France Heading for Green OA? The Digital Republic Bill

Launched last September by an exclusive citizen’s consultation online, the Digital Republic Bill (‘projet de loi pour une République numérique’) aims to revise French legislation and taking into account the reshaping of economy, society, and access to information implied by digital technologies. Still under discussion – it has been approved by an overwhelming majority at the National Assembly on January 26th, but awaits the Senate’s vote – the bill tackles various crucial topics such as internet neutrality, opening up of public data, and protection of personal data on the internet.



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The Digital Republic Bill seeks to guarantee freer access to publicly-funded research outputs. Article 17 of the bill stipulates that when at least half of a periodical publication’s funding sources are public, the author can make an article open access after an embargo period of 6 (for science, technology and medicine) to 12 months (for humanities and social sciences).

The Bill would limit the ability of publishers to retain publication rights indefinitely, a common practice within scientific publishing. Publishers routinely insist that authors transfer exclusive rights to distribute a work to the publisher. This effectively prohibits authors from freely using and circulating their own work. This practice has led to a major crisis: publishers’ monopolies on distributing scholarly work sets up excessive pricing that makes subscriptions to journals unaffordable for libraries. Collateral damage of this dysfunctional system is inflicted not only upon library budgets but also upon authors, universities, researchers, and even smaller publishers. This mismatch of interests has broadened support for the Open-Access movement, in which interest is growing among states and institutions all over the world. We must find, an alternative model for distributing scholarly research.


For France as for other states, Open-Access not only averts a mounting serials crisis, it strengthens state goals. First, it meets states’ own transparency requirements for research outputs that are public and state-funded. Second, it promotes French language and intellectual ideas in a context were English speaking research publications dominate. This bill will make France’s scholarly contributions more prominent, accessible, and easy to find worldwide. Open-Access is also an innovation lever: access to knowledge has proven to be a key factor for all varieties of development. European recommendation ‘Horizon 2020’ stressed the ‘central role of knowledge and innovation in generating growth’ and encouraged member states to set up policies favorable to Open-Access.

With this legislation, France would comply with the growing commitment to Open-Access by France’s body politic. In a discourse held in 2013, ex-Minister of Higher Education and Research Genevieve Fioraso likened research outputs to commons and asserted France’s investment in Open-Access policies, supporting both the ‘gold’ and the ‘green’ roads to Open-Access.


While different initiatives for construction of gold open access are being discussed, this law would pave the way for green Open-Access development. Being freed from exclusivity clauses, authors can more easily deposit their works – whether on HAL, French nation-wide open-access archive, or other institutional Open-Access repositories (Archimer, institutional archive of IFREMER…) or subject-based (, for HSS publications) Open-Access repositories.

This policy differs from ‘Open-Access mandates’ that prevail in some universities, especially in the United States, adopted mandates since 2005 (Welcome Trust, National Institute of Health, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Science), followed in 2013 by the FASTR Bill and White House directive on Open-Access which made Open-Access publishing obligatory for most federal agencies.


Discussion over the Bill has strengthened public debate on Open-Access challenges The publishing landscape appears very divided on Open-Access. Seeing the Bill as a ‘grave-digger’ of French scientific research, French Publishers Union (SNE) and National Federation for specialized Press (FNPS) have published a statement which firmly condemns the ill. Some publishers such as EDP have, however, dissociated from this statement and asserted their commitment to Open-Access.

Some advocates of free access to information have stressed the French government’s lukewarm position when it comes to Open-Access, regretting the continued allowance for embargo periods or the fact that, unlike Italy, for example, France did not opt for an Open-Access mandate on publicly-funded research, although making Open-Access publishing legally binding has proven to be more efficient than only encouraging researchers to do so.

Despite these criticisms, this law, if adopted, would be a bold step forward in enhancing the spread of scientific information and breaking with a great paradox. Although all conditions seem to be ripe for entering an age of barrier-free access to research – digital technologies allow instant dissemination of information all over the world – never before has academia experienced such significant debate regarding the circulation and discovery of ideas. Whatever the publication model, law or mandate adopted, Open-Access is a certain goal for authors eager to share their research for access by readers around the world.

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