Open Access Under Threat

The publishing industry is dangerous. Why? Because it is big and rich, but it is also in danger. The publishing industry, like the music industry, and like the commercial proprietary software industry, faces structural reorganization of the markets served and uncertainty in the flow of cash into coffers. So we should not be surprised when we see the industry buying off members of congress to get legislation passed that protects the industry from change that is coming. Change the industry does not want to see.

The most recent event is the reintroduction of a bill in congress that will abrogate the current NIH public access policy. This has been tried before and it is being tried again. From Michael Eisen’s blog:

John Conyers (D-MI) has reintroduced his publisher-backed “Fair Copyright Act” which would effectively end the NIH Public Access Policy by eliminating the government’s right to impose conditions on grants that would give the government the right to distribute works arising from federally funded research.

As many have pointed out, the whole premise of the bill is absurd. Publishers are arguing that the NIH has taken their copyright. But, of course, if that were true, they would already have protection under federal copyright law, and they would be suing the government. Instead, they are pushing legislation that would actually remove the governments right to distribute work it funds, thereby clearly demonstrating that they believe the government’s action is perfectly legal under copyright law.

Please go to Michael’s blog and read the entire entry. Also, the Open Access News Blog has a summary of press and bloggers reactions to this bill. Here.

Comments

  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    February 8, 2009

    One of the things that I do is track a measure of how strongly companies are reacting to the economic downturn (vague, yes, but really not my data to share). The single most “reactive” industry at the moment is publishing. I can’t tell you how much trouble they’re really in, but I can say that they feel threatened like no one else is feeling threatened right now.

  2. #2 Kevin Zelnio
    February 8, 2009

    Here’s another post on it: http://campusentrepreneurship.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/monopoly-rights-to-taxpayer-funded-research/ (my brother comments in it too! Praising PLoS and Science Commons)

  3. #3 The Science Pundit
    February 8, 2009

    The publishing industry is dangerous. Why? Because it is big and rich, but it is also in danger.

    A badger is most dangerous when it’s cornered.

  4. #4 Moopheus
    February 8, 2009

    “Because it is big and rich”

    Bwaa hah hahahh aahhahha

    I’ve spent my entire career in publishing (admittedly mainly trade, not academic, publishing) and those two words don’t really describe the business, less so even now. Most of the “big” publishers are owned by huge media conglomerates, of which book and journal publishing is a small component; publishing is nothing compared to movies, TV, and music. For the money being spent to keep the auto industry alive for a few months, you could buy up the entire industry and flush it down the toilet.

  5. #5 buzz
    February 9, 2009

    Outrageous! I think Conyers has a spit personality brought on by the Bush years. Darrel Issa (R, CA) is listed as a co-sponser of the legislation. I’ve watched this right wing liar in various committee meetings on c-span. My rule of thumb is, if Darrel Issa supports a particular piece of legislation, I probably won’t. I can say with some confidence that my Representative, Keith Ellison, would not support this legislation. I’ll email him, anyway.

  6. #6 Azkyroth
    February 9, 2009

    For the money being spent to keep the auto industry alive for a few months, you could buy up the entire industry and flush it down the toilet.

    Given the bullshit publishers have been trying to pull over Open Access, I’m suddenly intrigued.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2009

    Most of the “big” publishers are owned by huge media conglomerates, of which book and journal publishing is a small component; = big and rich.

    Conglomerates that own chunks of industries don’t say “Oh, that one industry there, that one is smallish and does not make too much money compared to some other ones, so let’s not apply the usual principles of operation in this case…” Although yes, I do like the flush it down the toilet part….

    That is not how they get to be conglomerates.

    I have been “in the publishing industry” my entire professional career as a consumer and more lately an activist. A lot of us have, and we are tired of it.

  8. #8 Lilian Nattel
    February 9, 2009

    It’s true that the publishing companies are owned by big conglomerates and that the book end is a small part of it. The head office of the conglomerate determines a lot of the parameters that the publisher then has to live with, including their budget and how it’s allocated. The individuals who work for the publishing company (in trade fiction–that’s what I know about) are generally nice people who work hard and love books and reading. They aren’t rich. I wish they were. I wish the love of books and reading of books led to great wealth for everyone, or at least great prosperity. I’m all for public access but I’m also for making ends meet–given that I’m a writer. I don’t know how it’s all going to pan out, but I do know that it affects me in a very real way. Timing has just worked out that I’ll be trying to sell my latest novel in this economic climate. In the meantime, we’re tightening our own budget and so are most of our neighbours. There is some good in it. We had the best school break ever just hanging out with our kids. But however the publishing industry reshapes itself, I’m hoping that I can go on writing books and making a living.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2009

    Lilian: Right. But I think the problem here is not with fiction or trade/mass market generally. Those inudstries seem fairly responsive, and nobody is really being excluded from reading a current novel because they don’t work for a major research institution. Academic publishing is a whole other ball of wax.

  10. #10 Moopheus
    February 11, 2009

    “Conglomerates that own chunks of industries don’t say “Oh, that one industry there, that one is smallish and does not make too much money compared to some other ones, so let’s not apply the usual principles of operation in this case…”

    No, what they say is, “that one is smallish and does not make too much money compared to some other ones, so let’s not spend too much money on it. ”

    Believe me, they know how to make you feel like the poor cousin. I’m not saying that certain business practices aren’t bad, I’m just saying that as an industry, publishing is not generally a rich one. Or even a big one.

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