Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, February 06, 2009

Comments on the Conyers bill

Here are a few comments from the press and blogosphere on the re-introduction of the Conyers bill (a.k.a. Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, HR 801), which would overturn the OA policy at the NIH.

From Andrew Albanese in Library Journal:

...[W]hile near-universal opposition to the bill remains—changes in the political and bureaucratic landscape could mean a tougher battle in 2009 for those opposed to the bill.

Following last year's hearing, lawmakers all but ruled out action on the bill in 2008, saying the issues needed to be studied more. If the issues were studied more, however, it’s hard to tell. Not only was the bill reintroduced early in the 111th congress by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), it was introduced without revision, despite extensive criticism and comment, and broad opposition from a range of stakeholders, including librarians, Nobel Prize-winning researchers, and a coalition of law professors and copyright experts.
SPARC executive director Heather Joseph, who testified at a Congressional hearing on the bill last September, told the LJ Academic Newswire she was somewhat surprised the bill resurfaced so soon. “I am also a bit surprised that Mr. Conyers would introduce a bill that is so diametrically opposed to the new administration’s push for openness and transparency in public agencies,” she added....

From Mike Carroll at Carrollogos:

The NIH Public Access Policy is working. Although publishers have made vague assertions, claims that there are legal problems with the NIH policy have been discredited. Similarly, there is no evidence to support the policy - with its allowance of an unduly long 12 month delay - that scholarly communication in the biomedical sciences has been harmed.

Indeed, it's really time to turn this conversation around. The United States' economy needs more than increased consumer spending to recover. We need to innovate, and innovation in basic research happens quicker and in more diverse directions in an open, networked environment. In a word, research should be linkable.

Wanna see? Do you have breast cancer or is there a woman in your life who does? Want to know more about the statistical risks? Thanks to the NIH Public Access Policy, I can simply suggest that you click here because your tax dollars supported the study.

Now that's just using the freedom to link to help quickly point you to an article or scientific letter you might want to read. But the real power of linkable science is that scientists would be able to use their computers to study the network of links to find otherwise hidden patterns in the research and to find otherwise hidden linkages between results in related but distinct fields of research or even in different disciplines. It's the power to process links that has made Google the leading search engine for the web. So why can't web technologies do for scientists what they do for web searchers looking to buy electronics or shoes? Because scientific information other than NIH funded research articles is not generally linkable! ...

So, Chairman Conyers, with all due respect, the policy question is not whether Congress should act to deny scientists and taxpayers access to research funded by NIH, but rather, why should NIH-funded research articles be the only articles reporting federally-funded research that scientists and taxpayers like me can link to?

From Gigi Sohn at Public Knowledge:

While there is lots of legislation that Public Knowledge disagrees with, we can often see the rationale for it. Not so with H.R. 801, the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act....This bill would have the effect of overturning the “open access” to research policy of the National Institutes of Health, which requires that research funded by the agency to be made available for free in an online archive within 12 months of publication. The rationale for this policy is simple - if taxpayers are going to pay for research, taxpayers should get a return on their investment by getting free online access to that research. This is the same rationale driving some of the conditions on the stimulus bills being debated right now - government can, and in this case especially should, put public interest conditions on the money it spends.

So why would Rep. Conyers, considered a champion of the public interest, introduce this bill? News reports indicated that the Chairman was upset because he believed that the House appropriators seized what he believed to be a copyright issue from his Committee.

But open access doesn’t require any change to copyright law and it doesn’t diminish anybody’s copyrights....

Open access to government supported research is not only the proper response to ensure that taxpayers get a return on their investment, it is consistent with President Obama’s vision of greater public access to government information, more government transparency and increased accountability. Chairman Conyers and his House colleagues should not allow a jurisdictional dispute undermine these critical goals.

From John Timmer at Ars Technica:

...Publishers...objected, viewing the policy as a threat to the value they could extract from copyrighted publications. Their objections, in part, eventually led to the introduction of a bill that would roll back the NIH policy, which allowed the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on it last year.

In reporting on that testimony, it was clear that there were issues that went well beyond any threat to the scientific publishing industry created by the mandatory open access policy. Both witnesses and members of Congress suggested there were a huge range of concerns; a general mistrust of government involvement in markets, worries about the general fight over intellectual property, and Congressional turf battles all featured. The hearings also made clear that many committee members had some significant gaps in their knowledge of scientific publishing....

The fact that the bill's cosponsors are all members of the Judiciary Committee adds credence to our earlier impression that a Congressional turf battle was threatening [the] NIH policy....

Unfortunately for open access fans, this year's bill seems to present a greater threat to the NIH's policy. For one, Congress is distracted by other issues, which might allow a minor amendment to a funding bill to slip through unnoticed. In addition, Zerhouni gave a strong defense of the open access policy on scientific grounds at last year's hearings; he's since stepped down and, with Tom Daschle withdrawing his nomination, it's not even clear when a new head of Health and Human Services will be named; until that position is filled, there won't be a new NIH chief named.

Also see:

  • My own comments on the re-introduction of the bill, my comments on the first two press releases from the publishing lobby, and my analysis of the bill the first time around, which still applies in full since the the bill is unchanged.
  • Our three collections of comments on the bill from the first time around (1, 2, 3).