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.

APA’s godawful NIH compliance policy

The title about sums it up. The American Psychological Association’s policy for complying with the NIH Public Access policy is godawful.

Here are the details, from the Digital Koans blog:

The American Psychological Association’s “Document Deposit Policy and Procedures for APA Journals” outlines its policies and procedures regarding the requirements of the NIH Public Access Policy. It indicates that authors are not to deposit accepted articles in PubMed Central. Rather, the APA will do so, billing the author’s institution a $2,500-per-article fee. Upon acceptance, the APA will deposit the author’s Word file “with all changes based on peer-review editorial feedback and found acceptable by the editor.” The APA will retain the article copyright, and authors are not allowed to deposit the final peer-reviewed manuscript in any other repository. A deposit form must be submitted for each article.

In other words, authors may not keep any rights at all in their work, and taxpayers must pay $2,500 per article to access the results of research we already funded. If researchers wish to publish with the APA, this is their only option; they may not choose to deposit the article in PubMed Central themselves in order to avoid the fee.

The kicker is where the policy states “The deposit fee of $2,500 per manuscript for 2008 will be billed to the author’s university per NIH policy.” Um, no. That’s not in the policy. Here’s the entire text of the policy, from the NIH Public Access website:

The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

I see a lot of articles that begin, “Librarians are up in arms about…” These days that sentence usually ends with “Google,” but this policy offends me way more than Google’s scanning project ever could. It’s appalling, unadulterated greed, coming from an organization that purports to represent the interests of psychologists and the public good.

Take a look at the APA Mission Statement:

The objects of the American Psychological Association shall be to advance psychology as a science and profession and as a means of promoting health, education, and human welfare by

  • the encouragement of psychology in all its branches in the broadest and most liberal manner
  • the promotion of research in psychology and the improvement of research methods and conditions
  • the improvement of the qualifications and usefulness of psychologists through high standards of ethics, conduct, education, and achievement
  • the establishment and maintenance of the highest standards of professional ethics and conduct of the members of the Association
  • the increase and diffusion of psychological knowledge through meetings, professional contacts, reports, papers, discussions, and publications

thereby to advance scientific interests and inquiry, and the application of research findings to the promotion of health, education, and the public welfare.

That last bullet – about increasing the diffusion of psychological knowledge – is exactly the opposite of what the new deposit policy aims to do, which is to lock up psychological knowledge and hold it for ransom.

So which is it, APA? The engouragement of psychology and the maintenance of the highest standards of professional ethics? Or ruthless exploitation of your own author/members, at the expense of American taxpayers?

Update (7/15/08, 10:50 pm): The bit about the fee being charged “per NIH policy” has been removed from the site. Thanks for the heads up, Kathleen!

Update 2 (7/16/08, 11:47 am): Lots of people must have objected to the policy. Now the site says:

A new document deposit policy of the American Psychological Association (APA) requiring a publication fee to deposit manuscripts in PubMed Central based on research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently being re-examined and will not be implemented at this time. This policy had recently been announced on APA’s Web site. APA will soon be releasing more detailed information about the complex issues involved in the implementation of the new NIH Public Access Policy.

Thanks Darlene and David!

Collected stories: Paul Krugman on e-books; Science vs. the RIAA; Cory Doctorow is a bestseller; pictures of libraries

I just got back from a week of vacation, followed by a week of post-vacation crunch, so here’s a small assortment of things I would have blogged about sooner, but didn’t.

Paul Krugman says it better In a column titled Bits, Bands, and Books: Paying for Creativity in a Digital World, Paul Krugman describes the impact of the digital revolution on the market for creative content. I think he gets it exactly right. He also calls the Grateful Dead “business pioneers.” Who knew?

Bit by bit, everything that can be digitized will be digitized, making intellectual property ever easier to copy and ever harder to sell for more than a nominal price. And we’ll have to find business and economic models that take this reality into account.

Cory Doctorow and Creative Commons are bestsellers Like all his other books, Cory Doctorow’s latest novel, Little Brother, was released online using a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-SA). Unlike his other books, and unlike any other CC-licensed anything, Little Brother has now spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s the first CC-licensed novel to make the list, and excellent news for people like me who argue that giving stuff away for free online doesn’t mean you can’t sell it for profit, too. Also fun to think about in the context of Paul Krugman’s column on e-books.

Science proves the MPAA and the RIAA are jerks A recent piece in the NYTimes Bits Blog points out a study from the University of Washington which showed that the technologies Big Media uses to investigate illegal file sharing regularly produce false positives.

From the Bits blog:

In two separate studies in August 2007 and May of this year, the researchers set out to examine who was participating in BitTorrent file-sharing networks and what they were sharing. The researchers introduced software agents into these networks to monitor their traffic. Even though those software agents did not download any files, the researchers say they received more than 400 take-down requests accusing them of participating in the downloads.

