Finally, some good news from Congress this week. Patent and surveillance reform may be suffering setbacks, but open access may be recovering thanks to a new provision passed yesterday that mandates a solid public access policy for NASA, NSF, NIST, the National Weather Service, and the Office of Science of the Department of Energy.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology marked up H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act. This science funding bill was controversial for a number of reasons, but we have been focused on one part: Section 303, dealing with public access to scientific research.

Calling this a "public access" section is a charitable reading: it extended embargo periods to up to three years, it allowed for simple linking to articles rather than the creation of an archive, and it delayed implementation unnecessarily long. (We've ranted about this bill time and again.)

But a glimmer of hope appeared at yesterday's markup. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and Zoe Lofgren, introduced an amendment that radically changed Section 303. The new amendment [pdf] maps closely onto Sensenbrenner's Public Access to Public Science Act (H.R. 3157). It sets the embargo period at 12 months (like the NIH's current policy), though it allows stakeholders to extend this by 6 months if they can show a "substantial and unique harm." The amendment was also designed to facilitate long-term preservation, broad analysis of works, and closer investigation of broad copyright licenses. The current version is not perfect, but it is much improved—huge kudos to Sensenbrenner and Lofgren for standing up for open access.

Ultimately, we want a strong public access policy with short (if any) embargo periods, strong reuse provisions, and ease of use for readers and researchers alike. The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) bill is the closest vehicle we have for getting there, and we urge you to tell your representatives to support it.

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