Publishers Flip Out, Call Bill To Provide Open Access To Federally Funded Works A 'Boondoggle'

from the gotta-lock-it-up dept

A year ago, we wrote about Rep. Mike Doyle introducing an important bill to provide public access to publicly funded research. As we've been discussing for years, the academic journal business is a huge boondoggle. Unlike just about any other publication, the journals don't pay their writers (and in many subject areas, authors need to pay to submit), they don't pay the peer reviewers -- and then they charge positively insane amounts to university libraries, often knowing that those libraries feel obligated to pay. Oh yeah, and the journals keep the copyright on everything. I've heard of researchers having to redo basic experiments because they were worried they couldn't even reuse data from earlier experiments due to the copyright assignment agreement they had to sign.

Thankfully, for years, there's been a law on the books for any NIH-funded research to guarantee that 12-months after publication, those works also had to be published openly. While some publishers have tried to game this system (such as by demanding a mandatory fee to "deposit" the work in an open access database), on the whole this has been hugely important in making sure that taxpayer funded research is actually available and can be built upon. Over the years, there have been multiple bills introduced in both directions on this issue. There have been some bills that sought to take away this requirement under NIH funding and there have been bills that have tried to expand it to the rest of the federal government and any of the research they sponsor.

Last week, a new version of Doyle's bill was introduced and it's been improved. First off, it's got some nice bipartisan backing in both parts of Congress. On the Senate side, it was co-sponsored by Senators Cornyn and Wyden, while on the House side we've got Doyle along with Reps. Yoder and Lofgren. Also, it reduces the time to open publishing from one year down to six months (like a NY bill that came out last year). It doesn't spread the policy to all federal agencies, but the vast majority of federally funded resarch would qualify (all agencies that spend over $100 million on research are covered).

As the EFF notes in the link above, there are a few lingering concerns about the bill, including some broad language around exemptions for works that "generate revenue or royalties for authors." Also, it could go further in not just requiring open access, but open licensing to make sure such works can more easily be built on to create next generation research. However, those are small quibbles.

But, of course, the publishers are really not happy about all of this, calling it "different name, same boondoggle." This is quite incredible, really, since it's really the publishers who have been getting away with a giant boondoggle for ages. If that gives you an idea about just how ridiculous the publishers' claims are, read on. Nearly every claim they make in attacking the bill actually applies to the publishers themselves much more than to the bill:
It would add significant, unspecified, ongoing costs to those agencies’ budgets in the midst of ongoing federal deficit reduction efforts.
As opposed to keeping the works locked up, which adds significant, unspecified and ongoing costs to anyone trying to actually do research and be educated?
Finally, it would undermine publishers’ efforts to provide access to high-quality peer-review research publications in a sustainable way, while ignoring progress made by agencies collaborating with publishers to improve funding transparency.
No it wouldn't. We already have the NIH example. Nothing in that "undermined" the publishers' efforts. Again, all that "high quality peer review" stuff comes for free: both the content and the peer reviewing. Most other publications somehow, magically, get by paying their writers and editors and don't have to charge tens of thousands of dollars for a subscription.
“This bill would waste so much taxpayers’ money at a time of budgetary crisis, squander federal employees’ time with busywork and require the creation and maintenance of otherwise-unneeded technology,”
This is the funniest of all. The real "waste" of taxpayer money is in funding all this research that then gets locked up and is nearly useless to those taxpayers.

Basically, the publishers know that their current position with these journals is such a sweet deal that they don't want anything to mess with it at all. That's ridiculous. While they're fighting for ever bigger profits, we're talking about access to research that was funded with our own dollars. It's really sad that the publishers would fight such a thing, though it shows what they really think concerning education. To them, it's not about how best to disseminate information, but how to lock it up and charge insanely high prices for it.
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Filed Under: faster, federally funded research, john cornyn, mike doyle, open access, publishers, ron wyden, zoe lofgren

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2013 @ 9:24pm

    This bill has a nice "ring" to it. After all, federal monies may have helped in part (but not necessarily) to support research under federal "funding agreements".

    Three important points follow. First, not all funding agreements involve private use of federal funds. Second, during the performance of funding agreements funds recipients submit numerous reports detailing research results to the federal agency that is a party to the funding agreement. Third, these various reports typically find their way into one of two libraries, the NTIS (National Technical Information Service) and the DTIC (Defense Technical Information Service), all of which, sans classified information that is available only to parties having appropriate security levels, may be accessed by the public.

    The disconnect here seems to be the assumption that a "journal" article is somehow created using federal monies, if any, under funding agreements. Certainly with respect to funding agreements associated with the DOD, jornal articles are typically prepared after the funding agreement has concluded. No federal monies are expended to prepare such articles, and in any event research results are already available via the NTIS and the DTIC.

    Hence, what this bill purports to require is the mandatory public release of duplicative information, thus imposing additional regulatory (and largely unnecessary) burdens on both federal agencies and the private sector. Moreover, it requires what can only be charitably characterized as "compulsory licenses", raising the possibility of a "taking" under the Fifth Amendment.

    If the Congress means what it says, maybe its members should direct the bill's requirements to the current rules governing the NTIS and the DTIC, and modify them accordingly to facilitate the bill's objectives.

    One interesting component of the bill is that it leaves untouched the provisions of currently existing copyright and patent law. Lawyers in the employ of private sector recipients of funding agreements, if they understand the applicable law and regulations, can easily rely on this to bring the envisioned requirement to a grinding halt. Hence, it seems to me that this bill amounts to little more that "feel good" legislation of little, if any, substantive import.

    In view of the above, and while nontheless mindful of the personal interest journals have with respect to the bill, this bill seems to me to be little more than environmental degredation by requiring the cutting of additional trees to secure an unnecessary supply of paper.

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