Scholarly Societies: It's time to abandon the AAP over The Research Works Act

So, The Research Works Act, H.R. 3699 is a new piece of legislation that is being introduced in the US.

Not surprisingly it's supported by the American Association of Publishers and its Professional and Scholarly Publishing (AAP/PSP).

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. This sector represents tens of thousands of articles which report on, analyze and interpret original research; more than 30,000 U.S. workers; and millions of dollars invested by publishers in staff, editorial, technological, capital and operational funding of independent peer review by specialized experts. North American-based science journal publishers alone account for 45% of all peer-reviewed papers published annually for researchers worldwide.

"The professional and scholarly publishing community thanks Representatives Issa and Maloney for supporting their significant investments that fund innovations and enable the essential peer-review process maintaining the high standards of U.S. scientific research," said Tom Allen, President and CEO, Association of American Publishers.

"America's PSP publishers are making more research information available to more people, through more channels, than ever before in our history. At a time when job retention, U.S. exports, scholarly excellence, scientific integrity and digital copyright protection are all priorities, the Research Works Act ensures the sustainability of this industry."

The Research Works Act will prohibit federal agencies from unauthorized free public dissemination of journal articles that report on research which, to some degree, has been federally-funded but is produced and published by private sector publishers receiving no such funding. It would also prevent non-government authors from being required to agree to such free distribution of these works. Additionally, it would preempt federal agencies' planned funding, development and back-office administration of their own electronic repositories for such works, which would duplicate existing copyright-protected systems and unfairly compete with established university, society and commercial publishers.

This is a rather bald-faced attack on the open access movement, attempting to restrict all kinds of sharing mechanisms and open access publishing ventures. Institutional and disciplinary repositories and open access mandates seem particularly to be the targets. Essentially, it wants to give a free hand to the scholarly publishing establishment.

This is what Peter Suber has to say in a related Google+ thread:

By prohibiting federal agencies from requiring grantees to assent to OA, this bill takes an approach similar to the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (FCRWA), introduced twice by John Conyers. The chief difference I see so far is that FCRWA would have amended US copyright law and RWA would not. But the public-interest objections to both bills are the same.


The AAP/PSP press release in support of the bill> says that the bill's purpose is "To End Government Mandates on Private-Sector Scholarly Publishing" and "prevent[] regulatory interference with private-sector research publishers...." This is the same rhetoric publishers have used for years. As usual, they neglect to say that the NIH policy regulates grantees, not publishers. They neglect to say that NIH-funded authors in effect ask publishers two questions, not one: "Will you publish my article?" and "Will you publish it under these terms?" It's a business proposition that publishers are free to take or leave. Finally, the AAP and PSP neglect to say that 100% of surveyed publishers accommodate the NIH policy, or are willing to take that business proposition>. In fact, we could make a serious case that this counts as publisher consent under Section 2.1 of the bill.

And more. There's quite a bit of coverage of this issue on various sites. You can get more information and commentary from Tim O'Reilly, Rebecca Rosen and Cable Green. They can explain the nuts and bolts better than I can.

This is a long preamble to what my main point is.

The AAP/PSP membership includes many scholarly societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Institute of Physics, Association for Computing Machinery, Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, Inc., Optical Society of America and many others. These societies will certainly have among their vision and mission statements something about advancing the common good, promoting the scholarly work of their membership and scholarship in their fields as a whole.

To my mind, The Research Works Act is directly opposed to those goals.

The AAP/PSP has long reflected a stark divide between the large commercial publishers and the supposedly more noble and altruistic scholarly societies. The divide has now become too wide, the cognitive dissonance for those on the sidelines too jarring.

Scholarly societies -- it is now time for you to walk away. Leave the AAP and chart your own course.


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Why the heck is the American Association for the Advancement of Science part of this? The AAP doesn't represent AAAS at all - it represents a tiny number of full-time staffers who appear to spend most of their time having lunch with lobbyists. We need to make sure Congress knows that these publishers represent only themselves.

It is completely outrageous that Congress - and the lobbyists writing the laws for them - would attempt to outlaw publishing our work in open-access journals. That's what they are trying to do, if you read the text of the legislation. This is a blatant money-grab by the publishers.

Jonathan, I don't know. I wish it would, but I'm not hopeful.

Steven, yes it is. You're absolutely right. And that's why I think the scholarly societies need to realize that they need to align themselves with scholars, and, ultimately what's best for society as a whole. Aligning themselves with the large commercial publishers is just wrongheaded. It probably always has been but it's only in the last 5 years or so that the dissonance between their goals (scholarship vs. profit) has become so jarring.

Well, one little quibble if I may with Steven comment --- AAAS is not exactly the strongest advocate of open access out there --- so I for one am not surprised they are in AAP ...

I think it's a bit odd to ask the scholarly societies to leave the AAP over this. Of course the scholarly societies are the very ones behind this.

Strict ownership of copyright has been the goal of the ACM and the IEEE for years, and they have fought hard all attempts to open that up. (such as threatening authors who make their own publicly-funded papers available online)

Your call for action should be to scholars :

Scholars - your societies are not serving you, or society at large. Leave them, and only publish your work in journals that provide free open access.