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Excerpts from Library Journal Academic News Wire: July 01, 2003  Peter Suber
 Jul 03, 2003 09:09 PDT 

Library Journal Academic Newswire (TM)
July 1, 2003


For years the academic library community has fought what it has called a
serials crisis in STM publishing, slowly making headway in pushing the
public's interests vs. the interests of commercial publishers. Those
efforts now appear not only to have taken root, but bloomed. This week a
national campaign will shift into gear, breaking the STM issue out of
library conferences and professional literature and onto popular
television. A TV commercial, funded by the Public Library of Science
(PLoS), touting free access to publicly funded research, will run during
episodes of popular programs such as THE SIMPSONS and DAVID LETTERMAN. But
more importantly, the issue will also find itself getting a hearing in
Congress. This week Rep. Martin Sabo, (D-Minn.) introduced the Public
Access to Science Act, a bill that would forbid the copyrighting of
scientific research supported by federal tax dollars. For years librarians
have complained about the scholarly publishing system: federal money
supports research at our nation's institutions, with that research handed
over, essentially for free, to publishers, to be sold back to those
institutions at a tremendous mark-up, draining library budgets and reducing

"If the public were more conscious of these problems, there would be
tremendous pressure for change." said Michael Eisen, a co-founder of PLoS.
"It's a scandal that anyone is denied free access to the results of
research paid for by their tax dollars." The PLoS's campaign is linked to
the October launch of PLOS BIOLOGY, a new peer-reviewed scientific journal
that will offer free access to its contents. The first advertisement, which
was on view at the recent ALA conference at the Association of Research
Libraries' booth, is a hilarious 30-second clip. It states "In the year
2003 the Public Library of Science made it possible for people all over the
world to have access to the latest scientific discoveries." It features a
man leaving his house for work, but rather than getting into his car, he
simply flies. The ad ends with the PLoS mantra: (knowledge) x (access) =
Progress. The campaign is a welcome voice for librarians. "The PloS is
really running with the ball," said Rick Johnson, who as enterprise
director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition
(SPARC), has worked for five years to fix a "decaying" system of STM
publishing. Johnson said SPARC will now "leverage the work," of the PLoS,
through its advocacy networks. "We'll prepare librarians to talk about
these issues. A bunch of pieces are starting to come together. The PLoS is
a big part of it. We'll use their visibility." To view the PLoS ad, visit:

It will be a long, tough fight, say experts, but the first shot in Congress
has been fired, and if proponents have their way, open access to
publicly-funded research could be more than just an interesting idea--it
could be the law. Last Thursday Congressman Martin Sabo (D-Minn) introduced
the Public Access to Science Act (PASA), which would require that research
"substantially funded" by the public would not be available for copyright
protection and would enter directly into the public domain. "It defies
logic," said Sabo in introducing the bill, "to collectively pay for our
medical research only to privatize its profitability and availability."
Sabo estimate that the U.S. government spends $45 billion a year to fund
research and that through the Internet such research could be disseminated
to improve the lives of people around the world. "We must remember that
government funded research belongs to and should be made readily available
to every person in the United States." The bill was received warmly by
librarians, but SPARC enterprise director Rick Johnson was cautious in his
assessment. "I think the legislation is a first step in the discussion," he
said. "I don't understimate the work that lies ahead. But this is exactly
what we need to bust out of the box." Johnson credits the Public Library of
Science for its efforts.

Johnson has good reason to be cautious. The text of the Sabo bill is
remarkably brief, the language succinct, but the practical issues it
addresses are complex and immense. While the bill's aim certainly seems
logical, there are myriad questions as to what the future of STM publishing
would look like if research were not available for copyright protection.
Who would support publication? If not the market, then government? Is
government, susceptible to volatile funding issues, the best entity to
innovate, disseminate, and preserve research? And finally, does Congress
even have the legal right to deny a creator copyright protection, which
creators are entitled to under the Constitution? Perhaps most formidable,
of course, lobbyists for STM publishers are well-entrenched and well-
funded in Washington. Given the current legislative climate, it would seem
not too difficult for opponents to simply block the PASA from reaching a
critical mass in Congress. Nevertheless, Johnson points to the legislation
as solid evidence that change is imminent. "The benefits of change are so
compelling I think its ultimately inevitable."


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Journal. "Library Journal" is a registered trademark. "Library Journal
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