October 21, 2013 | By Adi Kamdar

Open Access Week 2013: The Time for Reform Is Now

Today kicks off the sixth annual global Open Access Week. Open Access Week is at once a celebration and a call to action. Universities, libraries, organizations, and companies are hosting events all around the world to promote the ideals of open access: free, online availability of and unfettered access to scholarly works.

This year's Open Access Week is a special one. After many years of collective effort, we are very close to real reform on the federal and state level, and more and more researchers are taking steps, as individuals, to improve public access to their work.

Standing in the way of progress, however, is the publishing industry—the only industry that stands to gain from the status quo—which from the beginning has tried to subvert the push toward open access through deceptive campaigns and faulty self-regulation.  As momentum for reform builds, the industries that have propped up our broken model of scholarly publishing for centuries are fighting back harder than ever.

Let's not let the publishers put private gain above an obvious public good. This Open Access Week, we need you to join us in our efforts to improve access to knowledge and to break down the backward business models that continue to impede the public's ability to read and use the cutting edge research our tax dollars made possible.

Federal reform

On the national level, the most movement recently has occurred in the Executive Branch, where over twenty federal agencies have submitted open access plans to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in order to implement the White House's public access directive. Now the OSTP has prevented these agencies from releasing such drafts publicly until they have fully reviewed them; the drafts will then be available for public comment.

While we are encouraged by the progress that has been made on the part of the agencies, we are concerned that the publishers are pushing an alternative plan—known as CHORUS—that would seriously cripple public access. In this scenario, the publishers themselves would be in charge of providing the nation public access to scholarly works according to their own rules. That's like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

A better long-term solution is for open access policies—ones that not only provide for public access, but also allow for reuse, remixing, and analysis through text mining—to be set in the law. We must pass a bill that makes open access the norm. We've put our weight behind the Fair Access to Science & Technology Research Act (FASTR), which would open up a host of important and potentially life-saving research to the world at large. Although not perfect, the bill reduces the "embargo" period on papers to six months, meaning such papers must be freely available no later than half a year after publication. And the bill mandates strong reuse requirements, allowing for downstream research and technologies to flourish.

FASTR is a strong, important step towards access to new, innovative, publicly funded research. Contact your lawmakers and tell them to support FASTR.

State-level reform

The latest developments on the state level have been taking place in California, Illinois, and New York.

California's AB 609 largely mirrors FASTR but for state-funded research.  Unfortunately, it has a longer embargo period (one year) and doesn't mention reuse. Still, it represents a significant milestone and deserves support. The bill encountered a bit of resistance earlier this year when it didn't reach a quorum in committee. (It received five yes votes and zero no votes.) However, it will be picked up right where it left off in early 2014. Key concerns with the bill have been fixed over the last year—most specifically with the Universities of California's announcement of an open access policy. If you live in California, contact your state senators and tell them to support AB 609.

Illinois just passed a law that requires each of the state's public universities create an open access policy within the next year. While this law isn't as strong as the other states' bills, it is an encouraging step; public universities are often major sources of published research, and institution-based open access policies allow a significant amount of research to be made widely available.

New York's open access bill, similar to California's, was tabled after a massive misinformation campaign on the part of the publishers. But that battle is not over—we expect to see a renewed effort to pass the bill next year. New Yorkers, stay tuned.

Individual action

The open access fight is not simply an institutional or regulatory one. We've seen positive change come from the ground up, as more and more researchers come to realize that limiting access to their publications hurts not only their own work, but also the pursuit of knowledge in general. A recent survey by journal publisher Wiley showed that the percentage of authors who publish in open access journals has nearly doubled in the last year alone. This has been coupled with universities increasingly adopting policies of their own.

The fight for open access to research is going in the right direction, and every stakeholder seems to realize this inevitability. The longer we wait for this change to happen, though, the more we delay healthcare workers from having access to the latest crucial research, or scientists from being able to build upon their peers' works to answer fundamental questions, or students from getting the educationional resources they—and we—deserve.

There's a lot to celebrate this year, and the best way to show your support is to take action. With your efforts, we can finally get the laws and policies that will make open access par for the course. 

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