D-Day: going on the offensive over public access
February 10, 2012
A few weeks ago, software developer and pioneering blogger Joel Spolsky made an important point about SOPA/PIPA which has stayed with me:
The internet seems to ignore legislation until somebody tries to take something away from us… then we carefully defend that one thing and never counter-attack. Then the other side says, “OK, compromise,” and gets half of what they want. That’s not the way to win… that’s the way to see a steady and continuous erosion of rights online.
The solution is to start lobbying for our own laws. It’s time to go on the offensive if we want to preserve what we’ve got.
And of course the same thing applies to the RWA. It’s bothered me that even with all the outcry against that self-serving perversion of democracy, the best outcome we could have hoped to achieve was maintaining the status quo: that all federally funded research can remain paywalled for a full year, and that much of it (that not funded via the NIH) can remain locked away forever.
Yesterday, that changed. On 6 June 1944, the nature of World War II changed when the Allied forces landed in Normandy, and started to take the fight to the Germans rather than merely defending. In the same way, yesterday’s announcement of the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) marks a transition in the fight for open access. We are no longer limited to clinging on to what we had, by opposing the RWA. We can push for the right and proper expansion of public access to federally funded research by supporting the FRPAA.
The FRPAA will do two things.
- It will extend the NIH’s public access mandate to all other federal departments and agencies whose research budgets exceed $100 million per year.
- It will also reduce the embargo period from 12 to 6 months. In fact, section 4(b)(4) is even better than that: it says “free online public access to such final peer-reviewed manuscripts or published versions as soon as practicable, but not later than 6 months after publication in peer-reviewed journals”.
This isn’t the first time that the FRPAA has been proposed: it was proposed in 2006 and again in 2010, but without being signed into law either time. But things are very different this time. It’s taken a long while, but academia has woken up to how absurdly exploitative the current publishing system is — manifested most obviously in the growing boycott of more than 5000 scientists who will not write, review or edit for Elsevier journals. Maybe more importantly, public access is now an issue that’s getting coverage in mainstream journalism, reflecting observations like this one:
@EndoMetabPub Andrew Miller
All around the world, in every sphere, people are catching on. This isn’t just an issue of making academics’ lives easier. It’s about making everyone’s lives better: patient groups, unaffiliated scholars working into their retirement, small businesses, GPs and dentists, enterprising schoolchildren, thinktanks. It’s about investing in science for the benefit of the world rather than for the benefit of Elsevier and Wiley shareholders.
Needless to say, the for-profit, non-open publishing corporations will issue the usual screed of misinformation about this bill. We need to be ready both to counter individual misrepresentations and (maybe more important) to help people see the enormous positive benefits that open access brings. (That was the focus I tried to bring to yesterday’s Independent article.)
For those of you who live in the US, there are other specific things you can do to help ensure that the FRPAA passes: see the Alliance for Taxpayer Access page. Let congress know you support the bill!
Literally I as I was doing my final proof-read of this post, I was notified that my new piece is up at The Guardian (another of the UK’s broadsheet daily newspapers). It takes a rather different approach to my other recent writings on open access, and I hope will reach a different audience. Enjoy!