Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, January 06, 2008

More on the OA mandate for the NIH

Robin Peek, NIH OA Mandate Passes, a preprint of a column to appear in the February issue of Information Today.   According to IT's new access policy, "The preprint will be removed on January 31st and the postprint will be posted 3 months after publication."  Excerpt:

...And in one final dashing of the pen, it was done, the National Institute of Health had a mandate to make all of its funded research OA. A requirement that represents a historic first for a U.S. government agency and one of the largest single mandates world-wide....

I am enjoying this quiet blissful tranquility putting aside in my mind the knowledge that the publishing lobby is no doubt sharpening its lawyers and drafting their own counter defensive. But while it is cliché to use the phrase, there has indeed been a sea change....

At this point it is too early to know how different Federal agencies and even other funding agencies countries will respond differently to the passage of this mandate. As Steven Harnad observes, I think the NIH victory is itself part of a surge of activity in OA mandates. NIH's is a big one so it will help spur others. The big surge now, however, will be in institutional mandates all over the world. According to the Registry of Open Access Repositories, there are now “21 funder-mandates, 11 institutional-mandates, and 3 departmental-mandates, plus 5 proposed-funder-mandates, 1 proposed-institutional-mandate, and 2 proposed-multi-institutional-mandates (worldwide) a total of 35 mandates already adopted and 8 more proposed so far.”

“It will trigger more mandates, particularly among other federal agencies in the US. Some will wait to see how the mandate works out at the NIH, but some already want to adopt OA policies and are only waiting for a green light from Congress.” observes Peter Suber, author of the [SPARC] Open Access Newsletter, “For them, this bill is the green light.”

Personally I have no doubt that there will be a shift in the publishing lobby strategy to question the ability of PubMed Central to handle the task of handling a submission load that will eventually increase from roughly 4% to a 25-fold increase to 100% compliance and that publishers will raise the argument again that researchers don’t really care that much about OA....

[Suber notes:] “The NIH has been energetic and conscientious in making the voluntary policy work as well as it can. But researchers are overstretched and preoccupied.” adding, “They are willing to comply if mandated, as Alma Swan’s studies have shown, but otherwise they don't want to add another chore to their long to-do lists.”

“I think the NLM has its part of the game well covered - the National Center for BioTechnology Information (NLM) repeatedly demonstrated its ability to handle rapid scaling of such operations, as for example with Genbank,” observes Matt Cockerill, Publisher of BioMed Central, “ PubMed Central itself already contains more than 1 million articles, mostly deposited by publishers, so an NIH mandate with 100% compliance (roughly 65,000 articles annually) is unlikely to pose a technical or logistical challenge.”

However, the publishers are still prepared to fight against that mandate. How surprising. For example, in a press release issued on January 4th by the Association of American Publishers reaffirmed its displeasure. In a slightly different tactic than has been used before, Allan Adler, AAP’s Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs [argued], “Journals published in the U.S. have strong markets abroad; indeed, in some fields of research, most sales are to institutions and individuals outside the United States,” Adler said. “A government policy requiring these works to be made freely available for international distribution is inherently incompatible with the maintenance of global markets for these highly successful U.S. exports. Smaller and non-profit scientific societies and their scholarly missions will be particularly at risk as their journal subscribers around the world turn to NIH for free access to the same content for which they would otherwise pay.”

The new law requires deposit immediately upon acceptance and free online release within 12 months of publication, not immediately. Moreover, there are mandates occurring in many other countries as well as in the United States. But with the mandate now a matter of law there will be publishers who are going to dig into the last of their arsenals to complicate implementation of the mandate and later will seek to bitterly battle after the law takes effect. Personally I expect even wilder twists and turns to emerge as publishers fight back. “Beware the wounded beast, they still have sharp claws.”