The researchers concluded that enforcement agencies are looking only at I.P. addresses of participants on these peer-to-peer networks, and not what files are actually downloaded or uploaded — a more resource-intensive process that would nevertheless yield more conclusive information.

In their report, the researchers also demonstrate a way to manipulate I.P. addresses so that another user appears responsible for the file-sharing.

This is not the first time flaws in the RIAA/MPAAs’ strategy have been revealed, and librarians and other concerned parties have been calling for more transparency in their tactics for quite some time. Now opponents of file-sharing lawsuits – not to mention the defendants in those lawsuits – have scientific evidence that these tactics implicate innocent people.

Pictures of Libraries When I travel, instead of collecting souvenirs I like to visit and take pictures of libraries. I saw a few very cool libraries on my recent vacation, including the brand new Openbare Amsterdam Bibliotheek, the Amsterdam public library. I was incredibly impressed with the design of the Amsterdam library. It has a lot of good signage, open spaces and tables for people to hang out and collaborate, tons and tons of computers (both Mac and Windows), good light, inviting stacks that weren’t too tall, and seemingly intuitive organization (from what I could understand of the Dutch).

If you’re interested, have a peek at my Libraries set on Flickr. Also check out the page about the new library at the Openbare Amsterdam Bibliotheek website.

Kindling free e-books

My library’s IT department bought a Kindle for staff to experiment with, and I checked it out for the week. Using it has been an interesting experience.

When it first came out I read a lot of commentating and criticism about the Kindle as a publishing model, but I hadn’t really paid much attention to the specifics of its interface. So my first discovery was that it’s almost impossible to hold the thing without accidentally pushing buttons. And in fact a lot of the interface decisions made me wonder if Amazon had done any usability testing at all. Still, over the course of the week I did adjust to the Kindle’s quirks, and I found the act of reading on a Kindle to be unexpectedly pleasant.

Ultimately, the thing I found most annoying about using the Kindle had nothing to do with the Kindle itself. It was the format of the free e-books.

Some quick backstory: In order to prevent staff from charging John Grisham’s entire oeuvre to the University credit card, the library’s Kindle is not connected to an account, and you can’t use it to purchase anything. Instead, the lovely people in Desktop Support loaded it with a nice assortment of public domain and Creative Commons-licensed books in a range of genres (all from Many Books), so borrowers could experience using the Kindle for several different kinds of reading. I found that the cook book would be a pain to use, ditto the Complete Grammar of Esperanto (I love an IT department with a sense of humor). Most of what’s on the library’s Kindle is novels, and for novels the Kindle is great. I’ve been reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Cory Doctorow’s first novel and an early experiment with CC-licensing.

And here’s where I got annoyed. The e-books on our Kindle mostly came from Project Gutenberg, a “volunteer effort to digitize, archive, and distribute cultural works,” according to the Project Gutenberg General FAQ. Every Project Gutenberg e-text includes a very long license header, and the license requires that this header remain intact in every future version of the e-text. Go take a look at the header. It’s really long. On the Kindle, there is no way to skip it. Using a moderately-sized font, you have to click through 15 pages of Gutenberg front matter before you get to the actual book you want to read (yes, I counted). It’s totally annoying.

What’s worse, the Down and Out e-text includes not only the Gutenberg license but also the Creative Commons license. And not just the brief, human readable summary of the license. It includes the entire legal deed, which adds another 15 clicks to the front end of the book. That’s a total of 30 clicks, just to get to the first page of the first chapter. That’s 29 clicks too many.

Here’s the thing: Project Gutenberg has made some major contributions to the body of public domain works available electronically. That’s awesome. The organization is also a big proponent of protecting the public domain and of ensuring free, open access to cultural works. Also awesome. But if your free open content is crappy to use, people who don’t know any better will think that all free open content is crappy to use, and that is not a good message for evangelists of free open content to be sending.

The growing popularity of mobile devices for reading books presents an enormous opportunity to groups like Project Gutenberg. There is a huge new audience of people who just want to spend their commutes reading a little Sherlock Holmes (or Jane Austen or Adam Smith or Shaw) on their Blackberries. These people may never have considered the value of the public domain before, or cared about the origins of their reading material, and they definitely don’t have a clue what ASCII is, but they might be willing to donate a little money if they develop nice feelings about the people who provide their free books. It works for public radio; Ira Glass just asked me for five dollars at the beginning of the free weekly podcast of This American Life. I love Ira, and I love my free weekly podcasts, so I sent him five dollars. Project Gutenberg could pull off something similar, but it would require a much friendlier header.

Instead of 15 clicks worth of front matter, Project Gutenberg should include a very brief intro in all of its e-texts, identifying itself as the producer of this free e-text, and encouraging readers to check out the PG website, donate some money, and read the full license deed at the end of the book. Then stick all the legalese at the back. Nobody reads it anyway, they just click (and click and click) through it.