For many years, accessing published peer-reviewed journal articles and conference papers was strictly by subscription, site licences or pay-per-view charges. However, on September 4, 2018, a group of national research funders, charitable foundations, and European and international organisations—known as cOAlition S—pushed to remove paywalls officially, thereby creating full Open Access to scientific research publications. This initiative, known as Plan S, is to the end that the scientists they fund publish their peer-reviewed papers outside journal paywalls. It is clearly spelt out below:

“With effect from 2021, all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.”

Open Access (OA) is a publishing model that enables access to peer-reviewed scholarly research and literature free of charge to readers online, unlike the order of the day in which journal paywalls are used.

A paywall is a system in which access to online research content is restricted to paid subscribers.

A peer-reviewed work, like the name implies, is a researcher’s work that is assessed by his peers (people with similar qualifications or competencies) in order to improve its quality.

cOAlition S, which includes very influential private organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome, is committed to implement Plan S to promote the goal of full Open Access. The body aims to gain additional members and support, and execute the principles of this new initiative in a coordinated manner.

Subscription journals have modified their mode of operation so that scientists affected by Plan S can still publish with them. These publishing firms operate with distinct OA-publishing options, many of which do not conform completely to the directive of Plan S. As more and more funders join Plan S, the initiative will be able to exert greater influence until publishers comply 100%. This is one of the visions of the coalition.

Although cOAlition S says that publishing the final paper OA is its preferred route, there is another legal way they help scientists to publish their peer-reviewed manuscripts online behind paywalls—the rights retention strategy (RRS). Under the RRS, scientists who have been funded by cOAlition S have the ability to honour their funder’s OA-policy. To achieve this, when researchers submit their manuscript, they have to give notice to the publishers that they have a liberal publishing licence; hence, they reserve the right to post the manuscript online. This licence is called Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY). For example, researchers funded by Wellcome must include the following text in all manuscript submissions:

“This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Wellcome Trust [Grant number]. For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission”.

Many researchers believe that publishing firms exploit them because they make large profits from free provision of manuscripts and free peer review. Publishers, on the other hand, stress that their work adds value to researchers’ works; hence, it cannot be called exploitation. One major disadvantage of the pay-per-paper business model is that it risks excluding researchers who cannot afford the fees and are not backed by funders.

This tough nut is what the Plan S offers to crack. Authors with Plan S funders now experience progress with greater ease because their peer-reviewed articles can now be made OA immediately. Publishing firms never offered such service before, so this is apparently progress, thanks to the new initiative.

AB Journals strongly supports the OA Initiative while ensuring that the highest quality of research is published and disseminated. We believe Plan S is a major step into the future of science publishing.

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