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All European Scientific Articles Should Be Freely Accessible by 2020

The European Union wants to ensure that everyone has open access to all scientific articles published in Europe.
Image: Paul L Dineen/Flickr

The European Union member states want to ensure that all scientific articles are freely accessible by 2020 so that anyone can optimally reuse research data.

At the meeting of the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on May 27, EU member states also decided that founders of foreign start-ups should be able to obtain a European visa and that EU legislation should take into account its impact on innovation—what they call the Innovation Principle.


The outcome of the meeting was a new holy trinity of free data, resting on three main tenets: "Sharing knowledge freely," "open access," and "reusing research data."

"Research and innovation generate economic growth and more jobs and provide solutions to societal challenges," said Sander Dekker, Netherlands State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science. "And that means a stronger Europe. To achieve that, Europe must be as attractive as possible for researchers and start-ups to locate here and for companies to invest. That calls for knowledge to be freely shared. The time for talking about open access is now past. With these agreements, we are going to achieve it in practice."

While the European goal is for all scientific publications resulting from publically or privately funded research to be free and accessible to everyone, for now those outside institutional academica, such as doctors or teachers, are unable to read and take advantage of articles that could be relevant to their work. Following this new "Innovation Principle," unless there are issues regarding intellectual property rights, security, or privacy, all the data should be available for reuse.

The EU's new penchant for free data follows an ongoing debate about piracy in academia. Sci-Hub, which has been compared to Napster, but for academic papers, is self-described as "the first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers." The site hosts over 47 million free research papers on international servers. Following a New York district court ruling that Sci-Hub violated copyright law, the site has since been absent from open web, though may still be available via Telegram.

The EU's stance offers progressive acknowledgement, legalizing instead of fighting, what may already be happening underground.

While Stevan Harnad, Open Access (OA) advocate at University of Québec says the EU's near-immediate goal of making research data freely accessible by 2020 is "reachable," others think it's too ambitious. It's not completely clear how the council will accomplish its goal by 2020, though it does call for "immediate" open access "without embargoes or with as short as possible embargoes" on academic papers.

The task may not be so easy, though it is important, said a spokesman for the Competitiveness Council. "This is not a law, but it's a political orientation for the 28 governments. The important thing is that there is a consensus."