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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  1. identicon
    Taxpayer, 4 Mar 2009 @ 7:29am

    Serials Crisis

    Sorry, it is not "so-called", it is a crisis. The cost of journals have risen much faster than our ability to pay, so we cannot afford the resources that we used to provide to our patrons.

    I am not sure everyone was 'fine' with the current system, it was just the only option. But now there are a number of other options, and they deserve to be explored. Some of these options are just as robust and just as useful, but cost a lot less. In many cases, a college, an academic society, or the library, are publishing the journal. They are more interested in making the content available and in providing a service, than making millions of dollars. Just because publishers need to pay the bills does not mean that we need to continue such a restrictive system.

    And you are too kind to the publishers which grant all those privileges and free access. Many of them are still very restrictive and do not allow any version of an article to be put in an online repository--they consider that publishing. We have had to remove such content from our institutional repository.

    But the main concern of this article still remains: private publishers are trying to stop the open publishing of research that we have already paid for. If the government produces something, it is owned by the people. The very idea of copyright and all the laws that come from it were allowed in the constitution for only ONE purpose, "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." Why should private publishers be able to assert ownership to our public information?

    By all means, let authors choose any publisher for their own articles. Let the publishers include articles that are based on the publicly funded research. Let them do whatever they want with their own or purchased content. But research that is funded by the government, that is paid for by tax dollars, that is owned by the people, ought to be copyright free in the US, just like the rest of the government products. And if there is money to be made off this, at least put it back into the system to pay back the tax dollars that were spent.

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