to the lay person. Often the papers in this area are very technical, including many equations, and can reach 300 pages.

To solve this problem authors in the JHE are required to submit a two page plain summary about the paper with the formal paper. This means a project manager on the ground can make a decision about applying the technology or approach and then pass the full paper on to the technical manager.

But many of these projects are in countries where English is not the primary language. The Project addresses this by making the reports available in the language of the country it is targeted towards. The Project translates the plain language guides into both the local language of most importance and into other general languages.

The Project called on goodwill to obtain the translations. They sent articles out to the world, asking for volunteers to translate the papers. This had a good response from universities, companies or simply people to help out on the website.

The Project now has an approved translator list. The first time an article is translated it is sent to a native speaker to approve it and once this is done the translator can go onto the list. The quality of translations has been very high, said Julian, with only one that had to be sent back.

To date the plain language summaries have been translated into Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Hindi, Chinese, Spanish, Danish, Khmer and French. The number of languages is growing.

Accessibility – distribution

Another consideration is bandwidth. In many countries the internet connection is through a mobile telephone which prevents the download of large documents. The Project decided to produce the journal on a low bandwidth, and this opened up new issues.

“Generally the journal system distributes through pdfs,” explained Julian. “The problem is it is all or nothing – if the download cuts out at 90% you get nothing.” So the Project looked at releasing html versions of the papers. This has reduced the size of the website to 4.3KB and the journal articles are about 18KB. “We can put about 80 journals onto a floppy disk,” he said.

The Project also has plans to further improve the distribution to remote areas. “We haven’t done it yet but we will have a system that says ‘here’s a postcard, send it to us and we will send the paper to you by donkey’”, said Julian.

Accessibility – inclusion

With a philosophy of sharing research, it was important to the project to provide versions of the papers in an accessible format for people with disabilities.

The choice of publishing html versions of papers assists people with vision impairment, as they translate better using text-to-talk programs than pdfs.  In addition, the project is being proactive about embedding helpful metadata within the document such as describing images.

The Project has used the guidelines for Vision Australia to release a large print edition of the papers. “The first one took about couple of minutes – after that it was very simple,” said Julian. “That is what we are trying to show in this project, to meet a need for some people can be solved in literally two minutes.” The team has also produced Braille editions of the plain language guides.

Future plans

The project hopes to share their experience and inspire others. “We are doing this through the case study approach,” said Julian.  “This is my goal – to be able to communicate better. I am an author – what can I do? I am a publisher – what can I do?”

The Open Journal Project is hoping to formally launch later this year. Meanwhile, Volume 2 issue 1 is about to be released.

Twitter handle – @OpenJournal

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

Lost & found: challenges accessing government research

While there’s been much angst about the locking away of academic literature and sky-high fees for libraries to access academic journals, what about all the other sources of publicly-funded material? Why are they also not included in the brave new world of open access?

As a PhD student working in a reasonably cutting-edge area, grey literature* is my life-blood. And yet when it comes to some key sources who take money from public coffers for their work, getting access to material that should be public domain is tricky at best.

My area of interest – not-for-profit, non-government hospitals and large scale clinics in developing countries – has not generally been the focus of briefing papers and articles. But often these health facilities are included in documents for various reasons without being the focus. And given the dearth of directly relevant data, I’m prepared to take what I can get – or at least what I can find.

Government Double Standards?

While recipients of Australian Government funds for research now have an obligation to allow open access, the same can’t be said for government departments, which are encouraged, but not required, to make their work open access. 

Try checking AusAID’s website for their list of advertising projects or FOI procedures and requests or this page on consultation arrangements. The links lead you either to a blank page or an announcement that the information will be added when it becomes available.

And that’s just scratching the surface of the problem. A significant amount of research is now outsourced to specialist consulting firms or hubs at academic institutions. What that means in practice is we have no idea how much information isn’t making it onto indexes on government websites.

