Research Work Act vies for worst legislative proposal of the session

Even as disputes have brought the technical copyright provisions of the  PROTECT IP Act, and  SOPA to the public conscience, another piece of legislation has been quietly making its way through Congress. Known as the Research Works Act (RWA or HR 3699), this legislation would reverse the National Institutes of Health policy that requires all research with NIH funding to be freely accessible within twelve months of publication. The legislation would create a similar barrier to limit other federal agencies seeking to tie federal research grants to the public’s access for the results of that research.

As noted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Poynder, and others, the enactment of HR 3699 would be a setback for the open access movement and interfere with the administrative agency grant process.

The bill was introduced by U.S. Reps. Darrell E. Issa, Republican of California, and Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, presumably to support revenue for publishers in their districts.  Looking at the operative language, the proposed legislation is anything but subtle:

 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.

While the open access approach to scholarship will improve public access to research, democratize information flow and increase academic transparency, critics are concerned about the continued investment in publishing of this research.

The legislation, however, goes vastly further – prohibiting even grants that “permit” such research. This grants a monopoly to the publisher vastly stronger than anything copyright law has permitted since the seventeenth century.

MIT Press has led a response to this exceedingly ill-conceived public policy. As reported by the Chronicle, MIT has made it clear it will not support the position of the trade association, the Association of American Publishers, which has lobbying for the legislation.

“The AAP’s press release on the Research Works Act does not reflect the position of the MIT Press; nor, I imagine, the position of many other scholarly presses whose mission is centrally focused on broad dissemination,” Ellen Faran, the press’s director, said in a statement circulated on open-access electronic mailing lists and elsewhere. “We will not, however, withdraw from the AAP on this issue as we value the association’s work over all and the opportunity to participate as a member of the larger and diverse publishing community.”

Additional publishers are recognizing the need to distance themselves from this position. Perhaps with enough backlash, trade associations will begin to advocate for good public policy rather than merely for control of content.

This would be an important lesson for all of the creative, technology and academic trade association to take to heart.