January 13, 2012 5 Comments Chad Nilep Uncategorized

A bill known as the “Research Works Act”, H.R. 3699, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2011. The Association of American Publishers applauded the bill, but some scholarly publishers have expressed opposition. This post provides a brief summary of the bill and statements in support and opposition from publishers and others.

The Library of Congress’s excellent THOMAS site provides the full text of the bill here. The text of the bill is short, and Section 2 gives a clear description of the intended outcome.

No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that–

  1. causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or
  2. requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

In other words, there will be no requirement that federally-funded research be included in open-access archives. These archives are essentially online databases where academic papers or other content are available for free to anyone who cares to read or use them. Examples include arXiv, which archives papers in physics, mathematics, and other sciences, and PubMed Central, which archives papers in medicine and the life sciences.

H.R. 3699 appears to be a response to the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy and the proposed Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA). In 2008 NIH adopted a policy requiring all papers from research it funds to be deposited at PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. The Federal Research Public Access Act (H.R. 5037), a bill introduced in 2009 and currently referred to subcommittee, would require all federal agencies to adopt similar policies for research that receives more that $100 million in federal support.

Supporters of H.R. 3699, including the Association of American Publishers, argue that open access should be available only where authors and other involved parties agree to participate, and should not be mandated by government agencies. In a similar, but not directly related vein people such as Kent Anderson at Scholarly Kitchen have argued that academic publishing, including for-profit publishing, makes scientific knowledge available at reasonable prices to the few people who can understand it, and that money pays for valuable services.

Carolyn Maloney, co-sponsor of the bill with Representative Darrell Issa, says, “The purpose of HR 3699 is to support the continued investment and innovation by private-sector publishers in scientific, technical, medical and scholarly journal articles and to advance the public interest in the important peer-review publishing system that helps ensure the quality and integrity of scientific research.”

Opponents of H.R. 3699, including M.I.T. Press, ITHAKA (which publishes JSTOR), Pennsylvania State University Press, and the University of California Press, suggest that the bill may conflict with their missions to bring scholarly work to the broadest possible audience. (It should also be noted that these publishers are all members of AAP, and although they disagree with the group’s position on this issue, they will continue that participation.)

Anthropologist and open-access activist Jason Baird Jackson suggests that the goal of this bill is to support a status quo that benefits relatively affluent groups at the expense of poorer ones.

The American Libraries Association says that the NIH Public Access Policy and FRPAA ensure timely access to research. ALA and others argue that research funded by tax dollars should be free to all citizens. At Savage Minds, Alex Golub compares journal subscriptions to toll booths on government-built roads and suggests that H.R. 3699 is an attempt to stop the removal of those tolls.