Open access is the common-sense idea that scientific research (especially scientific research funded by the government or philanthropic foundations) should be available to the public—ideally with no legal or technical barriers to access and reuse. EFF is a longtime supporter of the open access movement: we think that promoting broad access to knowledge and information helps to ensure that everyone can speak out and participate in society.

For over five years now, EFF and our allies in the open access world have been campaigning for the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR, S. 1701, H.R. 3427). Despite broad support from both parties and barely any opposition from anyone besides major publishers, Congress continues to snooze on FASTR year after year.

While Congress dragged its feet on important legislative fixes, the most exciting changes came in Europe and at the state level.

This year, though, something changed. Europe soared ahead of the United States with the Plan S initiative, a plan to require government-funded research to be made available to the public on the date of publication by the year 2020. Thirteen government agencies that fund research have endorsed Plan S, as well as a few foundations.

Plan S reflects a more aggressive open access policy than FASTR does. FASTR requires that government agencies that fund scientific research require grantees to make their papers available to the public within a year of publication; the original publication can happen in a traditional, closed journal. (Most U.S. government agencies already have that requirement under a 2013 White House memo.)

Plan S takes that much further, requiring grantees to publish their research in an open access journal or repository from day one. What’s more, grantees must publish their papers under an open license allowing others to share and reuse them. In discussions on open access laws, EFF has long urged lawmakers to consider including open licensing mandates. Allowing the public to read the research is a great first step, but allowing the public to reuse and adapt it (even commercially) unlocks its true economic and educational potential. We hope to see more similarly strong open access reforms, both in the U.S. and around the world.

Congress failed to pass FASTR this year, but 2018 did see a smaller legislative win. Buried in the details of a routine funding bill came a welcome reform: Congressional Research Service reports are now officially available to the public. This is a huge step for government transparency—the public should be able to access the government reports that Congress relies on to make its decisions. And in the final days of the 2017-18 session, Congress passed the OPEN Government Data Act, a bill that requires government agencies to share their data in machine-readable formats.

We also gained important ground here in California. EFF helped pass A.B. 2192, a law that makes all peer-reviewed, scientific research funded by the state of California available to the public no later than a year after publication. As we have on the federal level, we urged legislators to consider a stronger bill similar to the Plan S model. Regardless, A.B. 2192 is a solid start and we hope to see other states emulate it. The University of California continued the momentum by announcing that it may cancel its contracts with the notorious publishing giant Elsevier unless the company makes changes to show better support for open publishing.

When we reflected on the state of open access a year ago, we wondered if the U.S. government was beginning to lose its status as a key player in the fight for open access. In some ways, that seems to have happened in 2018. While Congress dragged its feet on important legislative fixes, the most exciting changes came in Europe and at the state level. But we hope to see this year’s wins breathe new life into open access globally.

This article is part of our Year in Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2018.


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