Research Works Act is an anti-entrepreneurial bill

A bill has been introduced by Representative Darrell Issa — H.R. 3699 — in order “To ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector.”

The Research Works Act would outlaw open access policies, such as the one currently in force at NIH, that require NIH-funded researchers to place their final, peer-reviewed journal publications in a repository that allows free and open access. The idea behind such policies is simple: if the public pays for the research that is described in the publication, then the public has the right to read the publication without having to pay again (for instance, for the individual article or for subscription access to the publication).

Here is the text of the bill in full:

A BILLTo ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the `Research Works Act’.


    No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that–
    • (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or
    • (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.


    In this Act:
    • (1) AUTHOR- The term `author’ means a person who writes a private-sector research work. Such term does not include an officer or employee of the United States Government acting in the regular course of his or her duties.
    • (2) NETWORK DISSEMINATION- The term `network dissemination’ means distributing, making available, or otherwise offering or disseminating a private-sector research work through the Internet or by a closed, limited, or other digital or electronic network or arrangement.
    • (3) PRIVATE-SECTOR RESEARCH WORK- The term `private-sector research work’ means 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 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. Such term does not include progress reports or raw data outputs routinely required to be created for and submitted directly to a funding agency in the course of research.

Implicit in the bill is the idea that scholarly publishers add value to the research (by editing, peer reviewing, and publishing the articles), and so they have the right to be compensated for those services.

This makes a certain amount of sense. Editing, peer reviewing, and publishing do take work.

But most of the peer reviewing is done by members of the research community without any sort of compensation — so the journals get that for free. The editors do have to send out emails asking people to review the manuscripts, of course, which does take time and effort.

Moreover, the journals depend on the researchers themselves. Without the research, which the publishers do not fund, there would be nothing to publish. In this case, the research bill is paid by Federal agencies (that is, by the public).

So, although they do some real work, publishers also benefit from a lot of free labor.

The main problem for publishers is that, given the state of digital technology, the services they perform, editing, peer reviewing (or really organizing peer review), and publishing, could potentially be performed without the ‘private sector’ publishers!  Of course, this raises a host of other issues. But the crux of the matter seems to be whether open access policies require ‘private sector’ publishers to make radical changes in their business model.

The Research Works Act would relieve the pressure on ‘private sector’ publishers to rethink their business model. Needless to say, these publishers endorse the Research Works Act.

I’ll write more on their appeal to peer review in a later post. For the moment, however, I’ll leave you with this thought: current digital technology provides a real opportunity for the creative destruction of scholarly publication. This opportunity for entrepreneurship will remain, even if the Research Works Act becomes law. But some of the motivation for change in the current business model for scholarly publishing will have been removed.

Here is a link to an informative resource from folks in favor of open access.

Here is another link to an ongoing discussion of H.R. 3669.

This entry was posted in Accountability, Future of the University, Libraries, NIH, Open Access, Peer Review, STEM Policy, US Science Agencies. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Research Works Act is an anti-entrepreneurial bill

  1. Steve Fuller says:

    This is very interesting, and it’s easy to see how open access would enjoy the moral high ground. The economic argument may be a bit trickier, and it’s not helped by academics periodically complaining that publishers ought to pay them for peer reviewing because it’s so important yet time-consuming. (Every 2-3 years there’s an article about this in the Times Higher, usually from a Marxist with too much time on his hands trying to quantify the ‘surplus value’ publishers extract from academics.) If publishers called academics’ bluff and started paying them for peer reviewing, then the moral high ground of open access would be lost.

    But it may already be lost — or partly lost. Much depends on how much publishers provide for academics to run their editorial offices. This varies tremendously from field to field and journal to journal. But in this respect, the publishers are capital investors in developing the research base. In fact, they could argue that they are the main funders of the disciplinary infrastructure by starting and maintaining journals, which give long-term shape to distinct forms of knowledge with clearly signposted research trajectories. Open access, while a general value of scientific inquiry, does not by itself give you that sort of palpable sense of discipline. Publishers do materially contribute to that, and sometimes even seed entire fields (though this may be more common in humanities and social sciences).

    So I do think the economics of publishing – especially its investment side – needs to be scrutinised. Of course, academics — or their employers — may be willing to assume all these costs themselves, but they wouldn’t be trivial.

