Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Strong criticism of flimsy copyright arguments behind Conyers bill

Andrew Albanese, In Blunt Terms, Copyright Lawyers, Researchers, Librarians Blast Anti-NIH Bill, Library Journal, September 17, 2008.  Excerpt:

At last week’s hearing on the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, Ralph Oman, a former Register of Copyrights, raised a number of questions surrounding the current National Institutes of Health (NIH) public access policy. But Oman’s mere presence raised perhaps the key question of the day: where was the current Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters? Peters, who succeeded Oman as Register of Copyrights in 1994, neither testified at the hearing nor submitted written testimony, nor has she offered any public comment about a bill that would seriously affect copyright.

It remains unclear how much Peters’ office was consulted about the bill. But Tanya Sandros, general counsel at the U.S. Copyright Office, confirmed for the LJ Academic Newswire that Peters “was not asked to testify on the bill at this juncture,” and said that the Copyright Office has not currently taken “an official position.” Still, sources in the library community suggested to the LJ Academic Newswire that her absence was not without meaning: the Copyright Office is said not to be persuaded by publishers’ arguments regarding the NIH public access policy, and sees the recently introduced bill as unnecessary.

Critics from various quarters, meanwhile, have continued to slam the proposed legislation. Some 47 copyright experts and professors of law from around the country signed a letter to House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI), defending the legality of the NIH public access proposal, and pointing out “serious misstatements relating to copyright law” submitted to NIH by publishers via a letter from law firm Proskauer Rose. The group asserted that publishers’ international copyright concern is built on an “erroneous premise,” with no “basis in law.”  

In addition, 33 Nobel Prize-winning scientists have also written Congress, stating both their support for the NIH policy and, in blunt terms their opposition to the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. “The current move by publishers is wrong,” the scientists flatly state. “The legislators who mandated this policy should be applauded and any attempts to weaken or reverse this policy should be halted.”

In perhaps the most blistering comment to surface in the blogosphere, University of Michigan librarian Paul Courant, an economist, called the bill, introduced by Michigan’s own Conyers, “an odious piece of corporate welfare wrapped in a friendly layer of doublespeak.” Courant proclaimed publishers’ copyright argument “hogwash” and said it “would be a travesty if Congress decided that the interests of a few publishers were more important than the research investments of the American public, and that’s exactly what this bill would do.”

Although subcommittee chair Howard Berman (D-CA) told reporters the bill was unlikely to move this year, the bill’s provisions might still be attached to a bill that is moving —such as the PRO IP Act— and could still wind up on the floor before Congress adjourns. Despite nearly universal opposition to the bill outside of some in the publishing community, Association of Research Libraries (ARL) associate executive director Prue Adler told the LJ Academic Newswire that advocates of the NIH policy should remain on point and not underestimate the bill’s chances in this Congress, or the next.

Comment.  Note the final paragraph.  Because the bill's language may attach to another bill before Congress adjourns next week (September 26), it's critical to keep up the pressure on Congress.