Elsevier Backs Down, Removes Support For Research Works Act As Elsevier Boycott Grows

from the boycott's-work dept

While it never got as much attention as the GoDaddy boycott, it appears the growing boycott of academics, refusing to publish papers in any Reed Elsevier journal, has caused the company to back down. It has now announced that it no longer supports the Research Works Act. That’s the bill — for which Elsevier was a major backer — that would bar the government from requiring open and free access (after a period of time) to government-funded research:

While we continue to oppose government mandates in this area, Elsevier is withdrawing support for the Research Work Act itself. We hope this will address some of the concerns expressed and help create a less heated and more productive climate for our ongoing discussions with research funders.

Of course, then it immediately complains about the kinds of mandates that the Act would have disallowed:

Cooperation and collaboration are critical because different kinds of journals in different fields have different economics and models. Inflexible mandates that do not take those differences into account and do not involve the publisher in decision making can undermine the peer-reviewed journals that serve an essential purpose in the research community. Therefore, while withdrawing support for the Research Works Act, we will continue to join with those many other nonprofit and commercial publishers and scholarly societies that oppose repeated efforts to extend mandates through legislation.

That’s pretty ridiculous actually. None of these mandates “undermine” these journals in any way — unless you consider their insane set up (free writing, free editing, full copyright ownership, and subscriptions that cost tens of thousands of dollars) some sort of divine right. The mandates refer to federally funded research, which should be accessible by the public since they paid for the research in the first place. Elsevier doesn’t pay for the research. Hell, they don’t even pay the researcher for their paper. Or the peer reviewers for their work. So forgive me for not shedding any tears if Elsevier has to learn to adapt to only being able to have the exclusive rights to a paper for a year.

Still, with Elsevier dropping its support, hopefully it means that the original backers of the poorly thought out bill, Reps. Darrel Issa and Carolyn Maloney will drop the bill entirely. Instead, I’d very much like to see much greater support for Rep. Mike Doyle’s counter-proposal, which would mandate that federally funded research be made available to the public.

Update: And…. now Issa has said that he won’t move forward on the bill and (more importantly) that he now understands the importance of “open access” and how it’s “the wave of the future.”

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Comments on “Elsevier Backs Down, Removes Support For Research Works Act As Elsevier Boycott Grows”

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Ima Fish (profile) says:

While we continue to oppose government mandates in this area

I’m glad Elsevier feels that way. If they hate government intervention into their business model I’m sure they’ll gladly stop using copyright to support their business model. My guess is that they’ll put all of their journals into the public domain and compete with superior quality and services.

What?! They want strong and draconian government intervention via copyright when it helps them but hate minor government intervention when it helps everyone else? Sounds sort of hypocritical, doesn’t it?

Joe Publius (profile) says:

I heard about Elsevier and this particular situation on the public radio show On The Media, and as I listened to the whole story, I found that I thought of these traditional scientific journals as just one more legacy gatekeeper that may have had a purpose in the past, but are rapidly outliving their usefulness.

I can see where even 50 years ago it would be tough to sift through a multitude of studies without any guarantee that the research was sound. But now the online world can be leveraged to sort, find, and rate studies anywhere at any time using the entire world as the peer reviewers if desired.

Just one more example of how disruptive (in a good way) the internet is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mr. Doyle’s counter-proposal is so riddled with loopholes that one could drive an 18-wheeler through the door sideways and avoid much, if not most, of what it purports to accomplish. Moreover, it uses terms of art within government procurement circles associated with funding agreements that will almost certainly result in overreaching by federal agencies.

The bill you criticize was actually quite narrow and limited to federal agencies engaging in actions that would virtually render null and void existing private sector contracts.

It seems that once again perception overrides substance.

Anonymous Coward says:

–now Issa has said that he won’t move forward on the bill and (more importantly) that he now understands the importance of “open access” and how it’s “the wave of the future.”

Issa: Understand? Oh Yes, I understand!
It’s google again stretching out their piratical tentacles and threatening the very heart of democracy. I completely understand now, and google needs to understand that from now on, it’s war.

Anonymous Coward says:


Read the bill. Read its prerequisites. Read its exceptions. Read its relationship to other laws, including, but not limited to, Title 17 and Title 35 (directly), the Federal Acquisition Act, the Armed Services Procurement Act, the implementing regulations set forth in the FAR and DFARS, the Export Control Act, and the Arms Export Control Act (indirectly).

Every one of these relate in varying degrees to publications associated with federal funding agreements, as well as what are colloquially known as “Other Agreements”.

As laudable as the goal of this bill might be, by the time its exceptions and these other laws have come into play the end product will quite likely be underwhelming. Yes, some journals may be impacted, but then again such journals capture only a tiny fraction of publications associated with federal research, and the bill does nothing to capture the far larger number of non-journal research papers. In fact, it even explicitly excludes the latter from its reach.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


I’m glad Elsevier feels that way. If they hate government intervention into their business model I’m sure they’ll gladly stop using copyright to support their business model.

Indeed. In addition to that, if they want to avoid the government placing restrictions on them, then they need to stop using that free-to-them government-owned research altogether.

Hulser (profile) says:


hasn’t taken him long then. now all that needs to happen is to apply the same thinking towards the internet and copyright and maybe he’ll be getting somewhere.

No no no. We can’t critisize any politician who has a bad publicity induced epiphany, even if it’s mild sarcasm. When they realize that the thing they were railing against is actually the “wave of the future”, we need to puff up the politicians’ delicate egos with public praise. Or else the next time, they might just stick to their guns and not drop their support. “You get the behavior you reward.”

Anonymous Coward says:


Politicians who engage in crony capitalism should not be getting any praise at any time. What they should get is relentless attack ads reminding voters of their true character. These people need to have their political careers ended as soon as possible.

They are dangerous parasites who are temporarily frightened. That will not last. They will return to victimising ordinary people as soon as they think they can get away with it.

Yo Mike, your political clout in Washington DC seems to have gone way up. Well done, may it ever be thus.

Anonymous Coward says:

Such a shame Darrel Issa backed this people. I actually liked him for being one of the very few who oppose SOPA in the Congressional hearings.

I guess this is what lobbying money does, even to apparently good politicians. They just have to take money from somewhere to support their campaigns. We really need to reform campaign finance, otherwise corporations will keep owning Congress.

Nima (user link) says:

The boycott by itself is not enough. Scientists need to form an active movement to once and for all break science free from shackles of corporate publishing bureaucrats. The people getting most of Elsevier’s profits are NOT scientists, they are bureaucrats, lawyers, and investors.

We need to hit “Elserpiente” where it hurts, right in the pocketbook. Not only refuse to buy their journals and cancel our subscriptions, but push universities to do the same. Also, we need to identify and EXPOSE those scientists and researchers who are still collaborating with them, and make sure they value their reputation enough to go open-access. If that means writing up a blacklist of traitors to science, so be it. Post in every scientific blog, BAN ELSEVIER. And go to my blog http://paleoking.blogspot.com/ for more info on how to break the grip of this menace for good.

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