[A2k] Kevin Zeinio: Mistruths, Insults from the Copyright Lobby Over HR 3699

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Tue Jan 17 15:50:40 PST 2012

Mistruths, Insults from the Copyright Lobby Over HR 3699

By Kevin Zelnio | January 16, 2012 |  Comments3

As you know from my last post, I am staunch proponent of open access
to scientific information, especially the variety that I paid for by
virtue of taxation. The Research Works Act (HR3699) being proposed now
will lock away taxpayer funded research from the hands of those whose
hard-earned wages funded the research. It’s really a no-brainer and
the NIH compromise was generous, allowing publishers to make a profit
from research works for a whole year, during the crucial access time
for new articles. The AAP argument that they add value by
administering peer-review is disingenuous at best, but insulting to
the scientists that voluntarily staff their peer reviewer army.
Researchers freely add-value to for-profit institutions through
providing all peer-review services and assigning copyright to
publishers. As Heather Morrison writes in her thorough dissertation on
scholarly communication: “Giving exclusive copyright to any one party
is arguably a disservice to all of the other parties who contributed
to the research, or for whom it was conducted.” Additionally, threats
of job losses due to the NIH policy on open access are fear-mongering
and taxpaying Americans should not have to bear the burden for their
failure to innovate an outdated and inefficient mode of research

Of course, scientists are as much to blame. We buy into this crappy
system, convince ourselves it works and refuse to consider alternative
models cause such out-of-the-box thinking, while occasionally praised
among scientists, is not rewarded by the system of tenure and
promotion in academia. The paper becomes the final product, a
measurable unit whose value is not in the contents it holds and the
progress it promises, but whose value is characterized by unscientific
traits such as the title of the journal that contains it and a useless
metric with artificial flavoring that has a value in and of itself
that is wholly irreproducible. The paper is NOT the final product.
Science doesn’t end at publication, it continues.

As H.R. 3699 was clearly a bill written to increase the profits of the
publishing industry, it came as no surprise to me to find the
Copyright Alliance’s glowing support cross my eyeballs tonight. It
goes a little further than the vaporous AAP release in supporting the
Research Works Act and denigrates scientific integrity, insults the
government and taxpayers, and wades knee-high into irrelevant points.
Below is their text with my comments in bold:

    “The Copyright Alliance praises U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa
(R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) for their bipartisan introduction of
H.R. 3699, the Research Works Act. The proposal would overturn an
unprecedented federal government taking of copyrights from certain
authors and researchers.”

WRONG. Authors and researchers voluntarily give up their profits as
required by most for-profit publishers once a paper is accepted for
publication. The government is not taking away copyrights, the
publishers make scientists sign it over. Many open access
publications, though, allow authors to retain copyright and utilize
Creative Commons licensing.

    “Providing a federal grant to fund a research project should not
enable the federal government to commandeer and freely distribute a
subsequently published private sector peer-reviewed article. But a
2008 mandate at the National Institutes of Health requires just that –
disregarding the significant value added by the private-sector
publisher whose activities are not funded by the government.”

WRONG. Funding agencies have every right to impose restrictions on
their funds. It’s their money, their rules. In fact, I can’t recall
ever signing a contract that DIDN’T have some conditions on it. Using
language like “commandeer” and “freely distribute” is misleading. What
if the money were from a private foundation instead of the government?
On the other hand, publishing companies are free to disagree with the
policy and not publish government funded research because of this
requirement. It is also free to charge higher fees to offset this.
That is their decision as profit-driven vehicles. But it does not have
a right to tell the funder how recipients should spend their money.
>From the moment a researcher gets a grant accepted up to the moment
they send off a manuscript  for review, publishers have nothing to do
with a funder’s money.

Additionally, the NIH mandate does nothing to “disregard”
private-sector’s added value. It was a major concession to private
industry to allow open access after one year, recognizing that it does
add value by administrating, editing, printing and distributing the
work, in addition to managing the peer review process. During the
first year of a publication’s life is when access requests would be
strongest anyways. In fact, during the few years that the NIH policy
has been in place, profits of at least one major academic publisher
haven’t changed in at least decade from 30-40% operating profit

    “This is counterproductive for several reasons: it is not fair to
other investors in the research, if there are any;”

Irrelevant. As I mentioned above, each funder has every right to put
conditions on their money. Receiving money is a privilege won by
submitting proposals, and if there are multiple funding sources for a
research work with conflicting requirements it is between the
researcher and funder to work out – not the publisher. This is
creating a problem that doesn’t exist.

