Rep. Conyers, Once Again, Trying To Lock Up Federally Funded Research

from the isn't-that-a-problem? dept

Last year, Congress finally got fed up with the fact that publicly funded research was being locked up in various scientific journals. The whole journal business is something of a scam. Unlike other publications, the folks who write the papers for journals pay the journals to get their content published. On top of that, the "peers" who review the works aren't paid for their work either. In other words, these journals get a ton of free labor... and sometimes that labor pays them. And, then, on top of that, they charge ridiculously high prices for anyone to subscribe, claim the copyright on all submitted works, and are incredibly aggressive in enforcing that copyright. An academic I knew, at one point had to consider doing an experiment a second time just to get the same results, because mentioning the earlier results of his own study might violate the copyright of the journal. And, remember, much of this is happening with research that was funded by taxpayers.

So, Congress decided that any research that was funded by NIH (which funds about $30 billion in research each year) had to also be openly published one-year after it was published in the journal. It's hard to see how this damages the journals at all. They still retain a significant monopoly right on the works -- and have a year's head start. Yet, the journal publishers have been screaming bloody murder, and even trying to force academics to pay thousands of dollars to cover the "cost" of republishing the article in an open archiving database.

And, of course, those publishers have been complaining like crazy to Congress. Last year, Rep. Conyers (who also recently introduced the RIAA's preferred legislation, and was heavily backed by the American Intellectual Property Law Association in his most recent election) introduced some legislation to repeal this requirement, though the legislation went nowhere fast. However, he's wasted very little time introducing identical legislation this year.
Right before Conyers brought this legislation back, Stanford Professor John Willinsky published a well-worth reading article explaining why the publishers' objections to the requirement to openly publish makes no sense. Their general argument is that this is the government interfering with private businesses. But, of course, that's not true at all. As Willinsky notes, the only reason that particular private business exists as it does is because the government interfered in the form of giving them copyright:
What is held to be "unfair" in the bill is government interference with the publisher's exclusive ownership over research. This is not, however, a case of keeping the government's clumsy hand off a free market. The scholarly publishing market depends on government interference in the first instance. The government allows publishers to exercise monopoly rights over this research through copyright law, a form of market interference....
Furthermore, Willinsky mentions the original, Constitutional purpose behind said copyright: "To promote the progress of science and the useful arts..." Congress gets to determine what promotes the progress, and if it's shown that open publication of publicly funded works promotes that progress, then the journals should have no argument at all. But, argue they will... so, Public Knowledge and The Alliance for Taxpayer Access are both asking people to write their elected representatives to oppose this attempt to once again lock up the very research that we all funded as taxpayers.
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Filed Under: copyright, john conyers, journals, nih, open access, research


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  1. identicon
    Iron Chef, 12 Feb 2009 @ 12:35pm

    The Elephant and the Dragon

    Another startling fact is that all too often, American companies decide to move their R&D arm to other countries which have more lax IP laws such as India or China. In doing so, they are actually able to innovate upon others ideas, a 180-degree turn from that which Representative Conyers is introducing.

    This is another example of how private interests are trying to claim what they can as theirs in "The Land of Innovation"-- America.

    But more startling is what has taken shape in the past few years: America is where the ideas come from, India and China is where it is developed, and then ultimately brought back to the USA under the auspice of corporate interests with well-funded legal abilities.

    I highly recommend reading Robyn Meredith's book, The Elephant and the Dragon to gain more insight to this, and how legislation such as this that Representative Conyers is introducing is actually detrimental to the American Economy as a whole.

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