February 25, 2009 | By Richard Esguerra

"Open Access" Policies Threatened by Copyright Bill

Scientists who receive funding from the National Institutes of Health are required to make their research publicly available within 12 months after the research is published. This "open access" policy not only promotes free scientific communication and innovation, it strikes many as fundamentally fair. After all, shouldn't taxpayers have direct access to the extraordinary wealth of essential research they fund? Moreover, as copyright professor James Boyle points out, the open availability of health research can have the laudable effect of giving patients the information they need to make important medical decisions. And because of the 12 month delay before the research is publicly available (and because the scientific community will always be interested in hearing about new research without any lag time) the subscription-based journals that publish the works first have plenty of time to recoup any investment they make in the original.

With all this operating in favor of open access, we were disappointed to see Rep. Conyers reintroduce H.R. 801, the poorly named Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. The bill's provisions -- written to benefit publishers who view this as an attack on their traditional effective monopolies over scientific expression -- would foreclose on all the benefits mentioned above and seeks to prevent the government from expanding the open access approach to research funded by other agencies. That's why the bill is being opposed by EFF and numerous groups that fight to preserve patient rights and the public interest: Alliance for Taxpayer Access, the American Library Association, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalitions (SPARC), 33 US Nobel laureates in science, and more.

Open access to research benefits scientists and citizens alike. Shutting it down only helps a few publishers squeeze a few drops of additional revenue from the research that our tax dollars paid for. Our representatives in Washington should straighten out their priorities, put their constituents first, and reject this dangerous bill.


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