Publishers' Embargoes

To deposit a full text item in the institutional repository permission must be sought to do so from the copyright holder. In the context of research outputs and e-prints it is highly likely that the copyright holder will be the commercial publisher. Publishers' attitudes to self archiving and whether they allow the deposit of full text research in institutional repositories is covered elsewhere.

Many publishers do allow self archiving in one form or another but they may attach conditions to the deposit of an item in the repository - which version of the paper can be made available, the mandatory inclusion of a statement of copyright ownership, or an embargo on the release of the full text version.

It is important to work out what position to take on embargoes and to have strategies to deal with them in place at an early stage; the imposing of an embargo can come at a crucial stage of the academic's engagement with the repository and there is a need to have a simple and clear path to take when this scenario presents itself.

Full text items v metadata only records in repositories

In the repository community there is a debate about whether repositories should always contain only items that are available in full text so not to disappoint users and support the basic concept of open access; or whether repositories which contain metadata only records without the full text attached are still useful. In the latter scenario the presence of a metadata record at least highlights the existence of a piece of research to the wider world and makes it more visible. Whether or not such bibliographic records properly belong within an open access repository or a more traditional publications database is a debatable point. Whether or not to have a 100% full text only collection policy will be one of the items you need to decide under your policy framework.

However, with embargoed content there is the situation that full text is pending but not refused out right. In the case where a collection policy allows a bibliographic entry, that this situation can be easily handled. Where there is a full text-only policy, the repository administrator will need to decide whether this constitutes unacceptable breach of the policy. One difficulty is that not accepting an embargoed fulltext version into the repository may well mean that the e-print is "lost" for good if the opportunity of getting information is ignored. If an author is willing to archive an embargoed e-print that there needs to be some way of capturing that information and satisfy that enthusiasm. Some system will be to be in place to collect the metadata at one point in time and return to the item to attach the full text once the embargo has passed.

One strategy that can be adopted as a holding measure for embargoed eprints is to make use of an e-print request button. This is a button placed in the metadata record when an embargo is in place which allows the user to contact the author of that paper and request a one off copy via email or in hard copy. The sharing of research in this manner does not break copyright law (or at least offers a defence in custom and practice) and it is a well established practice in most academic communities pre dating the arrival of online distributions systems.

This does mean that a user searching for an e-print is initially denied access to the fulltext, but does have a chance, at least, of obtaining fulltext with some delay by approaching the author direct. Whether or not this is a practical working solution, an acceptable temporary holding measure while an embargo passes, a subversion of the concept of open access, or an unnecessary concession to a restrictive condition is debatable. From the perspective of a repository manager looking for a practical solution to allow deposition of embargoed eprints it seems a good compromise.

Theses & Dissertation Embargoes

Many institutions embargo the release of theses or dissertation on the request of the submitter, for a limited period. This request is often made in response to the author's wish to publish part or all of the work elsewhere, when they may be required by their publisher to refrain from making it freely available for a time.

Occasionally, a thesis may be embargoed because it contains confidential or commercially sensitive information. In this case an embargoed thesis would not be made available electronically, though metadata on the work could be included, depending on the collection policy of the repository.

Dealing with Embargoes

In the case where a publisher has imposed an embargo on the release of the fulltext version as part of their conditions for publication, such conditions are similar to any other that form part of the legal contract which has been signed by the publisher and author. In common with other restrictions, while individual authors may feel free to ignore the conditions of contracts that they have signed, repository administrators, as an official face of an institution, generally work under more constraint.

Putting a button in place is only part of the equation when it comes to managing embargoes. The administrator of a repository will have to set flags and reminders to come back to items when the embargo has expired and attach the full text. The method of doing this will vary depending on your software and local set-up.

The long-term solution to this problem is similar to others in the field: to make authors aware of the conditions and restrictions which are imposed by their signing of copyright transfer agreements.

Find out more from the JISC Digital Repositories infoKit