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.