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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Heather Joseph on the Conyers bill

Elie Dolgin, Heather Joseph: Q&A, The Scientist, February 9, 2009.  Heather Joseph is the executive director of SPARC, and one of the four witnesses testifying at last September's hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on the NIH policy and the Conyers bill.  Excerpt:

...Joseph spoke with The Scientist today (Feb. 9) about why she continues to oppose the bill....

TS: What was your reaction to the bill's reintroduction?

HJ: It was disappointing to see it reintroduced with the same old arguments that we've been hearing for five years, especially after last year's hearing where there were so many points made against taking this type of a stance.

TS: What new changes are being proposed?

HJ: If US copyright code is amended, any work that falls under this new definition -- which basically they've defined as anything where a third party has added value in some way -- would be covered. It would now be owned by the publisher, not the author. What's not clear to me under this law is if I submit to a journal and my article is peer reviewed, does that mean that the publisher can claim copyright of my article just because of that? That's what it looks like.

TS: Why does your organization, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, oppose this bill?

HJ: The NIH policy is crucial for ensuring that the results of publicly funded research reach the public in a timely and useful manner. So, first and foremost, 'turning back the clock' on the NIH policy is of course something we're going to oppose. The second reason that we oppose the bill is that it would create a new category of protected work that actually takes away authors rights. Amending copyright seems like an awfully blunt tool to use to just simply change an existing policy at one agency that the publishing community doesn't like.

TS: Do you agree with the criticism that the NIH policy conflicts with existing copyright law?

HJ: No. If you have to write a bill that amends copyright, then there was no problem with the copyright code in the first place. Moreover, choosing the amendment of copyright as the instrument doesn't just affect the NIH policy -- it's going to affect all other agencies and it's going to affect a lot of other government output. It's a very broadly written bill and this is something that people need to think long and hard about.

TS: How does the proposed legislation gel with Obama's pledge for openness in government?

HJ: Given the fact that [Obama] issued that 120-day openness and transparency memo, saying to agencies, "I want you to outline how you're going to ensure that your operations are transparent and that the public has access to the material that you're producing," it really floored me to see that someone can introduce a bill saying, "No, we're going to clamp down; we're going to go in the opposite direction of what the new administration is clearly laying out as their policy directions." That really surprised me.

TS: Last September, you testified to Congress alongside Elias Zerhouni, then-director of the NIH, who was one of the main proponents of the NIH mandate. Do you think we'll see as much resistance to this bill from the agency now that Zerhouni is gone?

HJ: It's difficult when the [NIH] doesn't have a full appointed director, but the NIH fully supports this policy. As an agency, they fought tooth and nail for this thing for years and I hardly think they're going to say, "Oh geez, this thing was reintroduced so we're going to give up."

TS: What will SPARC be doing as the bill moves forward?

HJ: We'll continue to rally grassroots and grass tops, and do all the kinds of education and communications campaigns that we would normally do. One of the things that's good about this -- if there is a silver lining -- is that any chance to talk about the positive effects and the success of the NIH policy is a good opportunity.