When taxpayers pay for research, everyone should have access to it.
That’s the simple premise of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act of 2015 (S.779, H.R.1477), or FASTR. If enacted, FASTR would keep federally funded research where it belongs, in the hands of the public.
Under FASTR, every federal agency that spends more than $100 million on grants for research would be required to adopt an open access policy. Although the bill gives each agency some leeway in adopting a policy appropriate to the types of research it funds, each one would require that published research be available to the public no later than six months after publication.
FASTR was first introduced in 2013. Shortly after that, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a memo requiring agencies to develop public access policies. We applauded the directive then, while noting that it was not as strong as FASTR—most notably, the White House directive sets the embargo period for making federally funded research available to the public at 12 months and frames it as a “guideline.” FASTR would lock the policy into law and reduce the embargo to six months, a win for public access.
Since 2013, understanding and appreciation of open access have grown considerably, both in academia and in the general public. 2015 should be the year that the United States adopts a strong open access mandate.
That’s not to say that FASTR removes every barrier to widespread use and dissemination of research. Neither it nor the White House memo address the limitations copyright imposes on using research. An ideal open access mandate would require that the research be shared under a license that allows maximum reuse by anyone in the world for any purpose, commercial or noncommercial. True open access, as defined in the Budapest Open Access Initiative, gives everyone the right “to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose.”
Interestingly, the text of FASTR even addresses the possibility of users being able to use published research for data mining and similar purposes. It’s clear that the authors of the bill had maximal access and reuse in mind, but carving out certain secondary uses is a clunky fix: part of what’s great about using an open access license is that it keeps the door open for new uses that haven't been invented yet.
An open access license requirement would protect translation, adaptation, and any number of other innovative uses from doubts over copyright. Most people in the open access community consider the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) the standard for open access licensing (here at EFF, we license almost all of our content under it).
Finally, codifying the open access mandate in law makes it much more stable than the White House memo alone. Priorities will change with each administration, but passing FASTR now will guarantee that the open access requirement remains for future generations.
Yesterday, we discussed some of the ways that open access can lead to sharing and collaboration between disciplines and even between academics and laypeople. By supporting a federal open access mandate, we can help society get the most possible benefit out of federally funded research.
All this week, EFF is participating in Open Access Week. Read all of our OAWeek blog posts.