Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The ALPSP has released its June 26 letter to Sen. Susan Collins, chair of the Senate committee considering FRPAA. Excerpt:
We are writing to express our concerns regarding Senate bill S. 2695, the ‘Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006’...
  • We believe that publishers are already doing a great deal to make not just federally-funded but all research as widely available as possible.
  • However, any ‘one size fits all’ policies which aim to further extend such availability risk damaging the ability of learned society and other publishers to recoup their substantial investment.
  • Such Government intrusion into the market would, we believe, be totally inappropriate.
  • Rather, we believe that individual research funders should work closely with publishers in their own disciplines to develop policies and processes which maximise access to research without causing damage to publishers.

ALPSP supports any effort to increase access to research....

[W]here all or most of a journal’s content is freely available in a third-party repository, usage of the publisher’s own version drops markedly; at the same time, it is often difficult or impossible to obtain detailed usage statistics from the repository site....In some cases journals might even be put out of business; Open Access business models, which are not dependent on subscription or license income, are not viable for all journals. Where policies such as those advocated in S. 2695 have been introduced, it is also notable that authors have difficulty in complying...

We would therefore recommend:

  • That the need, if any, for repository policies is considered by individual funding agencies on a discipline-by-discipline basis
  • That learned society and other publishers are actively involved in the detailed development of any such policies, to ensure for example that embargo periods are flexible enough to allow for the requirements of different journals and different disciplines
  • That funders work with publishers to develop cooperative systems to ensure, when copies of articles are made publicly available, the public has access to the best version which the publisher allows (and that a link to the definitive version on the publisher’s site is included to avoid confusion13), that no material not covered by the policy is inadvertently deposited, and that deposit is made at the time permitted by the publisher.

Publishers have a more fundamental concern with S. 2695 and similar bills. Scholarly publishing, whether by not-for-profit or commercial publishers, is a robust, innovative private-sector enterprise. We consider it inappropriate, therefore, for the US government to insert itself into the business in a manner that will disrupt existing business practices, damaging the ability of scholarly publishers to contribute more broadly to the scientific infrastructure of the USA. Such intrusion goes against the principles on which the USA was founded.

Comments. Most of these arguments are old, tired, and familiar, and I've already responded to them in my 10 point rebuttal. But here are a few more responses to what's new here.

  1. The complaint about "government intrusion into the market" is disingenuous. Scientific research and publication are permeated by government spending and government policies, and do not represent a market in any ordinary sense. In the US, most scientific research is funded by taxpayers, most scientists work at public institutions and are paid by taxpayers, and most subscriptions to subscription-based journals are purchased by public institutions and paid for by taxpayers. If publishers really mean that government money and policymaking should keep out of this sector, then they should say so. But they know that they would go bankrupt under such a rule. What they really want is the present arrangement of government subsidies for the work they publish, government subsidies for their own subscription fees, and double-payments by taxpayers who want access. (That's a market?)
  2. But for the sake of argument, let's call this a market. Neutral observers believe it's dysfunctional and unsustainable. These include major research universities, like Harvard, Stanford, Duke, and Cornell, that can no longer afford to subscribe to the range of journals they need, financial analysts like PNB Paribas and Credit Suisse First Boston that have analyzed the industry for investors, and government panels like the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that have investigated the industry for universities and taxpayers. Insofar as it's a market, it has failed miserably and calls for a remedy like FRPAA.
  3. The letter as a whole makes very clear that the ALPSP is not speaking truthfully when it says "ALPSP supports any effort to increase access to research...." It only supports steps that preserve publisher revenues. The unmistakable implication is that public institutions ought to put publisher revenues ahead of the public interest in public access to publicly-funded research.
  4. I'm stunned to read (from a British organization) that the US was founded on principles that put private-sector business interests above legislation or that taxpayers should not get the full benefit of what they buy with their taxes. Is the ALPSP saying that "existing business practices" are sacrosanct and that competing values should always lose? There is a long history in the US of abolishing well-entrenched business practices that are found to cause harm or obstruct the public interest, from child labor and unlimited work weeks to undisclosed interest rates and racial discrimination. We don't have to compare these practices with one another in order to question the principle of untouchable business practices or this peculiar reading of US history.
  5. Apart from Sally Morris, CEO of ALPSP, the letter was only signed by seven member organizations, a small minority of the ALPSP membership.
  6. You see the kind of letter that Sen. Collins is getting from publishers. Please contact her yourself to show your support for FRPAA.