MIT Faculty Open Access Policy FAQ

Purpose and Aim of the Policy

Complying with the policy

Scope Of The Policy

Opting Out (Obtaining a Waiver)

Legal Aspects

What Will Be Done With the Articles

Impact of Policy on Scholarly Publishing Environment

More Information


Purpose and Aim of the Policy

Why are we doing this?

The goal is expressed in the first line of the policy: “The Faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.”

Is MIT’s policy unique?

No. Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Law School, and the Harvard Kennedy School, as well as Stanford School of Education, have similar policies. See a list of universities in the US that have policies and a complete world-wide list of various kinds of open access policies.

Research funders are supporting such efforts as well. For instance, the National Institutes of Health now require posting of articles derived from research they fund in the open-access repository; and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as well as the Wellcome Trust require any scholarly articles on research they fund to be made openly accessible.

What does the policy do for me?

The web makes it possible for faculty to share their articles widely, openly, and freely; in addition, research has repeatedly shown that articles available freely online are more often cited and have greater impact than those not freely available. While many faculty already make their writings available on their web pages, some are prevented from doing so by perceived or actual limits set on such sharing in their publisher copyright transfer agreements. This policy will allow you to legally make your writings openly accessible, and it will enable MIT to help you do so.

Complying with the Policy

What do I have to do to comply with this policy?

The policy operates automatically to give MIT a license in any scholarly articles faculty members complete after its adoption.

To be thorough, MIT recommends that you communicate this policy to your publisher and add to any copyright license or assignment for scholarly articles an addendum stating that the agreement is subject to this prior license. That way, you will avoid agreeing to give the publisher rights that are inconsistent with the prior license to MIT that permits open-access distribution. MIT provides a suitable form of addendum for this purpose. Whether you use the addendum or not, the license to MIT still will have force.

What if a journal publisher refuses to publish my article because of the prior permission given to MIT under the policy?

You have a number of options. One is to try to persuade the publisher that it should accept MIT’s non-exclusive license in order to be able to publish your article. Another is to seek a different publisher. A third is to consult with the Program Manager, Scholarly Publishing, Copyright, & Licensing (copyright-lib@mit.edu) or the Office of General Counsel about taking steps to address the publisher’s specific concerns. A fourth is to obtain a waiver for the article under the policy (see more below under Opting Out.)

When and how do I submit a paper to DSpace@MIT under this policy?

Papers should be submitted as of the date of publication. To submit a paper under the policy, upload the author’s final manuscript, post peer-review, via a web form, or send it to the OA Policy Submission list. If you have already submitted this version to a preprint server (e.g. arXiv), you may email the paper’s identifying repository number, or the URL, instead of the paper.

Scope of the Policy

What kinds of writings does this apply to?

It applies to “scholarly articles.” Using terms from the Budapest Open Access Initiative, scholarly articles are articles that describe the fruits of research and that authors give to the world for the sake of inquiry and knowledge without expectation of payment. Such articles are typically presented in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and conference proceedings.

Many written products are not encompassed under this specific notion of scholarly article, such as books, popular articles, commissioned articles, fiction and poetry, encyclopedia entries, ephemeral writings, lecture notes, lecture videos, or other copyrighted works. The Open Access Policy is not meant to address these kinds of works.

What version of the paper is submitted under this policy?

The author’s final version of the article; that is, the author’s manuscript with any changes made as a result of the peer-review process, but prior to publisher’s copy-editing or formatting.

Does the policy apply to articles I’ve already written?

The policy doesn’t apply to articles that were completed before the policy was adopted March 18, 2009, nor to any articles for which you entered into an incompatible publishing agreement before the policy was adopted. The policy also does not apply to any articles you write after leaving MIT.

Does the policy apply to co-authored papers?

Yes. Each joint author of an article holds copyright in the article and, individually, has the authority to grant MIT a non-exclusive license. Joint authors are those who participate in the preparation of the article with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of the whole.

Opting Out (Obtaining a Waiver)

How do I opt out?

To opt out, fill out a simple web form, or send an email or other written notice to oapolicyoptout@mit.edu informing MIT of the following:

  • Name of MIT author
  • Title of article (expected or working title)
  • Journal you expect to publish in
  • Reason you are opting out

What happens if I do not opt out, but assign exclusive rights to a publisher anyway, mistakenly signing a publisher’s agreement that conflicts with the policy?

