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.

NIH appears to be enforcing the Public Access Policy

One of the big questions that kept coming up about the NIH Public Access Policy was, “But how will they enforce it?”

The answer appears to be, “With gentle email reminders.”

A faculty member at the University of Michigan recently received this message (name and article titles removed to protect the grantee’s privacy):

Subject: Public Access Compliance

Dear Principal Investigator,

Your recent progress report/competing continuation submission identified papers that have resulted from your NIH award. It appears that the following papers have not yet been submitted for upload to PubMed Central and may be out of compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy:

[Article titles removed]

The NIH Public Access Policy requires scientists to submit final peer-reviewed manuscripts that result from direct costs funded by NIH, and that are accepted for publication on or after April 7, 2008, to the digital archive PubMed Central. Compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy is a legal requirement (Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-161, Division G, Title II, Section 218) and a term and condition of your award. If a grantee has failed to materially comply with the terms and conditions of award, NIH may suspend the grant, pending corrective action, or may terminate the grant for cause (per 45 CFR 74.61, 74.62, and 92.43).

You do not need to resubmit your progress report. Simply ensure the following:

1) If the manuscript(s) were accepted for publication on or after April 7, 2008, please enter these documents into PubMed Central as soon as possible. Information on how to submit manuscripts can be found at

2) Reply to all on to this email with confirmation that your manuscript(s) are in compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy. You can confirm compliance by including the PubMed Central reference number (PMCID) in the reply email. Please see this Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) FAQ.htm#c6 if you have questions about how to use PMCIDs, or this FAQ if the PMCID has not been assigned yet.

You should include the PMCID when citing these papers in any subsequent application, proposal or report. Please see Guide Notice NOT-OD-08-119 files/NOT-OD-08-119.html for more information and alternatives.

If you have any questions about the Policy, please check the NIH Public Access Website or send a note to You may also contact the NIH Program Official at the Institute to which your application has been assigned.

Making published research funded by NIH accessible to everyone, including health care providers, patients, educators and scientists, helps advance science and improve human health. We all have a role to play in this goal, and we appreciate your efforts to make the NIH Public Access Policy successful.


This is good news. It means they’re paying attention over there at the NIH, and also recognizing that this new grant requirement is confusing and researchers may require some additional guidance. I wonder what the second reminder will look like (not that anyone at UM would ever need one).