For Sale: Taxpayer Funded Research

On December 16, 2011, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced H.R. 3699, the Research Works Act, similar to the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act from 2008. The legislation would end the current requirement that research paid for by taxpayers be publicly available for free. The main section of the RWA states: “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.”

The impact of the RWA would be greatest on the National Institute of Health because of its Public Access Policy. Other agencies that share the results of research gained through public funds would also be inhibited from doing so in the future. The bill’s primary supporter is the Association of American Publishers which argues that charging for search results is justified as publishers add value and credibility to the research and that allowing free public access to the research results would deny publishers just compensation. Proponents of the bill claim that the peer review process assesses the research for validity and significance and adds value to justify charging for articles outlining the results.

If the bill becomes law, researchers can expect to pay $25 to $30 for access to a research paper. It will cut off a valuable source of information for schools, scientists, medical professionals and anyone interested in learning more about research. Opponents of the bill (which include the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, the American Library Association, and the American Association of Law Librarians) argue that these research results are already public property as taxpayer funds paid for the research. Those who would purchase the articles essentially pay for the research twice. These organizations stress the importance of access to publicly funded research and would like to continue its availability to those individuals whose funds made the research available in the first place. See their letter in opposition to H.R. 3699 to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Read more on at the Chronicle of Higher Educations article, Library Groups and Open-Access Advocates Speak Out Against Bill (Brooklyn Law School Library users can ask a reference libraran for the username and passwork). Open access articles on the subject incldue the NY Times op-ed Research Bought, Then Paid For and the WIRED article Congress Considers Paywalling Science You Already Paid For.