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by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
california, open access



University Of California Sides With Journal Publishers Over Its Own Struggling Libraries

from the and-against-the-taxpayers dept

There's been a push in recent years to open access to publicly funded research. The reasoning behind the push is solid: the public is paying for this research via federal funding, therefore it should have access to what it's paid for. The resistance usually comes from journal publishers who are very concerned about their main source of revenue -- access fees (usually on the "exorbitant" side) charged to university libraries. (Most publishers also charge writers a submission fee and grant themselves control of the copyright.)

Current law says that, for NIH funded research, there's a requirement for public access once the journals have been properly "windowed" by the publishers. After 12 months of publisher exclusivity, the publications are unlocked. A few recent bills have attempted to roll this back to six months, something the publishers have greeted with cries of dismay, including the hilarious assertion that opening public access six months early would "waste taxpayers' money."

California is another state exploring cutting the current window in half and, like every other attempt, it's been greeted by opposition from publishers uninterested in a 50% gravy train reduction. This is the expected response. What's completely unexpected is hearing a university side with the publishers against its own cash-strapped libraries.

The University of California system spends nearly $40 million every year to buy access to academic journals, even though many of the articles are written, reviewed, and edited by UC professors. So you’d think the cash-strapped UC system would leap to back any effort to undermine the absurd science publishing system.

You’d think. But you’d be wrong.

Hearings into the bill were scheduled for last week, but were delayed so that the bill could be modified in order to earn the support of the University of California – the flagship higher education system in the state, and the host of millions of dollars in state-funded research.

When I first heard this I was excited. “Finally,” I thought, “UC is stepping up to the plate and taking a strong stance in support of open access.” Then I read the letter UC had sent.

Adrian Diaz, the University of California’s Legislative Director, wrote that UC was “supportive of the legislation’s intent” but would only support it if the embargo period were extended to one year, and if its own grant programs were exempted from the bill’s requirements.
UC's letter seems to have the guiding hand of a concerned publisher behind it. It asks for the "embargo" to be set at the federal level -- 12 months -- expressing "concern" about a shorter time frame and saying that matching California's with the federal standard would "help avoid confusion and promote compliance with the law."

Oddly, the thought never occurred to UC to throw its support behind the bill seeking to set the national standard to 6 months in order to "avoid confusion." In other words, UC supports what's already in place and, if things do change, it should be exempt from the requirements. The letter also expresses a more real concern.
A twelve month embargo period will also allow publishers, including small publishers and scholarly societies, to meet their needs for revenue while ensuring long-term public access to published research.
That's all well and good -- for the publishers. And this letter sides completely with the publishers, even adding a vague threat/warning that some journals may reject submissions coming from a state with only a 6-month "embargo" period. That's a rather stunning statement. It suggests that journal publishers will be more than willing to compile only the most profitable research, rather than the most pertinent or accurate.

On top of that, UC is siding against its own library system in its support of publishers.
[I]t is even more troubling that a university whose libraries are facing budget cuts every year while they try to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of journal subscriptions would cite publishers’ need for revenue as their guiding principle when judging policies related to scholarly publishing.

How can Diaz DEFEND this system?? A system in which universities fork over billions of dollars of public money every year in order to buy back access to papers researchers gave to publishers for free? A system that is bankrupting our libraries? A system that denies people access to research their tax dollars paid for?
UC's letter of support for a system that extracts $40M in fees annually from the university system for research the government paid for (and authors paid to submit) is as baffling as it is infuriating. As it stands now, the system is unsustainable for the university and yet, it makes a statement asking for the status to remain firmly quo, even as its own librarians are cutting subscriptions to keep costs manageable.

This research was paid for by the public but the publishers are primarily concerned with keeping knowledge locked up and the public at arm's length. It's disappointing (and alarming) that a major university would sympathize and support the expected publisher behavior.


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2013 @ 12:48pm

    This appears to be largely an issue of simplifying compliance. If the university has to do one thing with California authors and another thing with other authors, it increases the cost of compliance.

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