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NIH Public Access Policy: Policy Overview & Contacts

NIH requirements for public access to scholarly articles published as a result of NIH awards, with help for UCSF researchers.

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NIH Public Access Policy Overview

Logo for the NIH Public Access Policy

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) passed its Public Access Policy on April 7, 2008 in order to advance science and improve human health. The Policy requires peer-reviewed articles that NIH funds be made publicly available on PubMed Central (PMC).

PMC is a free, full text repository of biomedical and life science journal literature. PMC is different from PubMed, which contains references and abstracts only.

The policy applies to any journal article that meets these criteria:

  1. Peer-reviewed
  2. Accepted for publication in a journal on or after April 7, 2008
  3. Arose in any part from an NIH grant, cooperative agreement, Intramural Program or contract active since the policy date, or from an NIH employee

See additional applicability guidelines and details of the policy. The Policy is codified in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

Exempt publications include:

  • Review articles, unless the article underwent peer-review
  • Books; however a book chapter published in a series in the journal section of the NLM Catalog falls under the Policy if it was peer-reviewed
  • Manuscripts in non-Latin scripts (e.g. Russian, Japanese), since they cannot be processed by the NIH
  • Articles accepted for publication before April 7, 2008

Exempt publications may still be reported in NIH progress reports via My NCBI, but listed at not applicable (N/A). Find more about reporting and citing exempt publications to the NIH.

Revised guidelines & related NIH policies

NIH will be issuing a revised public access policy aligned with the 2022 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy guidance. The new policy will go into effect no later than December 31, 2025. Other NIH policies related to the Public Access Policy are:

Key policy details

  1. Articles must be made publicly available in PubMed Central (PMC) no more than 12 months after the publication date.*
  2. There are four methods for getting papers into PMC, depending on the publication.
  3. NIH expects articles to be made compliant with the policy by  three months after the official publication date. Compliance means the paper has a PMCID (unique identifier in PMC).
    • The PMCID is a different number from the PMID (PubMed identifier). See explanation.
    • A PMCID can be assigned before the paper is released to the public, thus a publication can be compliant even before it's publicly accessible.
    • After the three-month window, articles without a PMCID will have a non-compliant status, even if the manuscript is being processed in NIHMS (see explanation). Method A journals without a PMCID will show "in process".
  4. Principal Investigators are required to use My NCBI (and My Bibliography specifically) to report their publications in NIH progress reports. Publications should not be left off the report for compliance reasons. See My Bibliography & Progress Reports for additional details.
  5. Even if an investigator is not an author on a paper, NIH holds the PI responsible for papers resulting from their award.

*NIH will be eliminating the 12-month embargo per federal guidance. The policy will be updated no later than December 31, 2024, with changes to be implemented no later than December 31, 2025. Until then, investigators should continue to set the PMC public release for their articles at 12 months after publication (or sooner if allowed).

Why is this policy important to me?

The answer, in short, is fundingAs of 2013, NIH has a strict policy of delaying the processing of non-competing renewal awards until all applicable articles are brought into compliance.

Resolving compliance issues can take weeks to resolve. Articles may not be removed from a progress report to avoid a compliance issue (see why). See Resolving Non-Compliant Publications for help.

Tips for hassle-free compliance

  1. Make sure all researchers and trainees on your grant know about the policy.
  2. Let the publisher know that your article falls under the policy during article submission and/or acceptance.
  3. Become familiar with which method your preferred journals use. 
  4. Pay attention to all emails from NIHMS, and follow up when any action is required.

See notices related to the Policy.