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Research Works Act – H.R. 3699

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.

5 thoughts on “Research Works Act – H.R. 3699”

  1. Pingback: Anthropology & Open Access - 13 January 2012 | Anthropology Report

  2. At present most articles are on JStor. I as a poor retired private scholar am not given access to
    JStor. I regard this as an outrage practiced by the Universities. The fewer people read something
    the harder it is to gain access.
    Universities seeking to make money on the ability to read journals, or to restrict these articles
    to the ingroup of their active members are practicing a hypocrisy when they talk about open access.

    Yes this bill will only make it worse. But it is pretty bad already. I remember when reading books in the Widerner reading room was free to all citizens of Massachusetts.

    Where is that spirit now. From my view, things are so bad now that I want to give up
    in disgust. I BELIEVE in the openness of knowledge.

    You CAN NOT make Property of EVERYTHING. And certainly should not.

    The result of this bill will be the further corrupting and decay of the society.

    We will bookeep every aspect of our lives and die robots.

    Blessings on you all.

  3. Pingback: Economic Reason to Oppose the Research Works Act « Apres Rain Arroyo

  4. Pingback: The threat of knowledge? « LP999

    The bill’s sponsors, Darrell Issa and Carolyn Maloney, have announced that they will no longer seek its passage. Quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education, they say, “The American people deserve to have access to research for which they have paid. This conversation needs to continue, and we have come to the conclusion that the Research Works Act has exhausted the useful role it can play in the debate.”

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