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,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Research Works Act’.
SEC. 2. LIMITATION ON FEDERAL AGENCY ACTION.
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.
SEC. 3. DEFINITIONS.
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.