Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More on today's hearing in the Judiciary Committee

Library Journal Academic Newswire has two stories on today's hearing on the Conyers bill to overturn the NIH policy:

New Bill Would Forbid Copyright Transfer as a Condition for Federal Funding.  Excerpt:

... “Government does not fund peer-reviewed journal articles—publishers do,” Allan Adler, AAP VP for government and legal affairs said in a statement, adding that HR 6845 would help “preserve the incentives for peer-review publishing."

But at a legislative hearing on the law held today, SPARC executive director Heather Joseph, one of four witnesses (see story below), explained to a congressional subcommittee that peer review was done by fellow scientists on a volunteer basis, without compensation, and that publishers’ investment was limited to the administrative task of “sending some emails.” Another witness, American Physiological Society executive director Martin Frank, did not disagree, but said that APS spent $13 million annually to publish 14 journals, and that “sending those emails” accounted for about 20 percent of his publishing costs ($2.6 million).

NIH director Elias Zerhouni told lawmakers that NIH spent about $300,000 in taxpayer money for every paper produced, and that he simply sought to maximize the return on that investment for the public, and for scientists. “This is not an issue of economic impact. This is not an issue of peer review,” he concluded. “This is about control.”

At Hearing, Witness Says NIH Policy Will “Destroy” Commercial Scientific Publishing.  Excerpt:

At a hearing held today, ostensibly held to discuss H.R. 6845, the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, focused almost entirely on the current NIH public access mandate....[T]he legislation motivating the hearing barely discussed....

In his remarks, NIH director Elias Zerhouni, the first witness, strongly defended the NIH mandate saying there was “no real evidence of any deleterious impact” on publishers, and said in no uncertain terms, despite publishers claims, the policy did not impinge on copyrights. Zerhouni said that his mandate was aimed to maximize the return on investment for the public, which funds the research, and for the scientific community.

In his testimony, former Register of Copyrights Ralph Oman, said he didn’t “have a dog in this fight,” but clearly had a favorite breed: Oman bluntly told lawmakers that in his opinion, the NIH mandate would “destroy the market” for commercial scientific journals, and cause a “dilution” of copyright....Perhaps Zerhouni “misunderstood,” Oman said, noting that Congress directed him to address “public access” not “free public access.” In written testimony worthy of a presidential campaign TV commercial, Oman suggested that “the hairy snout” of government be kept out of science publishing, drawing a good-natured rebuke from Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).

SPARC executive director Heather Joseph, (a late addition to the witness list who was announced just this morning) did address the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, saying its passage would negatively impact the public’s access to critical healthcare information funded by taxpayers. She then amplified Zerhouni’s testimony, saying the policy did not run afoul of copyright law, and would not effect library cancellations, because of the embargo period allowed by NIH. “After a year, scientific information is old,” she testified. No library, she said, could cancel subscriptions and simply wait to access research a year later via NIH. She also added a moving personal note, telling the committee that her five year-old son was recently diagnosed with diabetes, and about the information she was able to access, thanks to the NIH policy.

Anchoring the day’s testimony the American Physiological Society’s Martin Frank, a noted opponent of the NIH policy, bluntly reiterated publishers’ longstanding complaints: “The NIH has become a publisher,” Frank said, asserting the NIH was now competing with scientific publishers, taking unfair advantage of publishers’ value-added efforts in editing and peer-review, and diminishing copyright. Frank also testified that he believed in free access after 12 months, but not as the NIH has currently implemented, suggesting that an alternative model, closer to the America COMPETES Act, under which the National Science Foundation offers abstracts and links to publisher content, was preferable to satisfy public access concerns....