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

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Anonymous Coward says:

Their claims come down to:-
We demand the right to charge people for the work that they do, and charge the taxpayers for work that they funded. As publishers we have the right to own all knowledge, and everybody who generates new knowledge has to give it to us for free, find someone to check it for us, and do all that editing. If anybody wants to make a name for themselves as researchers, they have to pay us to publish there works. In return we will provide an archive, and charge handsomely for access.

Anonymous Coward says:

just another group that is trying to hold on to a government authorised monopoly. sound familiar (erm, Hollywood etc!) now that members of that government want to take away that monopoly, which has been giving them guaranteed incomes, they dont like it. shame! the public have been paying, they should decide who can do what with the research and results, when they can do it and for free!

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Stevan Harnad (profile) says:


Journal publishers are crying crocodile tears as they keep lobbying to let them provide Open Access their way (a controlled transition to Gold OA on their terms).

Plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Open Access Publishing (“Gold OA”) are premature.

Funds are short.

Eighty percent of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA, and making all Gold OA payment double-payment (subscriptions + Gold OA fees).

The asking price for Gold OA is still far too high.

And there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards.

What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate OA self-archiving (of authors’ final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication) (“Green OA”) — which is exactly what FASTR and SPARC have proposed to do (and what 55 funders and 200 institutions worldwide have already done: see ROARMAP).

Universal Green OA mandates will provide universal OA.

Then, if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions), that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (no more print edition, no more online edition, all access-provision and archiving offloaded onto the worldwide network of institutional Green OA repositories), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Post-Green Gold OA cost-recovery model.

Meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs.

The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a “no-fault basis,” with the author’s institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.

Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).

Anonymous Coward says:

Hard to say whether this bill is doing what it says in the title at least its short and simple enough for a reading.


A hundred million lower limit seems like a lot why not make it apply universally as the smaller research efforts might be more worth while. Hard to say. How much research is being ignored?

A waiting period of any time is still like granting copyright legislation in disguise. One week, 6 months, a year? Wasn’t the original copyright laws supposed to be some short time span to increase public commons and look how that morphed into a… wild bloated boondoggle of monopolies and incredible special interest pressure in the most absurd ways. I am hesitant to grant any leeway at all in public funded (even in part) research.

Exemptions if:
20 (3) the replacement of the final manuscript
21 with the final published version if?
22 (A) the publisher consents to the replacement
24 (B) the goals of the Federal agency for
25 functionality and interoperability are retained;

?if the publisher consents? way to weak. ? the goals of the Federal agency for
functionality and interoperability are retained? sounds like an excuse for each agency to ignore what they want.

Exemptions if:
1 (3) classified research, research resulting in
2 works that generate revenue or royalties for authors
3 (such as books) or patentable discoveries, to the ex-
4 tent necessary to protect a copyright or patent; or
5 (4) authors who do not submit their work to a
6 journal or works that are rejected by journals.

patents are supposed to be applied for right away so no harm in demanding immediate publishing. Books could take years and could also be used as excuse not to publish too. I think a requirement to show a research paper whether the work was a success or not would be nice. Exemptions so author can make money? (their getting paid already for crying out loud and we have no obligation to maximize their own selfish efforts and remember we don’t stop them from these attempts anyway) Very weak as everyone will want to work around it. Its basic human nature.

The exemption for classified research has many times been abused to cover up gross misconduct or waste or worse so its disturbing as to see it as an exemption. But it would be silly to worry about bigger problems at the moment. Tempting to use this as some way of accountability but… well who knows. No way we are strong enough to demand real reform right away I’d guess.

Remove Dept. of Homeland Security from the list of reports as no good can come of it and it would be a waste of paper and effort. None of their business.

Turnaround. Pros:

The good part is that it dose mention public commons. Thats good and its nice to see an effort to grow the public commons and that alone makes me want to cheer it on.

Kudos for Senator Doyle co-sponsors Senators Cornyn and Wyden! Yea!

And more wonderful is the fact that the concept of public commons growing is being discussed on the floor of the Senate. Thats Grrrrrreat! (big copyrighted cultural reference roar) Lets hope positive things come of that.

In the battle for increased public commons its a significant but small step. But since its in the right direction I like it a lot. Put in another light look at all the wasted bloated wildly unconstitutional legislation that special interest groups have won through constant lobbying efforts. With our constant effort we can produce good legislation that will increase the public commons and eventually repeal some of the stupid mistakes of past legislation.

Some may think its a waste but look at from our opponents view where they never worried about that… ever. Small steps in the right direction always gets you to where you want to be eventually.

It just well be that to slip this by the hounds of copyright as a harmless piece of legislation may be best. (you may think they squeal loudly now wait till we try some real reform) Hard to say and who knows at this early stage. Remember that political strategy combined with public awareness and funding is what moves legislation.

Man, I write too much, does anyone actually read this?

Anonnomous coward said: 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.
that can be said of ALL government legislation and without the attitude that we are right and must do this regardless of (some) collateral damage (in the whining viewpoint of copyright hounds) we wont win the war of increasing the public domain. Legislation is never perfect.

Steven Harnad; your views are interesting and have to admit beyond me. There was some economic impact analysis with examples of resources I have not accessed and so much more. Please keep posting.

OogaBooga (profile) says:

“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.”

That’s the researchers fault for being completely clueless as to how copyright law works. Of course they can use the data from the earlier experiments, even if they don’t hold the copyright in the research papers.

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