Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, February 27, 2009

More comments on the Conyers bill, #6

Here are some more comments from the press and blogosphere on the re-introduction of the Conyers bill (a.k.a. Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, HR 801), which would overturn the OA policy at the NIH.  Also see our past collections (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

From James Boyle in the Financial Times (blogged separately but I wanted to include an excerpt in this collection as well):

It is hard for politicians to do anything that would shock me but I have to say that John Conyers, a US Congressman, has done it. In the process, he has taught us a lot about how far we have to go, all over the world, before we get our science policy right. Since science and technology are major engines of growth, that is a point of pressing interest for governments everywhere.

Rep. Conyers has introduced a bill, misleadingly called the ”Fair Copyright in Research Works Act,” that would eviscerate public access to taxpayer funded research. The bill is so badly drafted that it would also wreak havoc on federal information policy more generally. It is supported by the commercial science publishers, but opposed by a remarkable set of groups -- ranging from the American Research Libraries, to 33 Nobel Prize Winners, to a coalition of patients’ rights organizations. (One of its many negative effects would be effectively to forbid the the US National Institutes of Health from allowing the taxpayers who have paid for medical research actually to read the results for free, hurting not only the progress of science, but informed medical decisions by patients and their families.)

As a copyright professor, I have to say the bill is a nightmare....[I]ts limitations on Federal agencies are completely unworkable. And as a scholar who writes about innovation, I have to say that it flies in the face of decades of research which shows the extraordinary multiplier effect of free access to information on the speed of scientific development. But speaking as a human being, I just have to wonder what could be going through a politician’s head at a moment like this....

From in Kevin Donovan in The Hoya (the student newspaper at Georgetown University):

[Publicly-funded research] is traditionally published in scholarly journals that can cost tens of thousands of dollars per subscription. Because access to this knowledge is essential to academic research, university libraries spend millions of dollars every year paying for access to these journals.

That cost is passed on to students, meaning that we are paying twice for access to this information. And, given the current economic crisis, those journals will be prohibitively expensive, meaning that taxpayers will not have access to the research they fund. It’s like being forced to pay the toll but not being allowed to drive on the road....

Take the story of Josh Sommer, an undergraduate student at Duke University who suffered from a rare form of cancer. Because he had access to Duke’s extensive library system, he was able to research his condition in hundreds of journal articles and ultimately start the Chordoma Foundation to advance research of his disease. The current NIH policy gives millions of other similarly curious and driven minds the ability to do what Sommer did — educate oneself and enact change.

Conyers’ bill seeks to stop that. (The great irony is that when Sommers was a freshman in high school, Conyers asked him to speak at a press conference introducing the U.S. Toxic Mold Safety and Protection Act, a bill designed to prevent the sort of mold poisoning that caused Sommers’ cancer.) ...

Access to critical scientific information is vital to confronting the pressing questions of climate change, disease and hundreds of other areas integral to the betterment of the human condition. As members of the Georgetown community, we are dependent upon the unrestricted flow of knowledge. As American citizens we deserve access to the products of our tax dollars. As both concerned students and citizens, we should demand continued open access to taxpayer-funded research.

From Richard Esguerra at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

...This [NIH] "open access" policy not only promotes free scientific communication and innovation, it strikes many as fundamentally fair....

With all this operating in favor of open access, we were disappointed to see Rep. Conyers reintroduce H.R. 801, the poorly named Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. The bill's provisions -- written to benefit publishers who view this as an attack on their traditional effective monopolies over scientific expression -- would foreclose on all the benefits mentioned above and seeks to prevent the government from expanding the open access approach to research funded by other agencies. That's why the bill is being opposed by EFF and numerous groups that fight to preserve patient rights and the public interest: Alliance for Taxpayer Access, the American Library Association, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalitions (SPARC), 33 US Nobel laureates in science, and more.

Open access to research benefits scientists and citizens alike. Shutting it down only helps a few publishers squeeze a few drops of additional revenue from the research that our tax dollars paid for. Our representatives in Washington should straighten out their priorities, put their constituents first, and reject this dangerous bill.

From Esther Wojcicki at Huffington Post:

It looks like Congressman John Conyers needs to do his homework on the impact of science policy on the health care for the average American. Turns out that he introduced a bill that would effectively forbid the US National Institutes of Health from allowing taxpayers (you and me) from reading the results of medical research that we have paid for with our tax dollars.

He introduced a bill called "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act" that is anything but fair. It is opposed by 33 Nobel Prize winners, a coalition of patients' rights organizations, and American Research Libraries among others. It should also be opposed by anyone who thinks someday they might get sick and need the latest medical research -- which means all of us.

"This bill would forbid us from building the World Wide Web for science, even for the research that taxpayers have funded. And that is truly a tragedy", according to James Boyle professor of law at Duke and co-founder of Science Commons. "We cannot create such a web until scientific articles come out from behind the publishers' firewalls." ...

How to protest? Send a letter to your congressman and tell him how you feel about locking up medical research behind financial walls. Tell him/her we need to open up science research to improve everyone's access to important medical data. Alert him that even his doctor may not have access to important medical information that may impact his life.