Last week a member of the U.S. Congress introduced a bill directed at the debate over whether electronic scientific journals should be freely accessible. The bill would prevent private publishers from controlling information by denying copyright protection to work produced with “substantial” government funding.
Some researchers and academic librarians complain that the public pays twice for science--once when the government funds a study and again when universities use public funds to buy journals that publish the results. Some open-access advocates welcome the bill as a means to improve the flow of scholarly information. Others doubt the proposal would enhance access, adding that it could harm researchers' ability to control use of their own work and profit from inventions. "It probably goes too far," says chemist Stephen Berry of the University of Chicago, who has backed efforts to put more science in the public domain.
The legislation, introduced 26 June by Representative Martin Sabo (D-MN), would bar copyright protection for "any work produced pursuant to scientific research substantially funded by the federal government." It aims to put taxpayer-backed papers, databases, images, and other research products into the public domain. That rule already applies to work produced by scientists who are federal employees.
But denying researchers or scientific journals copyright protection would mean that "anyone could pick up [the work] and use it," says Gerald Barnett, intellectual property chief at the University of California, Santa Cruz. And university officials say that the change would dampen industry interest in certain research products--such as software and Web sites--that are currently protected by copyrights. Lita Nelson, head of technology transfer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the proposal “may be well-intentioned, but it's off the mark.”
Sabo's statement introducing the bill