Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, September 07, 2007

More FUD against the NIH policy

Copyright Alliance Urges Congress to Throw Out Proposal Eliminating Researchers’ Copyright Protections, Intellectual Property Today, September 6, 2007.  Excerpt:

The Copyright Alliance today urged Congress to eliminate a provision that would dramatically reduce the copyright protection from scientific research papers....

A provision included in the FY 2008 Labor HHS appropriations bill requires authors of scientific articles who have received grants from the National Institutes of Health to submit any subsequent papers they write for free access on the National Institutes of Health web site after the papers have been accepted for publication and undergone a peer review sponsored by that publication.

"It is reasonable and appropriate that Congress would wish to widely disseminate results of research partially funded by one of its agencies. However, the provision would require any researcher receiving NIH funds to surrender a manuscript – after acceptance by a publisher and after a full peer review – to the government to be posted for free to the world, no more than one year after publication. This has never been an obligation connected with NIH grants.....

"The unintended consequence of this measure is the chilling effect it could have on the ability of would-be publishers to conduct peer review and publish and disseminate their works....


  • The CA is uninformed.  Most of its members are not in academic publishing and not even close (e.g. Motion Picture Association of America, National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, National Football League, and the Walt Disney Company) and must be very new to this issue.  But two of its members are Reed Elsevier and the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which recently launched PRISM.  It appears that they made the kind of pitch to the larger organization that they made online through PRISM, and heads nodded around the table.  Now CA’s weight is behind their cause.  Too bad someone on staff didn’t check the facts.
  • The bill now in Congress that would strengthen the NIH policy would not “eliminate” copyright protections or “dramatically reduce” them.  Not for researchers and not for publishers.  It wouldn’t affect copyright protections at all.  Here’s the full text of the relevant part of the bill:
  • The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

    The bill is careful not to amend copyright law and explicit that the new policy must comply with copyright law.  What part of “consistent with copyright law” does CA not understand?

  • One sign of PRISM involvement is that the CA statement uses PRISM’s inaccurate and dishonest word “surrender” to describe what the bill would require.  Here, however, CA says that researchers would have to surrender their manuscripts while PRISM said that publishers would have to surrender their published articles.  Nothing of either kind is in play here.  The bill would archive copies of authors’ peer-reviewed manuscripts in PubMed Central.  Authors may keep their manuscripts, publishers may keep their publications.  Authors may still copyright their works, may still transfer copyrights to publishers, and publishers may still hold and exercise those copyrights.  The PMC copies wouldn’t even be the published versions of the articles, but only the versions approved by peer review and not yet copy edited.
  • Also like PRISM, CA asserts without argument that the bill would threaten peer review.  See my full-length rebuttal to that canard, just published last week. 
  • Publishers don’t like the bill to strengthen the NIH policy; that is clear.  They believe it will jeopardize their revenue.  But they don’t like to lead with that argument.  In this case they are pretending that the bill threatens researcher interests rather than their own.  But in fact mandating open access will have no effect on researcher copyrights (which they may and undoubtedly will still transfer to publishers) and it will directly benefit researchers by enlarging their audience and impact.  Whom do you trust to speak for the interests of researchers in this debate, publishers or the presidents and provosts of 132 American universities?  Publishers or 26 American Nobel laureates in science?