Congress’s copyright fight puts open access science in peril

By John Timmer | Published: September 16, 2008, Ars Technica News Desk

Backlash against open access

In recent years, scientific publishing has changed profoundly as the Internet simplified access to the scientific journals that once required a trip to a university library. That ease of access has caused many to question why commercial publishers are able to dictate the terms by which publicly funded research is made available to the public that paid for it.

Open access proponents won a big victory when Congress voted to compel the National Institutes of Health to set a policy of hosting copies of the text of all publications produced by research it funds, a policy that has taken effect this year. Now, it appears that the publishing industry may be trying to get Congress to introduce legislation that will reverse its earlier decision under the guise of strengthening copyright protections.

Under existing law, the products of federally funded research belong to the scientists that perform it and institutions that host them. Academic journals have traditionally had researchers transfer the copyright of publications resulting from this research to the journals. The current NIH policy requires that authors they fund reserve the right to place the text and images of their publication in an NIH database hosted at PubMed Central (PMC).

To protect commercial publishers, papers submitted to PMC are not made accessible until a year after publication, and are not required to include the formatting and integration of images performed by the publisher. This one-year limit is longer than that required by other governments and private funding bodies such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Wellcome Trust. Many publishers have embraced this policy, and allow the fully formatted paper to be made available, sometimes after a shorter embargo.

Open Access meets resistance

Not all publishers have embraced it, however, and some have tried to exact exorbitant fees for allowing manuscripts to be transferred to PMC. Others have engaged in aggressive lobbying against open access efforts.

Read on…