Science publishing giant Elsevier has pulled its support from the Research Works Act, a bill that would have restricted the ability of scientists doing government-funded work to place their papers with open access journals. The action follows a scholarly and scientific boycott of Elsevier, and has led to the collapse of the bill.
I believed from the start that Elsevier would be vulnerable to a boycott threat. The Research Works Act was a desperate bid to eliminate competition arising from the scientists and scholars who supply Elsevier with an endless stream of free work that Elsevier then charges high fees to access, generally charging the institutions whose scientists produced the work to begin with. The question isn't whether Elsevier deserves to make money, or makes too much money: the question (for institutions, scholars and scientists) is whether paying Elsevier is the best way to do science and scholarship. Elsevier isn't a charity, and there's no reason to expect institutions to pay for its journals if they can get better science and scholarship for less through the open access movement.
The increasing trend to open access is fueled by this dynamic, and it's only going to get more pronounced as time goes by. Elsevier is vulnerable, and their overreaching legal proposal just accelerated the pace at which scholars and scientists turned to open access.
While we continue to oppose government mandates in this area, Elsevier is withdrawing support for the Research Work Act itself. We hope this will address some of the concerns expressed and help create a less heated and more productive climate for our ongoing discussions with research funders.
Cooperation and collaboration are critical because different kinds of journals in different fields have different economics and models. Inflexible mandates that do not take those differences into account and do not involve the publisher in decision making can undermine the peer-reviewed journals that serve an essential purpose in the research community. Therefore, while withdrawing support for the Research Works Act, we will continue to join with those many other nonprofit and commercial publishers and scholarly societies that oppose repeated efforts to extend mandates through legislation.