Access to Federally Funded Research Back to Congress

By Pike, George H. | Information Today, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Access to Federally Funded Research Back to Congress


Pike, George H., Information Today


The federal budget proposal for fiscal year 2009 included more than $147 billion of government spending on research and development. A significant portion of those funds will be allocated to academic and research institutions to fund basic and applied research in a variety of disciplines including aerospace, biotechnology, healthcare, energy development, environmental protection, communications, and internet technology. The funding usually takes the form of research grants to universities and university-based researchers.

However, a battle is looming in Congress over the product of these research grants. In many cases, the end result of government-funded basic research is the publication of research results in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. The peer-review process helps to assure the integrity of the research process. But criticism has ensued over the process of publishing these research papers in journals that are often high-priced with limited availability. With tax money being the source of the research funding, the argument goes that the public should have full access to the results.

Federal Research Public Access Act

In June, Sens. Joseph Lieberman, Ind.-Conn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the Federal Research Public Access Act (S. 1373). This proposal would require that all federal agencies that provide more than $100 million for external research implement procedures to have electronic versions of research papers published in publicly accessible databases. Yet Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., introduced a contrasting bill into the House earlier in the year: The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (H.B. 801) would prohibit federal agencies from requiring research papers to be published in publicly accessible databases.

This is not a new battle in Congress; both bills had been offered in previous Congresses. However, the issue has taken on new urgency in light of the growing open access (OA) movement for scholarly publishing. In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) implemented a policy requiring that final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts from research that it funded be published in PubMed Central.

Section 105

The issue has its political and policy genesis in the notion that government information should be freely available to the taxpayers. This notion has long been embodied in copyright law by Section 105 of the Copyright Act, which provides that copyright protection is "not available for any work of the United States Government."

Section 105 has its limits, however. The law applies only to works that are created by government employees during the scope of their duties. Works that are created by nongovernment employees (even if that work is published in a government document) may be protected by copyright; works that are funded by the government but created by nongovernment employees are not covered by Section 105.

In 2003, a proposal was introduced in Congress that would have expanded Section 105 to exclude any work "pursuant to scientific research substantially funded by the Federal Government" from copyright. Although the proposal never moved beyond the committee stage, it initiated a policy discussion about public access to government-funded research.

Increasing Costs

One of the issues in that discussion was the increasing cost of the scientific, technical, and medical journals that published these materials. Access to these journals also become more restrictive as universities and libraries discontinued purchasing print resources that were physically accessible by patrons in favor of electronic access, which was often restricted to university faculty and students. …

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Access to Federally Funded Research Back to Congress
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