Unfortunate: 'Open' Advocate Darrell Issa Sponsoring Bill That Will Close Off Open Access To Gov't Funded Research

from the tragic dept

For years, we’ve pointed out the ridiculousness of various attempts to lock up federally funded research. If anything, it would seem that research that is federally funded should be required to be open to the public. After all, the public paid for it. And, in fact, a few years back, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) instituted a program that said that any research funded by NIH had to be offered in an open access manner by 1 year after its publication date. The “issue” here is that the big academic journals have the greatest scam in the world running: they don’t have to pay writers (and, in some fields, the writers actually have to pay them) who submit their papers. They don’t have to pay other academics to do peer review, as that’s done for free. So all of their content isn’t paid for. But… they do require that the writers hand over their copyright, and then lock it up in journals that are crazy expensive — and totally inaccessible to the average person who isn’t affiliated with a university library willing to shell out the cash.

That’s not good for science or innovation. And, when it’s on federally funded research, it’s almost criminal.

So, the NIH had this open access requirement, which was then augmented by a Congressional requirement. The 1 year still lets journals get crazy monopoly rents… but even then, many journals have sought ways to make these open access requirements difficult. For example, if you click that link, you can see how the American Psychology Association tried to charge the academics who wrote for it $2,500 to “deposit” their publication to PubMed to satisfy the NIH requirement.

So, for years, the big publishing houses have been trying to get Congress to pass a law to lock up federally funded research. In the past, this effort was led by Rep. John Conyers — who has received lots of campaign contributions from the big publishers. A few years ago, the Obama administration actually suggested it was leaning in the other direction — and actually requiring all federally funded research to be open access, rather than just NIH. That would be huge… but of course, the big publishers won’t allow that to happen. They even made the ridiculous argument that open access requirements would harm transparency in government. Yeah. Don’t even try to understand it, because it doesn’t make sense.

Tragically, it appears that a new version of this bill has been introduced… called the Research Works Act. It’s a pretty short bill, but here’s the key part:

No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that–

(1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or

(2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

Note the use of “private-sector research work.” There’s a definition for that:

PRIVATE-SECTOR RESEARCH WORK- The term ‘private-sector research work’ means an article intended to be published in a scholarly or scientific publication, or any version of such an article, that is not a work of the United States Government (as defined in section 101 of title 17, United States Code), describing or interpreting research funded in whole or in part by a Federal agency and to which a commercial or nonprofit publisher has made or has entered into an arrangement to make a value-added contribution, including peer review or editing. Such term does not include progress reports or raw data outputs routinely required to be created for and submitted directly to a funding agency in the course of research.

This is tragically bad drafting in that depending on how you interpret the commas, it almost certainly means that the NIH requirements and anything similar would be barred. That is, it appears to define federally funded research as “private sector research work,” if it’s going to be published by a private journal. The Association of American Publishers sure was quick to celebrate the bill, making it clear that it was exactly what they wanted: a ban on forcing works they publish into open access models. Of course, the language is purposely vague so that if you misread it, you might think it doesn’t include government-funded works. That’s not true. It simply doesn’t include government produced works, which are public domain by definition and couldn’t be thus limited anyway.

Furthermore, the bill appears to create a new copyright-like “right” for publishers outside of copyright itself. That is, it grants the final say in permission to the publisher, rather than the copyright holder. So, even in a case where an author retains the copyright, or retains distribution rights, this bill could potentially grant the publisher extra rights out of thin air.

The real tragedy here? The bill’s sponsor is Rep. Darrell Issa — who’s based much of his recent political career on the claim that he wants more open government. Yes, the same Darrell Issa who put forth the SOPA/PIPA alternative, the OPEN Act, with its awesome open website that allows for direct feedback on the bill. And he’s behind the open access to Congressional hearings video that we just talked about.

This bill seems to go against everything that he’s said he stands for on related issues, and people are definitely noting how odd this seems.

There’s no two ways about it. This is a bad and dangerous bill that will only serve to lock up important, taxpayer-funded research. As we’ve discussed in detail in the past, such locking up of research does tremendous harm to important scientific research, puts people in harm’s way and slows down innovation. It’s tremendously disappointing that Rep. Darrell Issa would be behind such a bill. It really does seem to go against everything that he stands for.

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Comments on “Unfortunate: 'Open' Advocate Darrell Issa Sponsoring Bill That Will Close Off Open Access To Gov't Funded Research”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Self-Inflicted Injury

Why are researchers still submitting papers to these known-abusive publishers? When are they going to stand up for their own rights? Just boycott the bad publishers. Do not submit papers to them. Do not do any peer reviewing for them. Order your university library to cancel its subscription. Stop citing any papers in the publications of the bad publishers. Make your displeasure known to any researcher, who has foolishly used a bad publisher to get a paper published, which you wish to cite. Get them to do a revised paper which is basically the former paper, plus any latest thoughts, then publish that paper in an open access journal. Or put the thing on the researcher’s own website, that is plenty good enough for a citation.

