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Federal Research Public Access Act: An Update

On March 5, 2012, a group of 81 scholarly journal publishers sent a letter in strong opposition to the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) (S. 2096 and H.R. 4004) to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  Note that these members are not the sponsors of these bills, but rather the committees to which the bills have been referred.  This legislation would require federal research grantees to make their resulting academic papers freely available no more than six months after publication – a position that many in the higher education community applaud. The bills are the third iteration of FRPAA to have been introduced since 2006; two previous versions failed to make it to a vote.  (See February 9th blog for further background information.)

The letter criticizes these bills for seeking to apply a “one-size-fits-all” deadline of six months before publishers, many of which charge for access to articles, must compete with a free version in a government database.  The position of this coalition is that in many disciplines publishers retain the exclusive right to sell access to the peer-reviewed article for “several years before costs are recovered.”  Among the signatories to the letters was Elsevier, who recently withdrew its support for the Research Works Act (RWA) (H.R. 3699) after facing a mounting boycott threat from outraged scholars.  That action by Elsevier caused the sponsors of the RWA to withdraw it. (See January 27, 2012 blog for additional information.)  Other signatories to FRPAA include the American Chemical Society, the American Mathematical Society, the American Psychological Association, Cambridge University Press, Springer, and John Wiley & Sons.

The 81 signatories’ main points of opposition to FRPAA are:

  • It requires that final manuscripts of researchers’ journal articles that explain, interpret and extensively report the results of federally-funded research — manuscripts which have undergone publishers’ validation, digital enhancement, production, interoperability and distribution processes — be publicly available online, worldwide, no more than six months after publication.
  • The one-size-fits-all six-month deadline for every federal agency that funds research ignores well-known significant differences in how each research discipline discovers and uses individual articles, periods that can last several years before costs are recovered.
  • It limits where government-funded researchers may publish their work.
  • It undermines publishers’ investments in new business models that currently provide unprecedented access for the public to such works for free or at modest cost.
  • At a time when Congress is looking to cut unnecessary expenses in federal government and focus budgets on priorities, FRPAA imposes additional costs on all federal agencies by requiring them to divert critical research funding to the creation and management of new databases, archives and infrastructure to handle dissemination of these articles — functions already being performed by private-sector publishers.

No hearings to date have been scheduled and it is unknown whether or not any further action will be taken.  EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on this legislation.

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