The “Fair Copyright in Research Works” Act rears its ugly head again

I was disappointed to learn yesterday that Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) reintroduced the “Fair Copyright in Research Works” Act despite the fact that it is neither fair nor supportive of research. As Paul Courant put it in his blog post about it the first time around, “the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act is a lot of things, but fair ain’t one of them.”

The bill is a direct response to the NIH Public Access Policy; it would prohibit any policy requiring a copyright transfer or license from federal grantees, making the current NIH policy illegal. Publishers are afraid that mandated public access to federally funded research would hurt their profit margins, and this bill is basically a gift from Conyers to Springer, Elsevier, and the AAP. Meanwhile, it contravenes everything President Obama has said about increasing openness in government, not to mention improving access to information, strengthening our education system, and “restor[ing] science to its rightful place and wield[ing] technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.” American citizens pay a lot of money for research; this bill would ensure that the vast majority of us will never see the results of that research.

This is not nearly as big or headline-worthy as the colossal banking bailout, but the spirit is the same: Use taxpayer money to save a private industry from its own failings. The big STM publishers are clinging to a dying business model, and nothing Congress does will save them if they don’t get with the program and stop fearing the giant copy machine that is the Internet. Blah blah, we know this already.

Well, the bill failed once. Here’s hoping it fails again.

8 thoughts on “The “Fair Copyright in Research Works” Act rears its ugly head again

  1. Hi Molly,

    Great post. It is ironic that most public funded research reverts to private property (copyright) in the hands of publishers. I think the legislation being proposed highlights the fact that the public is rarely represented in these discussions. How can people get involved?

    Prof. Orozco

  2. Are any University libraries working on measures of the “impact factor” of non-print dissemination? I can publish research on Deep Blue (with reviewers’ comments), disseminate references to it at conferences, on mailing lists, and by word of mouth; I could probably draw readers and references. If my library could vouch that the impact factor of this method is equivalent to, say, some moderately selective journal, I could rest easy during the tenure process. (There is always PLoS, of course.)

    As it is, it will be very, very hard for assistant professors to boycott Elsevier (for example), which is my gut reaction to this mess.

  3. @brent There is more than just PLoS. The number of highly regarded Open Access publishers is growing, and while they may not provide a viable option to Elsevier in some fields, many authors do have a real choice now. To find more in your area, check out the Directory of Open Access Journals: http://www.doaj.org/.

    My understanding is that a key element of impact factor calculations is the trustworthiness of the peer review. And while the peer review process may have its flaws, most OA advocates are also advocates of a strong peer review system. The argument, or at least my argument, is that it’s possible have reliable peer review separate from the commercial publishing complex. PLoS, BioMed Central, and many smaller OA publishers are proving that it doesn’t take millions of dollars to manage peer review, and that the assertions of commercial publishers that peer review would die without them are specious at best.

    This is very different from your suggestion, that people should be able to get credit for posting their work online and submitting it to informal review. With a few notable exceptions (like mathematics), I doubt most fields would accept that model any time soon. There are people researching the effect of open access and institutional repositories on citation rates, and that research tends to suggest a positive relationship between OA and citation. But I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who argues that unrefereed deposit in an IR is equivalent to publication in a moderately selective journal.

  4. Hi David,
    People can get involved by writing to their representatives opposing the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, and expressing support of the NIH Public Access Policy and open access more generally. Scholars can do a lot to support the cause beyond just publishing in OA journals. You can do peer review for OA journals, edit an OA journal, convince your scholarly society to go OA, and push your department to reexamine its tenure requirements. The more widespread and mainstream Open Access becomes, the healthier it will be as an alternative to the Goliaths like Elsevier and Springer.

  5. I’ve only begun looking into the literature on OA and citation rates, but it appears that the evidence is mixed: some claim OA increases citation rates, while others claim there’s no significant difference. So far, I haven’t seen anyone claim that publishing OA decreases the number of citations to your work,which would argue that other researchers are valuing OA papers just as highly as they do any other articles.

    A note about “impact factors:” ISI’s Journal Citation Reports’ impact factors measure citation rates via the formula:
    [# citations to that journal / # articles in the journal] for a given year
    It’s a purely mechanical calculation that doesn’t try to make any judgment on how effective the peer review process is.

  6. Pingback: Molly Kleinman » Blog Archive » Open Access Week at the University of Michigan

  7. Pingback: The “fair copyright in research works” controversy « What Is Research?

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