Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, March 06, 2009

More comments on the Conyers bill, #7

Here are some more 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.  Also see our past collections (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

From Ed Brayton in The Michigan Messenger (from Conyers' own state):

...I don’t think the numbers in the MAPLight report support Lessig and Eisen’s contention that the bill is a “money-for-influence scheme.” But I do agree with them that the bill is very bad idea and that Conyers should be ashamed of trying to prevent the publication of scientific data that was paid for by the public in a forum the public can access.

From Tom Davidson, in an open letter to Senator Michael Enzi:

...I fully support the existing NIH requirements of publishing findings via open access methods and would support more regulation of government funded projects to publish the findings and work under the Creative Commons. The idea that non-regressive, publicly funded projects should be kept in exclusivity or controlled by a few is morally repulsive....

From Lawrence Lessig on his blog (following up his related post with Mike Eisen, already blogged here on March 2) :

...[U]nlike the ordinary market for creative work, here, the author isn't paid for his work through the copyright system. It is the government (indirectly) paying for the research that the author (a scientist) creates. Scientists write articles as part of their job; other scientists peer-review those articles (usually for free); and journals then publish those articles without paying the author anything. Those journals, however, then charge libraries across the world an increasingly high rate to get access to the research in those journals. As the industry has become more concentrated, those rates have skyrocketed -- rising much faster than inflation.

The "open access movement" was born to create an alternative to this. Even if restrictive copyright was a necessary evil in the days of dead-tree-based publishing, it was still an evil. High costs restrict access....

Pushed by scientists everywhere, the NIH and other government agencies were increasingly exploring this obviously better model for spreading knowledge [OA]. Proprietary publishers, however, didn't like it. And so rather than competing in the traditional way, they've adopted the increasingly Washington way of competition -- they've gone to Congress to get a law to ban the business model they don't like. If H.R. 801 is passed, the government can't even experiment with supporting publishing models that assure that the people who have paid for the research can actually access it. Instead, if Conyers has his way, we'll pay for the research twice.

The insanity in this proposal is brilliantly described by Jamie Boyle in this piece in the FT. But after you read his peace, you'll be even more puzzled by this. For what possible reason could Conyers have for supporting a bill that 33 Nobel Prize Winners, and the current and former heads of the NIH say will actually hurt scientific research in America? More pointedly, what possible reason would a man from a district that insists on the government "Buying American" have for supporting a bill that basically subsidizes foreign publishers (for the biggest players in this publishing market are non-American firms, making HR 801 a kind of "Foreign Publishers Protection Act")?

Well no one can know what goes on the heart or mind of Congressman Conyers. But what we do know is what published yesterday: That the co-sponsors of this bill who sit on the Judiciary Committee received on average two-times the amount of money from publishing interests as those who haven't co-sponsored the bill.

Now maybe that's just a coincidence. Maybe Conyers and his friends had a reason of principle to support a bill said by experts to "harm science in America." But if he did, then he more than anyone else should want a system for funding elections that makes it impossible for people like me to suggest that maybe it wasn't reason that led him to his silly support for such a stupid bill....

At the very minimum, ask Congressman Conyers to explain exactly why -- if it wasn't the money -- he's so keen to hurt science.

From Hal Plotkin at What I Really Want to Say:

...Stopping this legislation may not be easy. The other side will undoubtedly try to muddy the waters in the months ahead with a variety of dubious claims backed up, no doubt, by some of the few scientists who still prefer closed publishing systems. But [Lessig] is absolutely right. I made a similar argument in a column ten years ago. We are talking about research paid for by taxpayers. The results should be available to taxpayers. So in that sense, Conyers' H.R. 801 really represents an attempted theft of public funds.

Conyers is a pretty sad case. Thirty years ago, he was a hero of the labor and civil rights movement. In more recent years, though, he's often been a stooge for a variety of big money broadcasting and publishing interests.

From Brandon Q at Super Spade:

Bless his heart, Rep. John Conyers is on the wrong side of a very important piece of legislation he sponsored known as the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act....

I flew to DC to get Rep. Conyers to sign the Health Care for Americans Now principles and I applaud his views on the need to reform our health care system but the fact is simple, citizens should get access to health research that they pay for, period. The larger point is that this bill is one shot across the bow to target open access, an important principle which means that citizen peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature should be free and more available on the internet....

Rep. Conyers, do the right thing and think about the implications that your bill will have on starving citizen-driven activism from the one thing they need most to hold the powers that be accountable…information....

From Megha Satyanarayana in the Detroit Free Press (from Conyers' own state):

Like many parents of children with a chronic illness, Sally Nantais of Wyandotte invests a lot of time looking into ways to help her 17-year-old son, Austin, battle Fragile X Syndrome.  That hunt often leads her to PubMed Central, a government Web site where everyone has free access to many federally-funded studies.

But a new bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., would make it tough and costly to get to those studies. The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act would reverse a National Institutes of Health policy set last year that held that the public should not have to pay to see the results of medical research funded with taxpayer dollars. The bill would prevent other agencies from making similar rules regarding free public access to published studies.

The bill, still in committee, has patient advocates, scientists, librarians and others up in arms.

"I'm concerned I'm going to lose something very vital to me to help my son," Nantais said.

Others fear that if the bill becomes law, cutting-edge information will stop moving freely among the people who create medical breakthroughs and the people who benefit from them.

The reasoning behind the bill has puzzled observers who note that Conyers is a staunch advocate of universal health care. He has a history of pushing for laws that strengthen copyright protections, too.

In more than a half dozen phone calls and e-mails this week, Conyers' office was asked for comment about the bill, but did not respond by Wednesday night....

"I don't think there's a good thing to say about this bill. It's basically a corporate giveaway," said Jessica Litman, a copyright law professor at U-M....

From Jan Velterop at The Parachute:

Should you need any further evidence that the American democracy is in essence a lobbyocracy, the anti-open-access bill of congressman John Conyers provides it....

It is amazing how misguided the reasoning is of Conyers' bill (Peter Suber does a sterling job exposing the fallacies in his Newsletter). "Fair copyright in research works", huh? For a scientist, fair copyright is a notion used to ensure attributed plagiarism, otherwise known as ‘citation’. It is one of the most important things about copyright. No, it is the most important thing about copyright. For a researcher.

For publishers it’s different....

From David Wiley, in an open letter to Rep. John Conyers:

...Please let me very briefly explain the two reasons I oppose HR 801.

First, as a member of the taxpaying public, if I pay for research to be conducted I don’t expect to pay a second time to gain access to the results of the research. When the public pays for research, the research belongs to the public. In a time when budget shortfalls are at historically high figures, the idea that HR 801 would create or continue a situation in which taxpayers pay TWICE for access to research is appalling. The people’s representatives in government should now be looking for any and every opportunity to be better stewards of the people’s money. To the extent that government represents the people’s interest, our representatives in government should act vigorously to strengthen and uphold the NIH mandate and similar initiatives that insure the public only pays once for research.

Second, as an individual faculty member and researcher, under the traditional publisher system I am expected to...[do research, write it up, and then] surrender all my rights to the written results of my research to a publisher.

I hope you can appreciate why I am opposed to a situation in which I and my team spend thousands of hours of effort on the research - only to have a publisher who spends a dozen or so hours coordinating the review of our article and editing our article claim complete ownership of our written work. And then they want to charge me for access to copies of my own work.

Please, do the right thing for the public. Represent us. Oppose HR 801. The only conceivable explanation for supporting HR 801 is that you have placed the public interest in a position secondary to the publishing industry’s perceived self-interest....