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Apparently, the Open Access movement is falling behind and needs better 'Government Relations'. Today, everyone has their "Vice President for Government Relations" or some other office like that: Universities (e.g., University of Colorado, UM, Rice, the UC system, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Washington State, University of Minnesota, Columbia, Carnegie Mellon, only to name a few), professors (via AAUP) and of course, the scholarly publishing industry, for example Elsevier's Angelika Lex, "Vice President for Academic and Government Relations".

These kinds of relations to governments are important for the commercial publishers of academic research. Without such relations, their highly profitable business would probably already have collapsed. Or how could one otherwise explain that a business which relies exclusively on tax-funds is thriving with record profits in times like these? Elsevier alone made over US$1b in adjusted operating profits in 2010 (slide 27). After all, they receive our manuscripts for free, then we review it for them for free, after peer-review, we pay their page charges and when our work is published, we pay again for their subscriptions, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars/euros per year per journal. Thus, our largely taxpayer-funded salaries pay for the time we spend researching and writing and submitting and reviewing. Our largely tax-payer funded grants pay for the page charges and our largely taxpayer funded libraries pay for their subscription fees. Given that these publishers add absolutely zero value to our work, besides some bandwidth and storage, one really has to wonder why the tax-payer is still allowing Elsevier' shareholders to pocket a billion every year.

These past few days, we've seen a rare glimpse into how these publishers secure their profits. Not only do they invest in full-time employees whose sole purpose it is to lobby governments into preventing Open Access. They also buy access to elected members of parliaments (see here for some more data). I've wondered yesterday already, if it was coincidence, that the anti-OA bill that was sponsored by the representative that Elsevier donated to, comes just around the same time that the White House OSTP extended their deadline for their RFIs on Open Access to January 12, because only the publishers had provided their perspective until the first deadline. Is the 'Research Works Act' HR3699 a distraction to prevent a massive influence of scientists on the OSTP RFIs? For all the background you might want to get on tis new piece of legislation see this collection of links by John Dupuis.

Clearly, the publishers are doing what they can to stop the tax-payers from realizing how badly they're being milked. Already in 2007 they launched an anti-OS campaign, PRISM, which failed miserably due to a massive backlash from the public.
Compare the language of the proposed RWA legislation:
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.

With the language of the answer that the Publisher of the Ecological Society of America for the 'Requests for Information' (RFI) from the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on public access to publicly funded research.:
Government mandates for publishers to make their work available online without compensation will endanger the U.S. scholarly publishing system.
or the statement on the PRISM website:
PRISM expresses concerns about the unintended consequences of unfunded government mandates and mandatory one-size-fits-all policies that underestimate the complexities and differing needs of the scientific community and scientific journals. They mean the same Open Access mandates as above
or how Tom Reller, Vice President and Head of Global Corporate Relations of Elsevier supports RWA:
But while the government may fund the research, it does not fund the peer review process, editing, or publication of these private-sector information products. Elsevier and other commercial and non-profit publishers invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year in managing the publication of journal articles. Government mandates that require private-sector information products to be made freely available undermine the industry’s ability to recoup these investments.
Needless to say, Elsevier also supports SOPA.

Obviously, what the publishing industry is doing is hardly worth calling "investment" if even its supporters claim they only invest a fraction of their operating profits (see above). A few hundred million in "investments" doesn't seem like they'll accomplish a lot for such a large enterprise. It's probably what they mean to express that they must buy new servers every now and then, too.

Given this continuity in their efforts to block Open Access, it is not entirely unrealistic to expect the industry to oppose OA on multiple levels at the same time and wage war by attacking OA in a two-pronged approach on two fronts simultaneously: both by supporting RWA and by providing many industry-friendly answers to the OSTP RFIs. Given the attention RWA has gotten, maybe we will be able to block this legislation, but have enough of OA supporters sent in their answers to the OSTP RFIs? Is the RWA bill also intended as a convenient distraction from the OSTP RFIs? Are we capable of defeating the commercial publishers on two fronts at once?


What can Open Access supporters do?
  1. Contact the representatives sponsoring the RWA bill, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and tell them that the bill is a bad idea and why.
  2. Answer the RFIs of the White House OSTP
  3. Contact the Government Relations Office of your university to do the two above.

Oh, and just in case you think the scholarly publishing industry deserves a break for their continued efforts to somehow wiggle themselves around the fact that they've become obsolete, there's a very fitting passage in "Life-Line", a short story by American author Robert A. Heinlein. Published in 1939 (HT pmr):
There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.
See also this excellent satire on the matter.
Posted on Sunday 08 January 2012 - 19:48:40 comment: 0
open access   rwa   OSTP   RFI   

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