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I am a Professor of Law and the Director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at the American University, Washington College of Law and am a founding member of the Creative Commons board.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Renewed Attack on Open Access in Congress

As Peter Suber reports, yesterday Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) re-introduced the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. This year it's H.R. 801 (last year it was H.R. 6845), and co-sponsored by Steve Cohen (D-TN), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Robert Wexler (D-FL).

The bill language has not changed. Neither has the fact that there is no reasonable basis in law or in fact to support this legislation. The NIH Public Access Policy is working. Although publishers have made vague assertions, claims that there are legal problems with the NIH policy have been discredited. Similarly, there is no evidence to support the policy - with its allowance of an unduly long 12 month delay - that scholarly communication in the biomedical sciences has been harmed.

Indeed, it's really time to turn this conversation around. The United States' economy needs more than increased consumer spending to recover. We need to innovate, and innovation in basic research happens quicker and in more diverse directions in an open, networked environment. In a word, research should be linkable.

Wanna see? Do you have breast cancer or is there a woman in your life who does? Want to know more about the statistical risks? Thanks to the NIH Public Access Policy, I can simply suggest that you click here because your tax dollars supported the study.

Now that's just using the freedom to link to help quickly point you to an article or scientific letter you might want to read. But the real power of linkable science is that scientists would be able to use their computers to study the network of links to find otherwise hidden patterns in the research and to find otherwise hidden linkages between results in related but distinct fields of research or even in different disciplines. It's the power to process links that has made Google the leading search engine for the web. So why can't web technologies do for scientists what they do for web searchers looking to buy electronics or shoes? Because scientific information other than NIH funded research articles is not generally linkable!

So the path to linkable science and the innovations that will follow from processing the links is to release journal articles and associated data from the paywalls that surround them - either immediately through supply-side funded journals or after a short delay for subscription-based journals.

So, Chairman Conyers, with all due respect, the policy question is not whether Congress should act to deny scientists and taxpayers access to research funded by NIH, but rather, why should NIH-funded research articles be the only articles reporting federally-funded research that scientists and taxpayers like me can link to?

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