March 5, 2009

American People: Please Oppose H.R. 801!

by Nick Montfort · , 10:01 am

We’ve had some sometimes heated discussions on here about open access and academic publications.

Now, here in the U.S., Representative John Conyers (D-MI) has revived a bill that would reverse the NIH open access policy and ban other federal agencies from adopting similar policies. (There’s a longer, more detailed analysis of this H.R. 801, the Fair Copyright in Research Work Act, online, too.) It’s a real disappointment to me to see backtracking on one of the few areas where academics have been doing something really new and of social impact, making use of the Internet to better share our work. If you feel the same way, please write your representative about it. Of course, you can write if you feel differently, too, and in any case you can tell us why you stand where you do, by sharing your letter here or by leaving some other comment.

Here’s what I wrote to my representative:

To the Honorable Michael E. Capuano:

I’m writing to express my opposition to H.R. 801, the Fair Copyright in Research Act, and to ask you to please oppose it as well.

In my work as a teacher, researcher, and writer on the faculty of MIT, open access has been a great help and a principle I fully support — by reviewing for open access journals, preferring to submit my work to them, and using what they provide in classes and research discussions.

In these difficult financial times for universities (and the rest of the country), one bright spot is that we have managed to make more of our writing and reports available to anyone who can get online, regardless of whether those readers are at a top institution that subscribes or at a university or college at all, regardless of ability to pay or to travel to particular buildings.

I am not sure exactly how the paper-and-subscription-based academic publishing industry will change in the coming years, but I am sure that editors and others in that industry who have important skills will be able to continue using them to advance the dissemination of knowledge, whatever transition happens. And, I am sure that trying to keep this industry in its current state by restricting the flow of information, by thwarting our ability to learn and research, will be devastating for our universities and our country.

For the sake of my colleagues at MIT and other universities, and in the interest of the free exchange of scholarly work, research information, and other important results, I hope you will stand against this bill.

Nick Montfort