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Support Pulled from Bill Killing Open-access Publishing

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A bill in the House of Representatives that would have killed existing and proposed federal policies requiring that government-funded research data be published in open-access manner has been pulled by its sponsors after it raised the ire of many in the scientific community.

The Research Works Act (HR 3699) would have nullified the open-access policy in place at the National Institutes of Health, and would have kept federal agencies from permitting or requiring that research funded in part with federal money be made public.

Soon after it was introduced, just over two months ago, the RWA spurred a sharp response from researchers and open-access advocates who saw the bill as a step backwards for research, for taxpayers, and for the ideals of open government. One of those responses included a petition to boycott the scholastic publishing group Elsevier, which supported the bill and opposed NIH's policy, which has reaped over 7,500 signatures.

Yesterday, the bill's sponsors, Rep. Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), issued a joint statement saying that they do not plan to take any legislative action on the RWA, which they said "spurred a robust, expansive debate on the topics of scientific and scholarly publishing, intellectual property protection, and public access to federally funded research."

They noted that the lowered cost of web publishing has made open-access publishing the "wave of the future," but one that should involve a "collaborative" transition that respects both copyright law and the principles of open access.

"The American people deserve to have access to research for which they have paid. This conversation needs to continue and we have come to the conclusion that the Research Works Act has exhausted the useful role it can play in the debate," they said in their statement.

The RWA is not just aimed at dismantling NIH's policy, but also at undercutting new plans to expand open access to federally-funded science, most notably the Federal Research Public Access Act, which was introduced recently in both houses of Congress and would require open access policies at all federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets over $100 million.

The RWA would have blunted such policies by keeping federal agencies from permitting or requiring "network dissemination" of any "private-sector research work" without consent of the publisher.

Here, the term "private-sector research work" 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.

Also yesterday, Elsevier yanked its support for the RWA, stating in a letter that its endorsement of the proposal caused some people in the research community to question its commitment to ensuring "the best possible access to research publications and data."
Elsevier, which has donated to the political campaigns of Maloney and Issa – under $10,000 in both cases – said that it while it heard support for the RWA from publishers and scholarly societies, it also heard concerns from journal authors, editors, and reviewers that the policy would get in the way of low-cost and public access to research articles.

The publishing group called for "more cooperation and partnership between funders and publishers" as the best way to expand public access, but it also said that it would continue to "oppose government mandates" that require federally funded research articles be made publicly available.

"Cooperation and collaboration are critical because different kinds of journals in different fields have different economics and models. Inflexible mandates that do not take those differences into account and do not involve the publisher in decision making can undermine the peer-reviewed journals that serve an essential purpose in the research community," Elsevier stated.