Good news: we are finally seeing real progress toward improving the public's ability to access to the research we pay for. In February, we saw both a White House memorandum and the introduction of bipartisan legislation designed to promote open access to taxpayer-funded research on the federal level. Now California has stepped up to try and secure the same public access rights to state-funded research.
The bill, called the California Taxpayer Access to Publicly Funded Research Act (AB 609), would give the public access to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of research funded in whole or in part by California residents. Many universities and research institutions use state funding to conduct important studies. Too often, however, the entities in charge of publishing the results of that work refuse to make it easily available, choosing instead to block it off behind expensive paywalls, and then sell back access to the universities that conducted the research in the first place. Indeed, even the authors commonly don't have the discretion to give free access to their own students.
Introduced by Assembly Member Brian Nestande and coauthored by Assembly Members Beth Gaines, Brian Maienschein, and Kristin Olsen, the California Taxpayer Access bill largely mimics the language of federal legislation—the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR). The bill ensures that recipients of state funding submit electronic copies of their peer-reviewed research into an open access repository within twelve months of publication. Each state agency would host these articles, and the California State Library would feature a centralized online bibliography linking to them.
Like both federal initiatives, this bill isn't perfect. The bill has been amended recently to change the embargo period—or the time delay between publication and public access—from six months to twelve months. While immediate availability is ideal, this open access isn't only about free availability of scholarly research, but also the ability to reuse and build upon this scholarship without worrying about copyright infringement or other legal issues. The California Taxpayer Access bill, unfortunately, doesn't mention reuse at all.
Nonetheless, this bill is worth supporting. The University of California system currently spends over $40 million per year on scholarly journal subscriptions. Budget cuts have already forced libraries to limit the number of journals they purchase. Not only can an open access policy help offset these costs, but it also allows research institutions, educational establishments, and individuals to stay on top of the state of the art.
The Assembly is holding a hearing on the bill on May 1. If you live in California, contact your Assembly Member today and tell them to support public access to taxpayer-funded research.