It’s been a while since we’ve had a cathartic round of Elsevier bashing in libraryland. Most have come to realize that they are no different from other STM publishers. Nothing like this little bit of news from Wired Magazine to get the ball rolling again.
In a nutshell, two U.S. House members have introduced a bill that would make it illegal for any federal agency to mandate open access policies for research. In other words, the NIH Public Access Policy would be nixed. Clearly publishers are behind this, having already tried once to get such a bill to the floor. This time, the conduit between Elsevier and Washington is clear. The Democratic rep who introduced the bill received no less than 12 contributions from Elsevier executives, only one of whom is an actual constituent. Don’t like it? Write your rep.
What’s particularly interesting to me is the wording of the proposed bill. It reads, in part:
No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that: causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work … (italics mine)
Note that it says publisher without raising the issue of who holds copyright. Many publishers still ask authors to assign the copyright for their articles to the publisher, but some publishers do not, and even if they do, wise authors refuse to sign it over and will in most cases still be published (as SPARC has advocated for years). With this bill, copyright would be taken out of the equation, granting new rights to publishers to prevent authors from making their own choices; put differently, the publishers would receive rights that trump the author’s copyright. Publishers can assert copyright for their form of a published article, i.e.- its particular expression in layout and design, as anyone who uses SHERPA/RoMEO knows, but if the author has not assigned copyright to the publisher, the content in the article remains the author’s to do with as s/he pleases.
Money buys power and influence. We all know that, but read for yourself how noxious this little maneuver is. For anyone attending ALA Midwinter, just remember this when Elsevier and others hand you free stuff, whether a pen, a cocktail, or something more significant. They’re just buying us, too.