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The Research Works Act and What It Really Means

Recently, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Research Works Act (RWA) (H.R. 3699) to "ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector.”  The bill is short, but the reverberations have been swift and strong throughout the research and scholarly publishing community.  The basic question, posed by a Chronicle of Higher Education article is this: “When taxpayers help pay for scholarly research, should those taxpayers get to see the results in the form of free access to the resulting journal articles?”

The bill would stop federal agencies from doing anything that would result in the sharing of privately published research—even if that research is done with taxpayer dollars—unless the publisher of the work first agrees.  The bill also seeks to prohibit federal agencies from including such conditions in their grants in the future.  The bill, in part reads, reads:

No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that--

(1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or

(2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

Opponents of the RWA (including MIT Press, Oxford University Press, University of California Press, library associations, the American Association for the Advancement of Science that publishes Science, the Nature Publishing Group, open science and access advocates, among others) say that if enacted the legislation would terminate policies such as the National Institutes of Health's public-access mandate, which requires that the results of federally supported research be made publicly available via its PubMed Central database within twelve months of publication.  If signed into law, researchers and the public would have to pay for access to these articles.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP), whose members include commercial publishers of research journals such as Elsevier, is a strong supporter of the legislation.  In its statement the AAP says, “The legislation is aimed at preventing regulatory interference with private-sector research publishers in the production, peer review and publication of scientific, medical, technical, humanities, legal and scholarly journal articles.”

Whether the bill will be enacted is unknown, but in 2008, a similar bill that Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced, called the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (H.R. 6845), failed to make it out of committee.

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on this issue.

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