MIT’s license would still have force, because it would have been granted (through this policy) prior to the signing of the publisher contract. If the publisher expresses concern that cannot be remedied, you have several options. You could:

  • Consult with the Scholarly Publishing and Licensing Consultant: copyright-lib@mit.edu
  • Consult with the Office of General Counsel; or
  • Opt out for a given article.

What happens when co-authors disagree on whether or not to opt out?

Each co-author in a jointly written article owns the copyright. Under U.S. copyright law, any co-author has the right to grant a nonexclusive permission to others. It would be up to the co-author to decide whether to opt out of the policy for a given article to accommodate a co-author.

Why does the policy include an opt out? Doesn’t that undermine the policy?

The majority of faculty stated a preference for an opt out. One of the concerns frequently raised was the importance of an opt out for junior faculty who do not want to jeopardize their ability to work with certain publishers. Another was the desire to comply with a certain society’s policies even if in conflict with this policy.

Even with an opt out option, the policy changes the default for author’s rights. The new given is that MIT has rights to openly share MIT faculty work and can extend rights to the authors for their use as well.

Could I retract a paper later if a publisher required me to do so?

It would be possible to remove a paper, particularly in cases involving a legal dispute. The specifics would depend on procedures worked out by the Faculty Committee on the Library System to implement the policy.

Legal Aspects

Is MIT taking the rights to my writing?

No. This policy grants specific nonexclusive permissions to MIT. You still retain ownership and complete control of the copyright in your writings, subject only to this prior permission. You can exercise your copyrights in any way you see fit, including transferring them to a publisher if you so desire. However, if you do so, MIT would still retain its license and the right to distribute the article from its repository. Also, if your article arises, in whole or in part, from NIH-funded research and was accepted for publication after April 7, 2008, you must retain sufficient rights to comply with NIH’s Public Access Policy.

What happens if I get into legal difficulty when attempting to comply with the policy?

Staff in the Office of General Counsel and the Libraries are available to support the policy and to supply guidance to faculty.

How may I use an article that appears with both a publisher copyright statement and a Creative Commons License?

Some articles in the MIT Open Access Articles collection appear with a publisher’s copyright statement (e.g. “c2009 American Physical Society”) in addition to a Creative Commons license. The publisher’s copyright statement may indicate that the article’s copyright was transferred by the author(s) to the publisher, or that the author used a template provided by the publisher in expectation of copyright being transferred. Because the MIT Open Access Policy operates automatically to give MIT a license to any scholarly articles faculty members complete after its adoption, MIT’s license predates this transfer of copyright to a publisher. Therefore, while the article’s copyright is held by the publisher, that copyright is subject to MIT’s pre-existing license.

MIT has chosen to distribute articles under its Open Access Policy using one of the standard Creative Commons licenses: the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If a CC license appears with an article, it is the CC license that determines how the article may be used.
This particular CC license means that you are free to share (copy, distribute and transmit the work) and remix (adapt) the work under the following conditions:
• Attribution: You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggest that they endorse you or your use of the work)
• Noncommercial: You may not use this work for commercial purposes
• Share Alike: If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

More information on the CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license

What Will Be Done with the Articles?

What will MIT do with the articles?

MIT will continue to operate its open-access repository, DSpace@MIT, to make available the scholarly articles provided under the policy. This repository has MIT standing behind it to ensure its availability, longevity, and functionality, to the extent technologically feasible. The repository is backed up, mirrored, and made open to harvesting by search services such as OAIster and Google Scholar. Adjustments will be made to the deposit processes, under the guidance of the Faculty Committee on the Library System, to make it as convenient as possible. MIT may further allow others to distribute the content, provided that the articles are not sold for profit. For instance, faculty at other institutions could be given permission to make copies for free distribution directly to their students. However, MIT does not have– and cannot grant to others –the right to sell the articles for a profit or to sell a book containing the articles for a profit.

Does this license preclude all activities that involve payment?

