Some Associations, Scholars Protest Bill That Would Curb Public Access to Research

Opposition to the Research Works Act continues to spread. In a statement posted today on its Web site, the Modern Language Association said it opposes the bill, HR 3699, which would prevent federal agencies from requiring researchers to make the published results of federally supported research available to the public without publishers’ consent. That would undo public-access mandates such as the National Institute of Health’s, under which federal-grant recipients must deposit copies of their papers in the PubMed Central repository within a year of publication.

“Unnecessary limits on the free flow of ideas compromise a robust exchange of information and knowledge,” the MLA’s president, Michael Bérubé, said in the statement. “In reviewing the language of the Research Works Act and considering the implications of its provisions, the MLA concludes that this legislation has significant negative ramifications for the future of public access to scholarly material and research.” Mr. Bérubé is a professor of English at Penn State University.

The association is also a publisher, and in today’s statement it said that “a publisher’s ability to earn revenue from the services that it provides need not be hindered by the provision of broad public access to scholarly work.” The Association of American Publishers supports the bill, although not all of its members agree with that position. The open-access advocate Peter Suber has created a running list of scholarly publishers and associations who support or oppose the bill. Other associations on the opposing side include the International Society for Computational Biology, the American Physical Society, and the Society for Cultural Anthropology.

Opposition has also taken root among researchers. Some scholars have called on colleagues to withhold scholarly labor from publishers who support the act. Meanwhile, almost 400 researchers have signed a pledge to boycott the journal publisher Elsevier over high subscription prices and its support of controversial legislation, including the Research Works Act. A separate petition against the bill has gathered close to 10,000 signatures. “Results of scholarship (particularly that which is funded by the public) is a global public good,” one signer wrote. “The commercialization and commodification of scholarship is not acceptable.”

Librarians are also tracking the Research Works Act. At the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting this week, David Prosser, the executive director of Research Libraries U.K., described the bill as “audacious in the extreme,” according to a report in Library Journal. He said, “It just seems quite bizarre that they should attempt to appropriate the intellectual capital of researchers that has been funded by the taxpayer and then call it a private research work.”

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