Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Publishing lobby appeals to Obama transition team to stop NIH policy

Allan Adler for the Association of American Publishers and Martin Frank for the DC Principles Coalition have released their December 22 letter to the Obama transition team, asking it to oppose the NIH policy and support the Conyers bill.  Excerpt:

...In seeking to work with the new Administration, we would like to make you aware of our continuing concerns regarding the Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health, which effectively allows the NIH to unfairly compete directly with private-sector journal publishers in the distribution of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that are authored by NIH-funded researchers....The NIH mandate...severely diminishes both the market and copyright protection for these copyrighted works to which not-for-profit and commercial publishers have made significant value-added contributions, and makes the NIH a free, alternative source of access to these materials in competition with the journal publishers’ subscription or other distribution models....

In addition to the negative implications for domestic copyright policy, this incursion upon intellectual property rights in the United States will make it difficult for the Federal Government to continue its active promotion of effective copyright protection and enforcement policies with our international trading partners and will adversely impact a $7-8 billion industry that contributes significantly to U.S. exports, jobs and economic growth....

Just three months ago, in response to these concerns, Chairman Conyers introduced the bipartisan Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (H.R. 6845) and scheduled a House subcommittee hearing to begin to explore the copyright implications of the new mandatory NIH policy. This legislation, which we expect to be reintroduced in the new Congress, would ensure that federal agencies do not utilize research funding agreements to diminish copyright protections for journal articles to which private-sector publishers have made significant value-added contributions through peer review and other publishing quality assurance practices. We firmly support this legislation and look forward to its re-introduction.

We certainly do not oppose reasonable efforts by the Federal Government to make the results of publicly-funded research as widely available as possible in the United States....[W]e firmly believe that government mandates requiring the free dissemination of private-sector journal articles by federal agencies will undermine the existing system of scientific and scholarly publishing, which helps to ensure the validity and integrity of published articles that explain the results of publicly-funded research....

Ensuring that the Federal government does not diminish copyright protections for journal articles to which the private-sector has made significant value-added contributions is key to this effort, complemented by an America COMPETES approach to public access....

The letter is also signed by 36 publishers and accompanied by a petition from 400 scientists.  Excerpt from the petition:

We, the undersigned, believe that our society supports the broad and timely dissemination of research findings through their journals while providing the financial resources needed to support the training and development of the next generation of scientists....

My society reinvests the revenue from their journals in the support of science worldwide, including scholarships, scientific meetings, grants, educational outreach, advocacy for research funding, free dissemination of information for the public, and improvements in scientific publishing....

For these reasons, we the undersigned do not support Congressional efforts to mandate when journal access must be provided and thus undermine my society’s efforts to promote the development of the next generation of scientists and sustain innovative publishing.


  • Here we go again.  The publishing lobby is returning to the specious copyright and peer-review objections, which have been answered again and again.  See my detailed critique of the copyright objection (that the NIH policy "diminishes the copyright protection" of journal articles) and my detailed critique of the peer-review objection (that the NIH policy undermines peer review).
  • This time it's addressing the Obama transition team, which is getting excellent advice on OA from Harold Varmus and Eric Lander, co-chairs of the new President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
  • The petition from scientists is a new twist.  Note that it raises neither the copyright argument nor the peer-review argument.  It simply expresses fear about the consequences for society publishers.  It doesn't actually spell out the grounds for that fear, or the supposed threat to society publishers from the NIH policy, but then the publishers never spell it out either.  The petition simply says, in effect, that my society does good things with its money and therefore the NIH policy is bad.  This kind of non sequitur is now commonplace from the publishing lobby, but I expected better from scientists.  (In my critique of the peer-review objection, I spell out the objection as well as I can --the NIH policy will cause cancellations, which will kill subscription-based journals, which will kill peer review-- and show the false assumptions in every step.)
  • BTW, compare the 30 society publishers who signed this letter with the 425 societies who publish 450 OA journals, which Caroline Sutton and I identified in a 2007 study.  (Our latest numbers are even higher and will be released soon.)  Also compare the scientists who signed this petition with the 33 Nobel laureates in science who supported the NIH policy and opposed the Conyers bill in an open letter last September.
  • Note to researchers:  Do you belong to one of societies signing this letter?  If so, let your leaders know internally and online that they are not speaking for the members and that they are putting the society's interests as a revenue-producing publisher ahead of its interests as a non-profit scholarly society dedicated to research.  Make your views known in blogs, discussion lists, emails to colleagues, society meetings, and society publications.  At the same time, send copies of your message to the same people addressed by the publishers in their letter (John Podesta and Valerie Jarrett, Co-Chairs Obama-Biden Transition Project, 451 6th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20270).  Start organizing to elect society leaders who will speak for interests of researchers, who will consult the members on important policy questions, and who will stop spending the society's money and good name opposing the public interest in public access to publicly-funded research.  You might also vote for the proposal to require OA for publicly-funded research at Obama CTO, the unofficial site collecting public recommendations for the new administration.  The OA proposal is currently ranked 12th.