    “it arbitrarily limits the value of the copyright in the article
for the author and publisher, and harms the publisher’s investments in
ensuring a quality publication; and, it results in reduced incentives
for both these groups to publish peer-reviewed articles explaining the
nature and results of government-funded research in a manner that
ultimately harms society when the investment in publication dries up
due to lack of ability to recover their costs.

Misleading. Author’s copyright is often irrelevant cause it is
typically signed over to the publisher. But, yes publisher’s
investments are harmed because they can no longer continue earning a
profit after 12 months. Yet, they can still charge for access to the
article at their own website. They are merely required to deposit a
copy of the research work in a public repository, like PubMedCentral.

The quality of the publication lies in the content of the article not
the processing, editing, and distribution. I do not include peer
review because it is done for free by other researchers. The quality
of peer review varies no matter how “prestigious” you think your
publication is. This is shown time and again through the process of
retraction. I fail to see how there will ever be “reduced incentives”
for publishing peer-reviewed literature. It is a process borne out of
the scientific method, not the publishing industry. It will exist in
some form regardless of publishing company-written legislation, as
shown by the immense popularity of the PLoS One journal’s method of
pre-publication peer review for technical accuracy and
post-publication peer review for impact, technicalities or anything
else for that matter.

Finally, the ultimate irony of the last sentence is that the Copyright
Alliance fails to understand what “ultimately harms society” is lack
of access to the research works themselves! That last statement shows
how little they actually are aware of emerging internet technologies.
Let’s say worst case scenario is that there is NO MORE MONEY EVER for
publishing research results. Its Armageddon for the publishing
industry and they all folded because of overblown government
restrictions on their 30+% profit margins. What is preventing
researchers from posting their results to publicly available online
repositories like say… their personal webpages, or arxiv, or PLoS
(which conveniently offers full or partial fee wavers if you do not
have funds to cover publishing costs while managing to be profitable
after only seven years)? The message is not the medium, folks.

This is just typical copyright lobby and publishing industry
fear-mongering. So long as people buy into the Impact Factor scam they
will always have business, but they aren’t satisfied there. They’ve
watched PLoS and BMC grow and know how popular and successful they’ve
become. They know the way of the future is open access so they are now
trying at every turn to force the government’s legislative hand to
skew the rules so that they can continues embezzling government funds
through the guise of research works publication.

    “This reversal of centuries of copyright law occurred without
input from the affected communities, and without benefit of oversight
by congressional committees with expertise and responsibility for
copyright laws and enforcement.

    This bipartisan bill ensures that privately-funded research works
that describe or interpret federal research and are intended for
public publishing will receive that treatment, and preserves the
rights of research funders and publishers.”

Copyright law is not reversed! Copyright law remains as it ever has.
If for-profit publishers’ do not like the demands placed by government
funders, which are enacted in the interest of its constituents, they
are free to jack up the costs or refuse government funded research
works. Then they can sit back and see if the market forces like this
or not and we will finally see how researchers value artificial
prestige over broad, efficient dissemination. Like any industry,
innovate or die.

Another ill-conceived press release in support of this damaging piece
of legislation filled with misleading statements and half-truths
designed to provide talking points and ammo to sympathetic congress
members who have their pockets lined by publishing company lobbyists.
Let’s not let them embezzle our payroll wages under the guise of
providing artificial services that can by provided by other, more
forward-thinking institutions who believe in providing taxpayer access
to their paid-for deliverables and lack such revolting disdain for our
government acting in its citizens’ interests. Follow up with the
chatter on Research Works Act HR 36999 over at John Dupuis’ blog, who
has archived all the reports, news and opinion concerning this issue
and write your congressman and implore them to support their
constituents’ access to material they have rightfully paid for.
Kevin ZelnioAbout the Author: Kevin Zelnio is a marine biologist by
training and is now a freelance science writer, independent scientist
and science communications strategist living in beautiful coastal
North Carolina. He has studied the ecology and evolution of animals
living around underwater volcanoes and described several new species
of deep-sea invertebrates.

Manon Anne Ress
Knowledge Ecology International
1621 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009 USA
manon.ress at keionline.org

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