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Paying once is not enough
By: Scott Bradner
What is it about being in government that makes people think that you and I should pay multiple times for the same thing? I'm not talking about paying many times what something is worth, merely the situation where you pay for something once just to be told that you need to pay again before you can use it. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is the latest purveyor of this concept. He is again trying to require you and me to pay for results of research projects that we paid to run in the first place.
Representative Conyers, along with a few friends, have reintroduced a bill he tried to get passed last year -- "The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act." (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.R.801:) Currently the National Institutes of Health (NIH) currently requires that researchers make research papers that result from government grants and which are published in scholarly journals in publicly available within a year of publishing the paper. This is so that the people who paid for the research, you and me, can read the results of our investment without having to pay for access to a journal. The Conyers bill would make this requirement illegal. Conyers wants us to pay both for the research and then pay again for the results.
This is far from the first time that that some congrescritter wanted the public to pay tribute in order to get something they had already paid for. One previous example was Senator Rick Santorum's attempt to have us all pay twice for weather information. (see Forecasts for double or nothing - http://www.sobco.com/nww/2005/bradner-2005-05-02.html) The problem is not just in congress -- other government groups have the same idea. (see Is ignorance of the law a design goal? - http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2008/100108-bradner.html)
In most cases this desire for double billing comes from one or more companies that would be collecting the money from the second bill. In this case the companies are the ones that publish the scholarly journals. They are not content to just get the results of government funded research for free they also want to keep us from getting the deal they get and, moreover, to charge us for getting what they got for free.
The publishers have put forward a legal smokescreen claiming that their rights are being violated. The smokescreen is well and truly exposed as false by a number of commentators including 46 law professors that wrote Conyers about the bill. (https://mx2.arl.org/Lists/SPARC-OAForum/Message/4592.html)
Conyers seems to have bought into the smokescreen, or at least he seems to be parroting the publishers story. So far Conyers has ignored the law professors telling him that the publisher's legal arguments are bogus. He is also ignoring the comments of 33 Nobel Prize winners who wrote him to say that the bill would hurt US research. (https://mx2.arl.org/Lists/SPARC-OAForum/Message/4572.html)
I thought that the term "representative" referred to the concept of representing the people of your district, or at least, the people in your district that voted for you. The people in his district helped pay for important (and unimportant) medical research and Conyers is trying to make it so they can not see the results of the research unless they pay still more. I find it very hard to see how Conyers's actions can fit into my understanding of what the job of a representative is. I wonder who Conyers is representing if it's not the people of his district.
disclaimer: Harvard provides guidance on the HIH policy and has similar rules in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Law School (http://focus.hms.harvard.edu/2009/030609/publishing.shtml) but I've not seen any university position on who Representative Conyers might be representing so the above question is my own.