No, not necessarily. An activity will not cease to be permitted under the policy merely because a charge is imposed to cover some or all of the costs of the activity, provided that articles are not sold for a profit. Hence, for example, MIT’s selling course packs at cost would be permitted. The Faculty Committee on the Library System will provide advice on what licensed uses of repository material are appropriate and consistent with the purposes of the policy.

Can others distribute my work, for instance, placing it in a course pack?

This policy would grant MIT the right to license others to distribute the work, so long as the work was not sold for a profit. For example, MIT could give permission for an article to be used in a course pack (including giving such permission to you if you have otherwise transferred copyright), so long as the course pack was not sold for profit. No one would be able to sell your articles for profit without getting permission from the appropriate rights holder, whether that were you or a publisher to whom you have assigned such rights.

Can my articles be used to provide search or other services by companies such as Google?

Yes, the license allows MIT to enable both commercial and nonprofit entities to use the articles to provide search or other services, so long as the articles are not being sold for a profit. This is true even if the services generate advertising revenues or the company charges for the services. For instance, the license allows MIT to enable the articles to be harvested and indexed by search services, such as Google Scholar, so that they can more readily be found, and to be used to provide other value-added services as long as the articles themselves are not sold for a profit. MIT also could authorize use of the articles in a commercial service that provides information extracted from the articles (but not the full text itself), such as bibliographic data or citation lists. Any arrangements would be consistent with the goals of open access and ensuring wide visibility and availability of scholarly articles.

Who will monitor implementation of the policy?

The Faculty Committee on the Library System (which is a standing committee of the MIT faculty) is working with the MIT Libraries to develop an implementation plan that has faculty interests in mind. They anticipate developing processes and procedures by soliciting input from the faculty and providing progress reports to the faculty as the implementation plan is developed. The Faculty Policy Committee will be responsible for presenting a report regarding the policy to the faculty in five years.

Impact of Policy on Scholarly Publishing Environment

Will this policy harm journals, scholarly societies, small friendly publishers, or peer review?

There is no empirical evidence that even when all articles are freely available, journals are canceled. The major societies in physics have not seen any impact on their publishing programs despite the fact that for more than 10 years, an open access repository (arXiv) has been making available nearly all of the High Energy Physics literature written during that period. If there is downward pressure on journal prices over time, publishers with the most inflated prices – which tend to be the commercial publishers – will feel the effects sooner. Journals will still be needed for their value-added services, such as peer review logistics, copy editing, type setting, and maintaining web sites.

Will this policy harm those in tenure processes who need to show publication in high quality journals?

The opt out option protects authors who need to publish in journals that will not cooperate with the policy.

How will this policy affect other universities, particularly small ones?

We expect that as similar policies are passed at more universities, the overall climate for scholarly communication will improve, to the benefit of all institutions of higher education. Smaller universities may not have the resources to build their own repositories, but shared repositories are starting to become available for such cases.

What’s in it for MIT?

The policy would increase the impact of MIT research by making it more widely available. Studies show a very large citation advantage for open access articles, ranging from 45% to over 500%, but restrictive publisher business models limit wide sharing through onerous terms in contracts with university libraries and individual authors. For example, many publishers prohibit authors from posting their work openly on the web, and publishers commonly ‘rent’ access to their content, putting access at risk following cancellation of subscriptions. Performing systematic searching, advanced indexing, or analysis are prohibited in virtually all contracts.

The policy would give MIT a means of negotiating for more attractive terms with publishers, an effort needed in a context of dramatic inflation and market consolidation: the 5 largest journal publishers now account for over half of total market revenues, and over the past 15 years, the price of scholarly journals has grown roughly three times as fast as the Consumer Price Index.

More Information

What is Open Access?

Open access as discussed in relation to this policy refers to free availability of journal articles on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful, noncommercial purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.

How is granting a nonexclusive license to MIT compatible with MIT being able to exercise ‘all rights under copyright’?

The legal framework for copyright is that you can’t give away what you don’t have. MIT will have been granted nonexclusive rights, and will not be able in turn to grant exclusive rights. MIT, however, will be able to exercise all of the other rights under copyright, including reproducing, displaying, distributing, and making derivative works of articles covered by the policy, as long as these activities are not done for profit.


