Thursday, March 12, 2009

John Conyers and the ”Fair Copyright in Research Works Act”

Controversy has arisen over HR 501, the ”Fair Copyright in Research Works Act.” Chattahbox writes: In truth the bill would eliminate public access to taxpayer funded research, and force scientists to only publish in journals. Prior to this bill, there has been a belief: if the taxpayer pays for the research, the taxpayer ought to have access to the results of the research.

ScienceNow writes: In open-access news, the powerful chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, John Conyers (D-MI), has explained why he believes the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should not require scientists it funds to make their research papers publicly available via the Internet. In an essay released last week, Conyers defended a bill he introduced that would reverse that open access policy, which he sees as a threat to copyright law and, ultimately, to peer review.

The Detroit Free Press wrote on 5 March 09: But a new bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., would make it tough and costly to get to those studies. The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act would reverse a National Institutes of Health policy set last year that held that the public should not have to pay to see the results of medical research funded with taxpayer dollars. The bill would prevent other agencies from making similar rules regarding free public access to published studies.

The bill, still in committee, has patient advocates, scientists, librarians and others up in arms.

"I'm concerned I'm going to lose something very vital to me to help my son," Nantais said.

Others fear that if the bill becomes law, cutting-edge information will stop moving freely among the people who create medical breakthroughs and the people who benefit from them.

The reasoning behind the bill has puzzled observers who note that Conyers is a staunch advocate of universal health care. He has a history of pushing for laws that strengthen copyright protections, too.

Also: Current law requires scientists to submit NIH-funded work to PubMed Central when it is accepted for publication in a journal. It's free to the public after one year.

The bill would keep studies protected under journals' copyrights, often for decades, according to the U.S. Copyright Office.

"I don't think there's a good thing to say about this bill. It's basically a corporate giveaway," said Jessica Litman, a copyright law professor at U-M. "The people own it, they shouldn't have to pay to see it again."

MichiganMessenger: The NIH policy does not require researchers to publish articles solely in Open Access journals; it only requires that all articles that result from research funded with public money be deposited in a publicly accessible database like Pubmed Central within a certain period of time after being published elsewhere. The articles can still be published in a subscription-only journal initially.

Conyers wrote the following on the Huffington Post:

First, there is a serious process issue at stake here. My bill would restore longstanding federal copyright policy in this area. It reverses a provision slipped into an appropriations bill in the middle of the night, with no consultation with the Committee which is actually supposed to write the law in this area, the Judiciary Committee, which I chair. Thus, Professor Lessig simply ignores that this so-called "open access" policy was not subject to open hearings, open debate or open amendment in Congress and itself represents the sort of process-compromised special interest provision that he generally rails against. Now the special interests here may be highly worthy, but an openness hawk such as Professor Lessig ought not countenance procedural gimmicks just because they yielded a favored result.

My bill lays down a marker indicating that issues this complex, with important values and convincing arguments on both sides, should not be decided by a few lawmakers without relevant jurisdictional expertise in the dark of night with no meaningful public scrutiny or input. Unlike the measure my bill would repeal, my bill is fully available to the public and has my name attached to it. If it moves through my Committee, which it has not yet, it will be subject to full public hearings - and open to criticism and improvement from all sides.

Second, on the narrow merits of the issue, Professor Lessig and proponents of "open access" make a credible argument that requiring open publishing of government-funded research information furthers scientific inquiry. They speak out for important values and I respect their position.

While this approach appears to further and enhance access to scientific works, opponents argue that, in reality, it reverses a long-standing and highly successful copyright policy for federally-funded work and sets a precedent that will have significant negative consequences for scientific research.

These opponents argue that scientific journals expend their own, non-federal resources to manage the peer review process, where experts review academic publications. This process is critical because it provides the quality check against incorrect, reckless, and fraudulent science and furthers the overall quality and vigor of modern scientific debate. Journal publishers organize and pay for peer review with the proceeds they receive from the sale of subscriptions to their journals, thereby adding considerable value to the original manuscripts of research scientists.

The policy Professor Lessig supports, they argue, would limit publishers' ability to charge for subscriptions since the same articles will soon be publicly available for free. If journals begin closing their doors or curtailing peer review, or foist peer review costs on academic authors (who are already pay from their limited budgets printing costs in some cases), the ultimate harm will be to open inquiry and scientific progress may be severe. And the journals most likely to be affected may be non-profit, scientific society based journals. Once again, a policy change slipped through the appropriations process in the dark of night may enhance open access to information, but it may have unintended consequences that are severe. This only emphasizes the need for proper consideration of these issues in open session.

IPBiz notes that peer-reviewers, who do the heavy lifting in the current system, don't get paid anything. Further, it is well known that the highly-respected journal Science dropped the ball on fraud-protection in the cases of Jan-Hendrik Schon and Hwang Woo Suk. Separately, the Garner study just published in Science showed journal editors tended to push responsibility onto authors for things like plagiarism (self-plagiarism being a real problem in journal publication). Conyers response does not make a whole lot of sense.


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