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Research Works Act Abandoned — Open Access Week in Review

This week brought with it the demise of an anti-open access bill that was wildly unpopular with ALA members — the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699).  On Monday, the publishing company Elsevier (the rumored bill backer) publicly announced it was withdrawing support for the Research Works Act — essentially rendering the bill dead.  And just to be sure there were no misgiving about the bill’s status, its co-sponsors, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), released a joint statement explaining,

The American people deserve to have access to research for which they have paid. This conversation needs to continue and we have come to the conclusion that the Research Works Act has exhausted the useful role it can play in the debate. As such, we want Americans concerned about access to research and other participants in this debate to know we will not be taking legislative action on HR 3699, the Research Works Act.

The New York Times weighed in by publishing a piece on the topic and explained the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is also working on the access issue and is preparing a progress report to be submitted to Congress in a few weeks. (The ALA and Association of College & Research Libraries submitted comments (pdf) to OSTP in response to their call for input in December.)

Library Journal reported on the development as well, and said “The publisher [Elsevier] had been the target of a boycott among academics…”

Then yesterday the Washington Times published an article titled Scientists Protest Cost of Research Journals that links the backlash of epic proportions by academics against Elsevier with Elsevier’s succumbing to pulling the plug on the Research Works Act.

So where does this leave open access, publishing and current legislation? For one thing, academics have united and are pushing back on existing publishing models which require the public to “pay twice” for access to federally funded research (i.e. taxpayers funding the research being conducted and then paying again to access the resulting peer-reviewed journal articles). For another, with the Research Works Act essentially abandoned, the path is clear to focus our energy on moving positive legislation that would expand access to federally funded research (paid by taxpayers, us!).

As luck would have it the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) of 2012  (S. 2096, H.R. 4004) was recently introduced in both the Senate and the House and enjoys bipartisan support.    In a recent blog post heralding FRPAA’s introduction, I pointed out that its passage would be a big step in the right direction by expanding the amount of research made available and providing access to it without additional charges to us, the taxpayers — in step with what Reps. Issa and Maloney say the American people deserve.

The ALA has a strong history of support for FRPAA legislation — as it builds on the success of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy implemented in 2008.  In addition, the ALA and ACRL also joined a recent coalition letter (pdf) thanking FRPAA’s co-sponsors for reintroducing the legislation. ALA members can expect to receive notice of a call to action at key junctures as we work to seek passage of this pro-open access legislation.

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Corey Williams

Corey Williams is a former member of the Washington Office government relations team.

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