As part of my research I went to AusAID looking for any information they might be able to contribute. I should stress the staff I dealt with were professional and went out of their way to check for me. But the end result was a direction to an outside body, the Nossal Institute,  a health knowledge hub for AusAID. After I found some useful reports on Nossal’s website, I went back to the AusAID publications area and searched for them using keywords from the title. Nothing. I searched under health. Nothing. The document register similarly yielded nothing.

So what happens to members of the public who don’t know AusAID has a librarian to ring and ask for advice? Or who doesn’t make the connection between AusAID and Nossal or any other body contracting to AusAID for that matter?

Your ability to track down information funded by the Australian taxpayer shouldn’t be dependent on how ‘in the know’ you are. Whether you’re a researcher or a tradie, these documents should be easy to access.

It’s in the Report

The sad reality is that even when you finally find the document you’re after, you probably won’t be getting the full picture. As anyone who has ever done research will tell you, there’s a lot that misses the final cut. What happens to that uncaptured knowledge?

When all the researchers were in-house, that institutional knowledge collected along the way stayed within the institution. But now, it dissipates out to a complex web of contractors and partner organisations. So what hope does anyone outside the organisation have of tracing detail that didn’t fit the word limit?

Make an Appointment

I imagined a world where I could ring the librarian, put in a formal request to get access to the library and come and thumb the physical pages, letting the Dewey decimal system lead me from one title to another and maybe even hit the jackpot with a title I would never have thought to search for. Or better still, in a face-to-face conversation with that gatekeeper of knowledge, the librarian might plant a thought that led me to the holy grail. Apparently not.

Along with the outsourcing of much research capacity, the AusAID library now resides off site, so even staff put in requests for books to be retrieved and brought in. While it makes sense for archival or rarely accessed material, there are some titles that could and should be read often. And yes, there are electronic books, but not everything comes in e-book format, not to mention the costs if every individual in an organisation paid for an e-book every time they wanted to read a few prescient pages.

While I’ve focussed on AusAID here, I gather from anecdotal conversations with departmental staff and fellow researchers that this experience is far from rare. I’ve singled out AusAID purely because of my recent interaction with them as a source.

And now the good news…

I was preparing to be less than glowing about the World Bank’s open access. I started by writing that the World Bank had an obligation, given their highly specialised research, to make all their reports accessible for free.

As a frequent user of the site in the past, when I started searching the site again I went straight to the publications catalogue. I was appalled that it still cost $100 to get a report as crucial as African Development Indicators. The best they seemed to offer on the online bookshop was a ‘geographic discount’ for developing country purchasers.

What I missed in the catalogue was the announcement on the inside cover page that ‘most publications are now available for free online’. I ended up stumbling on to the Open Knowledge Repository area of the website which is well designed, easy to search and remarkably had the vast majority of reports published by the World Bank available to download free.

There are some exceptions in the open access policy. Open access only applies to external research when that research was commissioned on or after July 1, 2012 which presumably leaves some research still being undertaken now exempt from the rules. However given the volume of current and historical material available free it seems the Bank has worked hard with its authors to get their consent to publish full reports online.

My one criticism is that this needs to be better flagged on the site, and particularly in the online bookshop. Over-familiarity with the old site led me to miss these changes – like many researchers I can be guilty of being a ‘mongrel reader’ and skipping straight ahead if I think I know a website well. The ‘read and share this’ button looked to me like a clunky piece of advertising rather than an invitation to download the research.

So the upshot is that global organisations like the World Bank, with their multitude of stakeholders, are making huge gains rapidly, while Australian government departments are still lagging behind. It’s time government departments similarly made significant inroads into genuine open access.

* Grey literature is defined as ‘ … document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats that are protected by intellectual property rights … but not controlled by commercial publishers i.e., where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.’ –  12th International Conference on Grey Literature at Prague, December 2010

Belinda Thompson
PhD Scholar
Menzies Centre for Health Policy
Australian National University