Who Owns Government-Funded Research Papers? - Miller-McCune
The Research Works Act would prevent publicly funded research from automatically being available to the public for free. Private publishers back the bill, while open-access partisans are appalled.
Who owns publicly funded research — and the knowledge that comes from it? Is it the researchers themselves? The taxpayers who make their work possible? The community of academics who volunteer to peer review it? Or the academic journals that package and distribute all of this under respected titles?
Maybe this sounds like inside baseball within the already too-insular world of academia. After all, is the public really clamoring to access the contents of the Journal of Diagnostic Medical Sonography? But there is a big question at play here as the U.S. Congress considers a bill called the Research Works Act.
The bill would essentially outlaw a National Institutes of Health policy that makes every piece of published research funded by NIH grants freely available to the public. Some publishers of academic journals aren’t fond of this idea, arguing it steps on their private-sector business model. (And Miller-McCune, we should note, is the beneficiary of some of that money since academic powerhouse SAGE Publications is our primary donor.)
Supporters of NIH counter that hiding federally funded research behind private pay walls forces the public to pay twice for the same good: on the front end when they fund research with tax dollars, and again on the back end when academic journals charge to access the results.
The NIH funds about half of all federally funded research, or roughly $30 billion worth of it each year, and so its efforts on this front have long been a source of optimism, or controversy. Previous NIH director Harold Varmus first proposed creating such a public database in the late 1990s, and journal publishers not surprisingly threatened to sue for copyright violation.