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Bill Against NIH Open-Access Policy Back in House

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — A bill aimed at limiting the open-access publishing policy adopted by the National Institutes of Health has been re-introduced in the US House of Representatives by Rep. John Conyers (D – Mich.), after the same legislation expired at the end of the 110th Congress.

The law would effectively overturn the policy NIH put into effect last year mandating that all NIH-funded investigators must submit electronic versions of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts to PubMed Central within a year after they are officially published.

The Conyers bill claims that the policy is a breach of standing copyright laws that protect scientific publishers. It would amend US Code to keep the federal government from imposing terms or conditions regarding licenses or rights based on certain federal funding conditions.

The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, as it was called in last year's Congress, has supporters in the publishing industry who opposed the open-access policy. But it also has fired up the advocates of open-access for scientific reasons and those who favor taxpayer access to government-funded research — both groups that pressed NIH to adopt the policy.

As GenomeWeb Daily News reported in September, the House Judiciary Committee, which Conyers chairs, held a hearing on the proposed law that included remarks critical of the policy from industry representatives and an ardent defense of it from then NIH Director Elias Zerhouni.

Director Zerhouni explained that new advances in knowledge happen swiftly and sharing that knowledge is essential to advancing others' research. He said that open sharing can cause "a true explosion in scientific discovery."

George Washington University intellectual property law professor Ralph Oman in testimony supporting the bill said that he is concerned about "dilution of the rights of copyright owners." He added that the NIH policy "will destroy the commercial markets for scientific, technical, and medical journals."

Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, told the Judiciary committee in testimony that the Conyers proposal "is not in the best interests of the taxpayers who fund the research, the scientific community, or the public who relies upon it."

The act "is to fair copyright what the Patriot Act was to patriotism," wrote Peter Suber, professor of philosophy at Earlham University, in a blog posting yesterday on his Open Access News page.

He called the notion that the NIH policy violates copyright law "false and cynical," arguing that if it was a violation of the law then the publishers who support it would not "have to back this bill to amend US copyright law … Instead, they'd be in court where they'd already have a remedy," he wrote.

Martin Frank, executive director of the American Physiological Society and a supporter of the copyright legislation, said at the September House hearing that open access is "not fair to the publisher," who, he said, "improves the work through a rigorous peer review process and develops it for publication."

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