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 NIHís 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. Such technicalities must be pointed out because, once again, †the research that H.R. 3699 covers is from not-for-profit entities including public universities and private nonprofit universities. †As the†University of Michigan publishing blog says, H.R. 3699′s emphasis on authorial intention stems from the for-profit sector of businesses and corporations whose research is “outside the realm of state control or support.”
Our Right to Open Access
Like SOPA, H.R. 3699 is legislation that, while seeking to protect publishers’ rights, threatens the public’s knowledge of research supported by its dollars.†Research by scientists studying cancer at the molecular level or conducting clinical trials on a drug treatment plays a crucial role in our lives.†A recent controversy about a†federal advisory board arguing against the publication of research on avian bird flu has set scientists against security advisers, with the latter saying that national security is at risk and the former emphasizing that blocking such access sets a chilling precedent of censorship.
Is it possible that knowing that one’s research will not be accessible to the public dissuade researchers from seeking federal funding and, accordingly, turning to the private sector, where the research that is funded has a specifically commercial focus?
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