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New Bill Aims to Kill Open Access Publishing Policy

By Matt Jones

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A new bill in the US House of Representatives that seeks to prevent federal agencies from requiring open-access publishing of government-funded research would effectively nullify a public access policy that the National Institutes of Health implemented in 2008.

NIH's public access policy provides that that all NIH-funded investigators submit an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts to the open access PubMed Central resource within 12 months after official publication.

Efforts have been ongoing for years to make all federal funding agencies adopt a similar program, particularly through the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2010 (H.R. 5037), which would apply to all federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets over $100 million.

The new bill, called the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699), would counter such efforts, however. Specifically, it seeks to keep federal agencies from permitting or requiring "network dissemination" of any "private-sector research work" without consent of the publisher.

The term "private-sector research work" in the bill refers to articles published in scientific and scholarly journals "describing or interpreting research funded in whole or in part by a federal agency and to which a commercial or nonprofit publisher has made or has entered into an arrangement to make a value-added contribution, including peer review or editing." The term "network dissemination," meantime, refers to publication via the Internet, a definition that encompasses NIH's policy that makes journal articles available via PubMed Central.

The new act was introduced into the House in December, by co-sponsors Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and it has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Issa chairs.

Open access advocates, headed by the Alliance for Taxpayer Access and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, have launched a campaign to press Issa, Maloney, and other Committee members to support open access for federally funded research.

In a letter aimed at the Committee, ATA points out that more than 90,000 new biomedical manuscripts that are currently deposited in publicly accessible resources each year would be prohibited under this proposal, "seriously impeding the ability of researchers, physicians, healthcare professionals, and families to access and use this critical health-related information in a timely manner."

Representatives of the scientific journals industry, notably the Association of American Publishers' Professional and Scholarly Division, have come out in support of the bill.

“America’s PSP publishers are making more research information available to more people, through more channels, than ever before in our history. At a time when job retention, US exports, scholarly excellence, scientific integrity and digital copyright protection are all priorities, the Research Works Act ensures the sustainability of this industry," said Tom Allen, President and CEO of the AAP.

SPARC Executive Director Heather Joseph told GenomeWeb Daily News this week that the publishing industry has failed to demonstrate any negative financial impact from the NIH public access policy. She pointed out that under the policy, commercial publishers have a one-year grace period to make their money off the sales of journals and articles before the content must be submitted to PubMed.

At a hearing before the House Oversight committee in 2010, David Lipman, director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, said that the "transition to a mandatory policy has had a dramatic effect on the deposit of papers at PubMed Central."

Lipman added that between 2008 and 2010 the number of articles retrieved from PMC doubled from 10 million to 20 million.

SPARC's Joseph said that the anti-open-access push is "being driven by the publishing lobby," which has been "the one and only vocal opponent of the NIH policy and any effort to expand it."

The international academic publishing company Reed Elsevier donated frequently this year to Maloney's campaign, and a couple of times to Issa - the total was under $10,000 in both cases. It is not possible, however, to draw a direct causal line between campaign support and the proposed legislation.

"It is speculation on whether there is cause and effect, but certainly [Maloney] has spoken in favor of the publishers' position and this is an extension of that position," Joseph told GWDN.

The Research Works Act has not been scheduled for a hearing, and Joseph suggested that if it begins to accumulate more supporters then it may end up tucked into a larger piece of legislation.

At the same time that the public access issue has been rejuvenated in the halls of Congress, the White House is just now wrapping up an effort to glean feedback from the public on the effects of open access to scientific publications.

Initiated under the America Competes Reauthorization Act, which President Obama signed in early 2011, the Office of Science and Technology Policy is coordinating a project to develop policies that ensure widespread public access and management of unclassified federally funded research.

The White House has been collecting comments in response to a request for information on the subject, and will continue accepting them until tomorrow, Jan. 12.

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