Former Register of Copyrights Says NIH Public Access Policy Will "Destroy the Commercial Market" for "Scientific, Technical, and Medical Journals"

In testimony yesterday before the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property of the House of Representatives' Committee on the Judiciary, Ralph Oman, former Register of Copyrights of the United States and Pavel Professorial Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law Fellow at the George Washington University Law School, said that the NIH Public Access Policy will "destroy the commercial market" for "scientific, technical, and medical journals."

Here's an excerpt from Oman's testimony:

My basic concern about the NIH proposal is that it will, sooner rather than later, destroy the commercial market for these scientific, technical, and medical journals. If this dark prophesy comes to pass, who, I wonder, will handle all of these expensive and sensitive administrative details? Some of my academic colleagues are confident that this change in the mechanics of scientific publishing will have little or no impact on the private sector, and that it will remain as robust as ever, even if the NIH freely publishes all of the NIH peer-reviewed article manuscripts shortly after private publication. Some claim that they have "evidence" that STM publishing will continue to flourish. I have not seen that evidence. To me, it suggests an element of wishful thinking. In my experience, Congress is normally reluctant to hang major legislative change in copyright policy on the thin reed of wishful thinking. With the prospect of free copies available in the near term, who in the face of experience and reality can reasonably expect that subscribers to STM journals, faced with their own budgetary constraints and needs, will not look with real favor on alternative free sources? I can’t. It is belied by common sense. Certainly, many university and industry librarians will cancel their subscriptions to these learned journals, with some estimates of a cancellation rate approaching 50 percent. With plummeting sales, how could the STM publishers stay in business? This is a critical point, and one that this committee has a special sensitivity to. It really goes to the heart of the matter, in terms of public policy.

Dr. Martin Frank, Executive Director American Physiological Society, was also critical of the policy.

Here's an excerpt from Frank's testimony:

Because the NIH mandate in effect reduces copyright protection for publications to only one year, it risks undermining the revenue stream derived principally from subscriptions, that enables publishers to add value to research articles and to enhance readers’ ability to discover and use scientists’ work. As the number of full-text articles based upon NIH-funded science in PMC increases, concern grows that current journal subscribers will access the text from that website, rather than from the journal’s own online site. Over time, this is bound to cause subscription cancellations. If publication costs cannot be recovered through subscriptions, journals will try to recover them through author fees or similar mechanisms that would reduce funds available for research by amounts much greater than the cost of subscriptions. We are gravely concerned that the funding base of some journals may become eroded to the point where they can no longer adequately serve their communities and will be forced to implement or increase their authors' fees at a time when funding levels are shrinking. In both cases, researchers are disadvantaged—in one case by having less freedom to choose where to publish, or what community to reach, and in the other, failing to have adequate resources to fund research designed to develop treatments and cures for disease.

Here are links to testimony from the "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act" hearing:

Read more about it and related news at: "Congressional Committee Moves to Block NIH Public Access Policy," "At Hearing, Witness Says NIH Policy Will 'Destroy' Commercial Scientific Publishing," "More on Attempts to Undo the NIH Policy," "New Bill Would Forbid Copyright Transfer as a Condition for Federal Funding," and "Two Public Statements from the Anti-OA Lobby."

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