More than 50 publishers, including the American Chemical Society (ACS), have signed a statement opposing a controversial provision on authors’ ownership rights put forward by Coalition S, the international consortium of funders behind the open access publishing initiative Plan S. At issue is a Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) that is intended to safeguard the intellectual ownership rights of researchers, empower them to publish in their journal of choice and avoid unreasonable embargo periods.

Under the RRS approach, authors funded by Coalition S members must deposit the final peer-reviewed and accepted manuscript under a creative commons licence in a public repository immediately upon publication. This means that the costs that journals incur related to quality control and peer review would be harder to recoup through subscriptions or article processing fees, according to the statement’s signatories, which include Elsevier, Springer Nature and Wiley.

As members of Coalition S began to implement Plan S in January, the ACS and other publishers felt it was necessary to speak out, according to James Milne, president of ACS’s publications division. ‘While other Coalition S strategies are sustainable and can be fully supported, the Rights Retention Strategy will have a detrimental effect on our shared goals — to make access to research more equitable, open and trusted,’ he states.

In their 3 February statement, the publishers say they share Coalition S’s goal of expanding open access publishing. However, they argue that the RRS in its current form ‘provides a challenge to the vital income’ needed to finance the checks, corrections and editorial review required, as well as the activities associated with peer review.

The ACS and the dozens of other publishers that signed onto the statement are also concerned about a change that Coalition S made in the last few months that allows authors to make the accepted manuscript version of their article immediately available under a creative commons licence in any institutional repository. They argue that this is a potential substitute for the official version of a final published article, which could lead to journal subscription losses.

The publishers warn that their ability to recoup the costs associated with the services that they provide, whether through subscriptions or article processing charges, is threatened by the RRS. As such, the signatories conclude that the strategy is ‘not financially sustainable’, ‘undermines potential support for open access journals’ and threatens the integrity of the scientific record.

Although many publishers allow authors to post versions of articles to repositories with broad reuse license, their statement notes that such a decision should be made by individual journals rather than through blanket policies.