Why make this an automatic license? Why not just suggest that faculty individually retain a license for open-access distribution?

Experience has shown that “opt in” systems have little effect on authors’ behavior. For instance, before Congress made it a requirement, participation in the NIH Public Access Policy was optional. During that period, there was only a 4% level of compliance. Experience in many areas has shown that opt-out systems achieve much higher degrees of participation than opt-in systems.

Individual faculty benefit from a blanket policy because it makes it possible for MIT to work with publishers on behalf of the faculty, to simplify procedures and broaden access.

Why isn’t student work, or that of research staff, covered by the policy?

The policy applies only to faculty because in a faculty policy it seemed clearest to focus on faculty work. MIT already receives a license to Ph.D. theses; in addition, many student articles will be co-authored by faculty and will be subject to this policy.

Why aren’t images covered by the policy?

Images are created by faculty in such a wide range of contexts and for such a wide range of purposes that it was too complex to include images in the policy. To the extent that images are contained in the articles, however, they would be covered by the policy.

Why aren’t Ph.D. theses included in the policy?

MIT has already made a commitment to making Ph.D. theses openly available worldwide. DSpace@MIT makes more than 20,000 selected theses and dissertations from all MIT departments, dating as far back as the mid 1800′s, openly available to the world. Since 2004, all new Masters and Ph.D. theses are being scanned and added to this collection after degrees are awarded. Regardless of whether copyright is held by the student or the Institute, the MIT Libraries publish the thesis electronically, allowing open access viewing. While there are fees charged for scanning and printing theses, these fees are used to scan more theses and make them available for open viewing. Without these fees, only a very small subset of theses (those submitted electronically) would be available online. While the current system is not strictly open access as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which would include no limits on printing, it’s a significant step in that direction.

Who will pay for this?

MIT already has the technical infrastructure in place to store the articles, in the form of the open access repository DSpace@MIT. In addition, the MIT Libraries have experience supporting access to faculty research such as technical reports and working papers, and for the past several years have maintained an Office of Scholarly Publishing, Copyright, and Licensing to assist faculty who wish to retain rights in their published works. Once an implementation plan is developed, it will be possible to assess what other staff or technical support might be needed, if any, and to reassess priorities in light of those needs.

How is this policy related to the NIH Public Access Policy, and how is that policy working?

The NIH Public Access Policy applies only to NIH funded research – about 1/3 of MIT’s funded research dollars. It requires authors to deposit their peer-reviewed articles in the open access repository PubMedCentral where they must be accessible within 12 months of publication. Making the policy mandatory has had a dramatic effect on deposits: the rate has increased from under 10% to an estimated 60%. The policy makes tax payer funded research available to taxpayers.

A particular article could be subject to both this policy and the NIH Public Access Policy, if it is peer reviewed and arose, in whole or in part, from NIH-funded research. If an NIH-funded article is covered by this open access policy, the author would use the MIT amendment to publication agreements to cover NIH’s obligations and accommodate the MIT policy. Even if the author decides to opt out of the policy for an article, the author must reserve rights sufficient to comply with the NIH policy when entering into a publication agreement for the article.

For more information on the NIH addendum and compliance with that policy, please see the MIT web page about complying with the NIH policy.

Why doesn’t the policy express support for open access journals?

This policy takes only a first step towards re-balancing the scholarly publishing system, giving MIT a means of negotiating for faculty and allowing wider sharing of their research. Other steps will no doubt make sense in the future. Some universities, for example, have begun supporting open access journals by creating funds authors can use for publication fees.

Why doesn’t the policy offer a delay before posting the articles, so that the MIT version doesn’t show until after journal publication?

Different disciplines have very different “half lives” for journal articles, making it very difficult to include a particular time period in an overall policy. Instead, the opt out exists for authors whose publishers require a delay before posting.

Won’t this lead to the proliferation of versions and confusion over citation?

With or without this policy, the academic community will need to work on the problem of version control in digital scholarship. There are technical and standard-based solutions that will address this problem. Some of those examining this issue include an International working group of scholars, scholarly societies, and publishersand the AAAS, among others. Nomenclature and modeling efforts have been begun by the National Information Standards Organization and the Version Identification Framework. These efforts will be closely monitored.


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