What is an embargo period?

An embargo period is a specified length of time in which academic journals have the exclusive right to disseminate an article. Publishers impose embargo periods mainly to recap the costs of publishing.

Embargo period

Embargo period of grant providers

Grant providers, such as NWO and the EU, allow only a limited embargo period for research articles that came about as a result of their funding. Horizon2020, the currently active funding programme of the European Commission, demands that all research output financed by the EU is freely accessible in a repository for scientific publications after an embargo period of maximum six months, with an exception of twelve months for social sciences.

Discrepancy between Publishers and Funders

A major problem with the embargo period is that many journals impose a longer embargo period than is permitted by grant providers such as the EU. As a result, many articles that are demanded to be open access by their funders (read: tax payers) are still only accessible via subscriptions or against high prices.

Most funders do not ensure the embargo period of research articles they funded is lifted on schedule.

Time period

The embargo period usually sets in from the date articles are published. After the embargo period ends, publishers lift or lower the barriers to end users and authors are allowed to disseminate their articles by their own means. Embargo periods usually last to up to a maximum of one year, but can be imposed for a couple of years.

The table below shows the embargo period for 10 journals published by Elsevier and Taylor & Francis. Which access barriers to an article remain once the embargo period is expired, depends on the copyright licence in the publishing agreement.

Embargo period for 10 journals of top publishers

Journal Publisher Embargo
Advances in Medical Sciences Elsevier 12 months
Computer Communications Elsevier 18 months
Clinical Psychology Review Elsevier 24 months
Business Horizons Elsevier 36 months
Youth Theatre Journal Taylor & Francis 18 months
Women's Reproductive Health Taylor & Francis 12 months
Cell No.2 Elsevier 12 months
The Lancet No.1 Elsevier 6 months
Aerosol Science and Technology Taylor & Francis 12 months