Peter's colleague, Gavin Baker has collected a round up of the reactions to the decision. Well done to the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences say I. It'll be a boost to the open access movement and interesting to observe how it actually works in practice.
On behalf of the Provost’s Committee on Scholarly Publishing, Professor S. Shieber will move:
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible. In keeping with that commitment, the Faculty adopts the following policy: Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. In legal terms, the permission granted by each Faculty member is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles written while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy. The Dean or the Dean’s designate will waive application of the policy for a particular article upon written request by a Faculty member explaining the need.
To assist the University in distributing the articles, each Faculty member will provide an electronic copy of the final version of the article at no charge to the appropriate representative of the Provost’s Office in an appropriate format (such as PDF) specified by the Provost’s Office. The Provost’s Office may make the article available to the public in an open-access repository.
The Office of the Dean will be responsible for interpreting this policy, resolving disputes concerning its interpretation and application, and recommending changes to the Faculty from time to time. The policy will be reviewed after three years and a report presented to the Faculty.
Update: Mike Carroll, unsurprisingly, has lots and lots to say on the subject :-)
[Disclosure: I've been a supporter of the Harvard initiative since its inception and have provided informal input to its proponents periodically along the way.]
How big a deal is this initiative by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences? It's huge.
First, this is a bottom-up initiative. Open access advocates have been working hard over the years to get faculty authors to pay greater attention to their copyrights. While faculties at various institutions have adopted resolutions supporting open access as a principle and as a goal, this is the first time that faculty authors as a group have stepped up and really acknowledged that the Internet matters and that business-as-usual publishing fails to take advantage of the Internet as a means for spreading knowledge throughout the world.
Second, by precommitting themselves in this fashion, the faculty has recognized that copyright is an author's right. With rights come responsibilities. These authors have committed to each other that they will take greater responsibility for managing their copyrights and for providing the public with free access to their work.
There are a number of heroes in this story. Within the administration, Steve Hyman, the provost, set up a faculty committee to study scholarly communication issues and practices. Stuart Shieber (Computer Science) chaired that committee and, along with his committee members, labored for more than a year to make this happen.
It is now up to faculty on other campuses to reflect on whether they too are willing to be responsible authors in the twenty-first century.