If researchers stop cooperating with the bad publishers, then the bad publisher problem will just go away, and there is nothing that corrupt congress critters can do about it. Cut all the bad guys out of the loop.

DougN (profile) says:

Re: Re: Self-Inflicted Injury

Sadly, this is so true. I used to work for the CS department at CMU, and have ties to several departments at Ohio State, and almost all the departments with which I am familiar are quite specific about things such as which publications, how big of a publication, etc. And this is true just to stay employed… more and more, tenure is this mythical thing you hear about and almost never see.

The saddest part… many publications such as the ApJ or those of the IEEE… you submit your article using something such as TeX/LaTeX, which you have created and formatted using wrappers the publisher provides… it goes through review/editing (editing generally done by the author), and once ready for publication, they just take the files for your article, put them in a subdirectory under the issue directory, add links to it from the index, and with almost no work on assembly, turn out potentially 2000+ pages a month, every month of every year (submissions permitting). Then, when you figure out what they charge for online access, it becomes almost criminal

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Self-Inflicted Injury

The reason students buy the new books is because the schools require it. I personally have gotten screwed over by the school system enough that I took a step back and saw it for what it is. The school system is nothing more than a money vacuum.

They require you to take classes that have nothing to do with your degree wasting your time and taking your money. I then thought about testing out of some classes. I figured that would be a good way to get around somethings. The school then told me to test out of a class I have to pay FULL PRICE for the class and then take the test.

There is no way to justify what the school system is currently doing. They are no longer there to educate students but are there to see how much they can milk out of someone.

I for one have chosen to boycott the school system. I am just going to go out and teach myself what I need and get certifications in my field. I’m done throwing money at that monstrosity. I hope to see the day that the whole system fall in on its self. Having a degree does not mean what it once did.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Self-Inflicted Injury

Why are researchers still submitting papers to these known-abusive publishers?

In order to be seen as successful in their fields, they need to publish. If they don’t publish, they don’t get grants for new research, or respect from their peers. The bigger and more respected the journals they publish in, the more well known and respected the researcher becomes.

Unfortunately, the bigger and more respected journals are the bad actors when it comes to onerous copyright terms. If only a few researchers or universities are willing to stop working with the bad actors, they may be committing professional suicide.

Stevan Harnad (profile) says:

The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog

“Research Works Act H.R.3699:
The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog, Yet Again”



The US Research Works Act (H.R.3699): “No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that — (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.”

Translation and Comments:

“If public tax money is used to fund research, that research becomes “private research” once a publisher “adds value” to it by managing the peer review.”

[Comment: Researchers do the peer review for the publisher for free, just as researchers give their papers to the publisher for free, together with the exclusive right to sell subscriptions to it, on-paper and online, seeking and receiving no fee or royalty in return].

“Since that public research has thereby been transformed into “private research,” and the publisher’s property, the government that funded it with public tax money should not be allowed to require the funded author to make it accessible for free online for those users who cannot afford subscription access.”

[Comment: The author’s sole purpose in doing and publishing the research, without seeking any fee or royalties, is so that all potential users can access, use and build upon it, in further research and applications, to the benefit of the public that funded it; this is also the sole purpose for which public tax money is used to fund research.]”

H.R. 3699 misunderstands the secondary, service role that peer-reviewed research journal publishing plays in US research and development and its (public) funding.

It is a huge miscalculation to weigh the potential gains or losses from providing or not providing open access to publicly funded research in terms of gains or losses to the publishing industry: Lost or delayed research progress mean losses to the growth and productivity of both basic research and the vast R&D industry in all fields, and hence losses to the US economy as a whole.

What needs to be done about public access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research?

The minimum policy is for all US federal funders to mandate (require), as a condition for receiving public funding for research, that: (i) the fundee?s revised, accepted refereed final draft of (ii) all refereed journal articles resulting from the funded research must be (iii) deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication (iv) in the fundee’?s institutional repository, with (v) access to the deposit made free for all (OA) immediately (no OA embargo) wherever possible (over 60% of journals already endorse immediate gratis OA self-archiving), and at the latest after a 6-month embargo on OA.

It is the above policy that H.R.3699 is attempting to make illegal…


Anonymous Coward says:

A related anecdote that might be interesting to anyone who’s reading this late.

I’m a grad student in science. My friend, an engineer who finished his masters a year or two ago, had to contact me recently to get access to his own published conference proceeding to check something for a related work he was proofing for publication. He is working at a company in his field now, and that company doesn’t have access to peer-reviewed journals. His options were to pay $25 for the .pdf of his own work or get an alumni library membership from his former school for something between $100 – 500/ year. Since I’m still in school, I was able to get it for him for free (well, I pay $8000/yr tuition) which I guess was illegal, never mind that he’s the first author of the publication.

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