Larry Lessig has keen analysis and a call to action on Rep John Conyers' plan to allow publishers to charge taxpayers for access to taxpayer-funded research:
The Huffington Post is running a piece about H.R. 801, the latest version of John Conyers' awful idea. The law would forbid entities like the NIH from requiring that recipients of government grants make the product of their research openly accessible. (The current practice requires articles be freely accessible after 12 months.) Instead, Conyers' proposal would require that after the American taxpayer has paid for the research, the American taxpayer must pay publishers to get access to the product of the research.
The first important word to emphasize in the last sentence is "publishers." For unlike the ordinary market for creative work, here, the author isn't paid for his work through the copyright system. It is the government (indirectly) paying for the research that the author (a scientist) creates. Scientists write articles as part of their job; other scientists peer-review those articles (usually for free); and journals then publish those articles without paying the author anything. Those journals, however, then charge libraries across the world an increasingly high rate to get access to the research in those journals. As the industry has become more concentrated, those rates have skyrocketed -- rising much faster than inflation.
The "open access movement" was born to create an alternative to this. Even if restrictive copyright was a necessary evil in the days of dead-tree-based publishing, it was still an evil. High costs restrict access. The business model of the scientist is to spread his or her knowledge as widely as possible. Open access journals, such as, for example, those created by the Public Library of Science, have adopted a different publishing model, to guarantee that all all research is freely accessible online (under the freest Creative Commons license) immediately, to anyone around the world. This guarantee of access, however, is not purchased by any compromise in academic standards. There is still a peer-review process. There is still even a paper-based publication.
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