Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cornell librarians oppose the Conyers bill

Dawn Lim, Cornell Librarians Protest Bill Closing Access to NIH Research, Cornell Daily Sun, March 30, 2009.  Excerpt:

...Peter Hirtle, senior policy advisor for the Cornell Library, said that because the [NIH] policy requires publicly funded research to be available to the public no later than 12 months after publication, “people have access to the most recent research in fields where currency is very important.” ...

In January 2008, NIH funds accounted for about 40 percent of the research dollars awarded to Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medical College, according to John Saylor, the associate university librarian for scholarly resources and special collections....

Last month, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) submitted a bill that could reverse these new developments in the NIH policy. This bill, H.R. 801, if successfully passed, would make it illegal for the government to mandate the [open] availability of publically funded research....

In response to this bill, the Cornell Library drafted a petition letter. Two weeks after the bill was first referred to the House Judiciary Committee, University Librarian Anne Kenney signed the letter and sent it to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-22nd District).

The letter, which criticizes the bill as an “ill-conceived piece of legislation,” reflects the administration’s position on this issue, stated Jacqueline Powers, director of federal relations, in an email.

The letter underscores that “prior to any transfer of copyright to a publisher,” a publisher does not have copyright to works they have not authored or edited; the copyright to the piece resides in the author.

The letter reads: “[The NIH public access policy] does not impinge on publisher copyrights since agreements to accept NIH funding (and any concomitant licenses that accompany that funding) are made long before authors begin to negotiate copyright transfers with publishers.” To assert otherwise, states the letter, is “thus turning two centuries of copyright law on its head.”

The letter suggests that open access does not deter the publishing of academic work: “to our knowledge … no publisher has refused to publish an article because of the existence of a prior non-exclusive license to NIH. Indeed, hundreds of publishers are actively collaborating with NIH on the implementation of the system.”

Stephen Kresovich, vice provost for life sciences, acknowledged that some faculty members had expressed concerns about the bill, and added that “there will be plenty of concern if the bill gets pushed through.”

One argument that opponents of the NIH public access policy assert is that it reduces the revenue that publishers receive from subscriptions when the same articles will soon be available for free. Lowered profits would curtail the process of peer review, which provides quality checks on research, and maintains the standards of scientific inquiry.

However, Hirtle, who helped draft Cornell’s letter, said that “there is reason to be suspicious about claims about costs of peer review, which is often be done for free.”

Saylor who also assisted in drafting the letter, added that this bill ultimately caters to the interests of commercial publishers, “whose goals are to maximize profits.” ...

Comment.  Kudos to the Cornell librarians.  It's terribly important that research institutions speak up, not just individual researchers.  The bill could move to the floor at any time, or equivalent language could be attached to another bill moving to the floor.  If you support the NIH policy and oppose the Conyers bill, and if you've already written to your representative in the House, please ask your library or university to do the same.