Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rockefeller UP disavows AAUP support for Conyers bill

Mike Rossner, Executive Director of the Rockefeller University Press, has released his letter to the American Association of University Presses (AAUP), protesting its support for the Conyers bill.  He sent the letter today.  Excerpt:

I am writing to take issue with your letter of September 10th, supporting the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, which seeks to overturn the mandate on public access to NIH funded research.  I would be grateful if you could let your member presses know on what basis you claim to speak on their behalf.  We deserve an accounting of how many member presses are indeed affected by the NIH mandate (that is, how many publish research articles resulting from NIH funded research), how many of those presses were consulted, and how many of them supported your ef forts to overturn the mandate.  Without this information you are replaying the PRISM fiasco of the AAP - a lobbying effort that no-one would admit to supporting.

The Rockefeller University Press, as a member organization of the AAUP, strongly opposes your efforts to overturn the NIH mandate. In your letter you claim that "Copyright is the legal foundation that permits recovery of [our] costs and investment in publishing new work.  Weakening copyright protection through federal mandates that publications resulting from government-funded research be made freely available undermines that foundation and threatens the very system that makes such work of high value in the first place."  However, you do not provide any data to back up this statement.  We at the Rockefeller University Press have the data to show that this is not true.  We have released our content to the public 6 months after publication since January, 2001, but our revenues have grown every year since then.  In May of this year, we took the additional step of allowing authors to retain copyright and distribution rights to the articles published in our journals.  Third parties can use all of our content under a modified Creative Commons License. I do not anticipate that these new policies will affect our revenues.

I fully understand the value added by publishers.  However, our authors create the works we publish and should thus have rights over their distribution.  The public pays for NIH-funded work and should thus have access to the results.  The problem here is not the government trying to usurp publishers' rights, but the fact that publishers have for so long usurped these rights from authors and the public.


  • Kudos to Mike Rossner for speaking out (again).  His letter makes two important points:  (1) that some university presses support the NIH's OA mandate, as is, and (2) that the AAUP did not consult its members before claiming to speak for them in trying to overturn the NIH mandate. 
  • We need to hear from other university presses who don't believe the AAUP is representing them on this issue.  Faculty and librarians:  talk to the press on your campus.
  • Also see my comments on the AAUP letter

Update (9/24/08).  Also see Peter Givler's response to Mike Rossner's letter.  Givler is the Executive Director of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP).  Excerpt:

Thank you for your letter, which I am forwarding to the Board.

For the record, though, allow me to point out that you're accusing me of doing something the letter very carefully and deliberately did not do, namely, attack the NIH mandate itself.  If the bill is passed its most likely immediate effect will be to roll the NIH's public access policy back from mandatory to voluntary, but the bill itself addresses a much larger issue:  whether any federal agency should have the authority to claim a copyright in what the bill defines as "extrinsic works" solely by virtue of funding the underlying research.  That is a policy question with very broad and serious implications for all of scholarly publishing; it isn't limited to journals publishers in the health sciences, as important as they may be. My letter to Chairman Conyers and the other sponsors of the bill expresses the belief that the bill addresses that policy question appropriately.

I have three quick comments on Givler's response to Rossner:

  • Rossner said that AAUP opposed the NIH mandate, which is true.  The Conyers bill would overturn the mandate and the AAUP supports the Conyers bill in hopes that it will overturn the mandate.
  • Givler didn't address one of Rossner's important questions:  "I would be grateful if you could let your member presses know on what basis you claim to speak on their behalf."
  • Finally, on Givler's main point ("whether any federal agency should have the authority to claim a copyright in what the bill defines as 'extrinsic works' solely by virtue of funding the underlying research"):  (1) The NIH isn't claiming a copyright, merely a non-exclusive license; (2) the license is granted by the copyright holder, the author, in consideration for a large publicly-funded research grant; publishers are not a party to that contract; (3) publishers who don't want to publish articles under these circumstances don't have to.  They know when submissions are from NIH-funded authors.  The policy takes nothing from publishers, but merely changes the terms of a business proposition ("will you publish this article?").  Publishers may want a sweeter deal, but they don't have a right to a sweeter deal.  By contrast, authors have the right to transfer all, some, or none of their rights to publishers, and taxpayers have a right to access the results of non-classified publicly-funded research.