In the growing battles about online piracy and who can have free access to what, SOPA, the Stop Online Privacy Act, was just the start. Another legislative bill, H.R. 3699, the Research Works Act — sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Committee member Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) – endangers our access to federally-funded research.
In 2008, the National Institutes of Health made all federally-funded research publications openly accessible. But H.R. 3699 would deal a huge blow to “public access mandates and the development of repositories for publicly funded research,” as the University of Michigan publishing blog notes. The bill attempts to define “private-sector research work” based on the “intent” of an author, rather than on who is funding their research, the public or private sector.
H.R. 3699 is supported by the American Association of Publishers, by self-described “private-sector research publishers” who are seeking “regulatory interference” about the research they publish. But the point must be made that such research is the work mostly of academics and is undertaken in the pursuit of scholarly knowledge, not monetary profit. The authors alarmed by H.R. 3699 are academics, professors and scientists whose research is not in the business, for-profit realm.
What is “private-sector research work”?
H.R. 3699 defines ”private-sector research work” — the research scholars publish in peer-reviewed journals to ensure its validity — as
an article intended to be published in a scholarly or scientific publication, or any version of such an article, that is not a work of the United States Government (as defined in section 101 of title 17, United States Code), describing or interpreting research funded in whole or in part by a Federal agency.
That is, if you receive any amount of funding from the government, your research could be subject to limited access under H.R. 3699. Scientific American cites Dr. Michael Eisen who makes a crucial point, namely that “this bill would not only end the NIH’s Public Access Policy, but it would forbid any effort on the part of any agency to ensure taxpayer access to work funded by the federal government.” Under H.R. 3699, we could lose the right to know to what end public monies are being used.
In addition, H.R. 3699 would limit access to research according to something called a “value-added contribution” of publishers. Scholarship published in a commercial or nonprofit publisher undergoes peer review or editing. As the University of Michigan publishing blog points out, while publishers make the arrangements for such peer review, the scholars who actually perform the review “are typically not compensated monetarily for their effort,” doing so as part of their work as members of the academic community.
These might seem like fine distinctions.
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