David Prosser, the executive director of Research Libraries UK (RLUK), says the Research Works Act introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in December is “frankly ridiculous” and an attack on open access.
“It just seems quite bizarre that they should attempt to appropriate the intellectual capital of researchers that has been funded by the taxpayer and then call it a private research work,” Prosser told an audience at the American Library Association Midwinter meeting in Dallas on Saturday. “That strikes me as audacious in the extreme,” he said.
RLUK is a consortium of 32 of the largest research organizations in the UK and Ireland.
The Research Works Act (RWA) has been widely opposed in the U.S. academic community because it would essentially prevent the National Institute of Health from requiring its grantees to make biomedical research findings freely available via the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central repository. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) backs RWA, and in an FAQ on the measure, says it is necessary “to ensure freedom from regulatory interference for private-sector research publications.”
The Copyright Alliance, whose membership includes Elsevier and AAP, also supports the measure, saying it would “overturn an unprecedented federal government taking of copyrights from certain authors and researchers.”
Prosser was having none of it. If RWA were to pass he said it would result in less NIH-funded research actually appearing in PubMed, longer embargoes before materials can be deposited and a consequent loss of timeliness, and fees over and above subscription and publication fees.
“Publishers would see it as a way of generating more revenue,” he said.
Prosser said “the attack” on open access also could be seen in the way publishers frame their copyright transfer forms, and he said it was important to find ways in which authors could be more careful about the rights they give publishers.
“We need evidence of what it is that authors and other researchers can’t do when authors with a very cavalier manner sign across their full copyright to publishers without a single thought,” Prosser said. “ We need to show how that is limiting research, we need to show how that is limiting data mining and text mining, and we need to show how the alternatives that are being proposed, like Creative Commons, can move us toward a richer and a better functioning environment for scholarly communications and research in general,” he said.
A number of AAP members have expressed their opposition to the organization’s support of RWA in the last week or two, including MIT Press, Rockefeller University Press, Penn State University Press.
Nature Publishing Group and Digital Science and the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of the journal Science, have also reaffirmed their support for the current public access policy.
“We believe the current NIH public access policy provides an important mechanism for ensuring that the public has access to biomedical research findings,” said AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of Science. “At the same time, the NIH policy provides appropriate support for the intellectual property rights of publishers who have invested much in science communication.”
ALA is also preparing a resolution on the act.
In his talk, Prosser also offered a review of the intellectual property rights debate presently occurring in the UK based on the Hargreaves Review, which is working its way through Parliament.