The United Kingdom's Wellcome Trust is putting more teeth into a requirement that grantees make their published papers freely available to the public. In an announcement today, the Wellcome said it will begin taking specific steps to sanction researchers who fail to comply with the sharing policy.
Since 2006, the Wellcome has asked researchers it funds to submit their peer-reviewed manuscripts to the public UK PubMed Central  database for posting within 6 months after they're published in a journal. (The delay is aimed at protecting journal subscription revenue.) But only 55% of eligible papers are being deposited, Wellcome's tracking finds, a compliance rate that Director Mark Walport called "simply unacceptable" today in a press release  and letter (below) to institutions and grantholders.
Starting immediately, institutions with Wellcome funding must certify in final grant reports that related papers published since 1 October 2009 are in compliance or they will lose their last grant payment. Papers that aren't shared will not count in a researcher's track record, and researchers must make sure all their Wellcome Trust-funded papers are in compliance to renew grants or receive new grants.
Wellcome Trust Media Relations Manager Craig Brierley says that until now, Wellcome has "frequently reminded" grantholders about the so-called "open access" policy, but "there were no defined sanctions." ("Open access" can also refer to journals that charge authors a fee and make papers freely available when they're first published; the Wellcome Trust will pay such author fees for its grantees.)
By contrast, the U.S. National Institutes of Health says compliance with its similar, 4-year-old requirement that papers be posted in its PubMed Central archive is now 75%, according to a March report  (p. 11-12) (hat tip to this open access blog ). The agency doesn't consider compliance with the policy a factor during scientific peer review but deals with it administratively and can "delay or prevent awarding of funds," the agency says . One difference from the Wellcome Trust policy is that NIH allows a 12-month delay, which might make it easier for researchers to find journals that agree to the policy.
The Wellcome Trust's letter to grantholders:
Strengthening the Wellcome Trust's open access policy: important information for grantholders
As you know, the Wellcome Trust is committed to ensuring that the published outputs of our funded research are made freely available, so that this knowledge can be built on and used in a manner that maximises health and public benefit.
Since 2006, our open access policy has required that all original research papers funded in whole or in part by the Wellcome Trust be made available via the UK PubMed Central repository as soon as possible, and in any event within six months of the date of publication.
At present, only 55 per cent of research papers acknowledging Wellcome Trust funding comply with our policy. This means that nearly half of our funded publications remain restricted behind subscription paywalls, a situation that we believe is simply not acceptable.
For this reason, and with immediate effect, we will be strengthening the manner in which we enforce our policy in three key respects:
1. When Trust-funded researchers prepare final grant reports, we will require the principal investigator's head of department to provide signed assurance that all papers associated with the grant comply with the Trust's policy. If they are unable to do this, the final payment on the grant will be withheld.
2. Non-compliant publications will be discounted as part of a researcher's track record in any renewal of an existing grant or new grant application.
3. Trust-funded researchers will be required to ensure that all publications associated with their Wellcome-funded research are compliant with the Trust's policy before any funding renewals or new grant awards will be activated.
All three steps will apply to research articles published from 1 October 2009 onwards and will be incorporated in our grant conditions accordingly.
From early 2013, when Wellcome Trust funds are used to pay an open access fee, we will also require that a paper is freely available for all types of re-use (including commercial uses) subject to appropriate acknowledgement. We will partner with the Research Councils in taking forward discussions with publishers to implement this change over the coming months and provide further details in due course.
We remain committed to working with our funded researchers and institutions to assist them in making their research papers freely available. Detailed guidance on how to do this is available on our website. Please contact us at any time if you have any queries or if there is any help we can provide.
Sir Mark Walport