    By the way, if you’re interested in how this open access stuff played out in the early heady days of digital scholarship (1995!), check out this archive of an exchange that Stevan Harnad (open access’ most consistent defender) and I had, which began as point-counterpoint pieces on the ‘post-Gutenberg Galaxy’ in the pages of the Times Higher:

  2. I like Steve’s point about journals providing a “palpable sense of discipline” for the Academy — and I agree, journals DO perpetuate disciplinarity.

    To be clear, by ‘disciplinarity’ I mean the idea that academic disciplines ought to be the dominant mode of academic knowledge production.

    Open Access (OA) can then be seen as a sort of transdisciplining of academic knowledge production. It then becomes more clear how OA connects to accountability: OA policies, such as that currently in force at NIH, much like NSF’s Broader Impacts Criterion, are policy instantiations of the idea that blue skies research is no longer sufficient to justify public funding.

    I’ll venture one further point: the appeal of OA, at least for many academics, has less to do with any perceived moral high ground and more to do with the possibility that OA may increase the impact of academic work, both inside and outside of the Academy. In other words, it’s self-interest and a desire to forge, secure, and expand one’s reputation that’s the real appeal of OA. That, plus making a difference (presumably positive) in the world, of course.

  3. I note that Stevan Harnad makes something of a similar case regarding the academic self-interest of OA in the exchange with Steve (link to the entire exchange in Steve’s comment) here:

  4. See:
    “Research Works Act H.R.3699:
    The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog, Yet


    The US Research Works Act (H.R.3699): “No Federal agency may adopt,
    implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy,
    program, or other activity that — (1) causes, permits, or authorizes
    network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the
    prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any
    actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or
    prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector
    research work.”

    Translation and Comments:

    “If public tax money is used to fund research, that research becomes
    “private research” once a publisher “adds value” to it by managing the
    peer review.”

    [Comment: Researchers do the peer review for the publisher for free,
    just as researchers give their papers to the publisher for free,
    together with the exclusive right to sell subscriptions to it, on-paper
    and online, seeking and receiving no fee or royalty in return].

    “Since that public research has thereby been transformed into “private
    research,” and the publisher’s property, the government that funded it
    with public tax money should not be allowed to require the funded author
    to make it accessible for free online for those users who cannot afford
    subscription access.”

    [Comment: The author's sole purpose in doing and publishing the
    research, without seeking any fee or royalties, is so that all potential
    users can access, use and build upon it, in further research and
    applications, to the benefit of the public that funded it; this is also
    the sole purpose for which public tax money is used to fund research.]”

    H.R. 3699 misunderstands the secondary, service role that peer-reviewed
    research journal publishing plays in US research and development and its
    (public) funding….

  5. Kelli Barr says:

    I am immediately reminded of this article about the influence of neoliberal ideology and policy in the academy. The authors particularly discuss the scientific disciplines, but I think the argument extends not simply to all of the academy, but to all aspects of society.

    The neoliberal agenda is double-edged in an important respect: at the same time as they appear to be championing democratization of knowledge production, advocates also, on the back end, work to continually strengthen intellectual property rights to favor the private ownership of knowledge as property, in the same way that land and minerals/resources are held as property. As democratization unfolds, control over knowledge-resources is increasingly held by individual citizens as intellectual property; democratization is privatization disguised as something far more appetizing to American values. What is even more shocking, as the article points out, is that such strengthening of IP and the attendant incentives for universities are not necessarily even economically viable.

    There is an intimate connection between the neoliberal recasting of the market as an information processor, and the growth of the conviction that knowledge should be commodified. This connection seems all the stronger when one considers that, as several recent studies have pointed out, for the vast majority of universities patenting has been a losing financial proposition (Geiger & Sa, 2008; Greenberg, 2007; Newfield, 2008: ch. 12; Powell et al., 2007). Insisting upon the commercialization of knowledge has, so far at least, proven more ideologically effective than economically practical.

    It’s a case of heads, I win; tails, you lose. This is not only emphatically anti-democratic, but also an agenda of democratic privatization is oxymoronic.

    This brings us to a pressing question for OA: How can the neoliberal democratization of knowledge be critiqued by open access advocates without appearing or sounding anti-democratic? Or worse: anti-capitalism?

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