November 17, 2017

ARL Supports Mandatory Public Access; AAP Offers Cautions, Warns of Piracy

By Norman Oder

Last day to submit comments regarding federally-funded sci/tech research

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  • ARL comments similar to those of ALA/ACRL
  • Will libraries cancel subscriptions?
  • AAP says government should be cautious
  • AAP warns of piracy in China

The deadline is today for comments to the federal government regarding public access to federally-funded research, and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has filed comments in a similar vein to those filed by the American Library Association and the Association of College and Research Libraries.

However, as noted below, the Professional and Scholarly Publishing (PSP) Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) offered forceful opposition to the plan.

ARL comments
In its letter, ARL said that the administration should require that all grantees who receive federal funds from an agency be required to deposit either the final, published version of a peer-reviewed journal article or the final electronic manuscript of such an article in a publicly available digital repository. Such a digital archive should be interoperable with other digital archives and institutions, thus ensuring long-term access. 

Beyond that, ARL said there should be no restrictions placed on use of this literature or on who is able to use these federally funded information resources. Should there be an embargo period, it should be as short as possible, ARL said, noting that the common embargo period is six months, with the maximum that of the National Institutes of Health, which is 12 months. 

ARL also recommended that systems be designed to ease compliance and that federal agencies maintain consistent policies to reduce the burden on institutions and grantees.

Impact on subscriptions?
The letter addresses a question raised by publishers:

Some non-open access publishers have expressed an unfounded concern that immediate access or shorter embargo periods will result in journal cancellations by libraries, as subscription revenue is the primary source of income for most journal publishers. Data has shown that libraries will not cancel subscriptions to journals with shorter embargo periods for several reasons. Researchers, students, and faculty require access to the literature as soon as possible; thus, any embargo constitutes too long of a delay, and journals include needed information and articles well beyond those funded by governments.

AAP position
The AAP, along with the DC Principles Coalition for Free Access to Science (which represents not-for-profit publishers), in its letter cautioned that “inflexible, government-mandated solutions will undermine the substantial contribution the private sector makes to science” through peer review.

A mandatory policy, the groups said, “would undermine essential intellectual property protections and blunt the ability of publishers to recover the considerable costs” in the process, shifting costs from subscribers to authors.

The groups criticized the NIH public access policy, warning against “one-size-fits-all” policies across subject disciplines, noting that “the imposition of embargo periods that are being adopted for biomedical journals could threaten the sustainability of humanities and social science journals.” (The issue at hand, however, is science and technology funding.)

The groups said that the new model would violate copyright and increase piracy. Not only have Chinese companies acquired electronic copies of copyrighted U.S. scientific journal articles from government and university libraries and reselling them, more recently evidence suggests “Chinese pirate companies may also be mining full text articles from NIH websites and reselling these articles to their subscribers.”

Going forward
The groups said the federal government should proceed cautiously:

Any further development of federal public access policy in this area should be based on thorough assessment of the needs of all stakeholders. For example, the Administration could consider a pilot program similar to the EU’s PEER (Publishing and the Ecology of European Research) initiative. PEER represents a three-year collaboration (2008 to 2011) between publishers, repositories and researchers that will investigate the effects of the large-scale, systematic depositing of authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts on reader access, author visibility, and journal viability, as well as on the broader ecology of European research. Empirical results from this program will inform the EU’s future policymaking on public access issues.

And the groups offered a different basis for a solution:

Specifically, we support a statutory directive for agencies to ensure such public access consistent with the model enacted by Congress in 2007 in the America COMPETES Act, which established a public access policy for research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). We support extending this model to all federal agencies that fund science research. Under an America COMPETES Act model, each federal agency that provides funds for the performance of experimental, developmental, or research activities should provide, in addition to providing a database of summaries of funded projects, the following information to the public, in a timely manner and in electronic form through an agency Web site: (A) final project reports; (B) citations of published research documents resulting from research funded by the agency; (C) readily accessible summaries of the outcomes of agency-funded research projects.

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