FPRAA takes Center Stage at Congressional Hearing

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Open access issues are clearly on the minds of U.S. lawmakers. Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight conducted a hearing on the topic “Examining Public Access and Scholarly Publication Interests.” The hearing was designed to generate information regarding open access in general, but quickly turned into a discussion of the recently-reintroduced Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA).
 
Committee Chairman, Paul Broun (R-GA), opened the hearing with the assertion that open access to federally funded research is necessary, but noted that questions remain regarding the best approach. 
 
The hearing also featured testimonies from two members of scholarly societies – Fred Dylla (the American Institute of Physics), and Crispin Taylor (the American Society of Plant Biologists) who expressed concerns with various components of FRPAA. They argued that the current system is working well, and worried that their societies’ - which are currently funded almost entirely from revenue from subscription based publications - would see a significant decrease in revenue if FRPAA were to be enacted.
 
Both also expressed that they felt that Congress had already adequately addressed the question of public access to federally funded research through Section 103 of the America Competes Act, which does not establish any actual public access policies, but rather called for an Interagency Working Group to discuss priorities for federal agencies considering such policies.
 
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, (D-CA), noting that the NIH Public Access has now been in place for nearly four years, challenged the publishers assertions that they would be financially harmed by FPRAA, and asked if any data demonstrating financial harm to publishers could be presented by any of the panelists. None was provided. 
 
By contrast, Elliot Maxwell, Project Director for the Digital Connections Council of the Committee for Economic Development, testified that move towards open access to federally funded research would lead to the acceleration of scientific progress, and generate economic growth. He framed his testimony on his recent report “The Future of Taxpayer Funded Research: Who Will Control Access to the Results?” which examines the impacts of the NIH Public Access Policy. 
 
The report, which shows no persuasive evidence of damages to the STM publishers, outlines the clear and calculable public benefits to taxpayer-paid research that far outweighs any negatives. 
 
Dr. Stuart Shieber, Director of the Office for Scholarly Communication at Harvard University, argued that open access to research is an intrinsic public good. He quoted Thomas Jefferson, noting “the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people.”
 
Shieber suggested that traditional publishing market is a dysfunctional one - library budgets for serials continue to shrink while journal profit margins increase. He spoke to the growing body of research demonstrating the economic growth occurs from increased innovations from openly accessible research. He discussed several forward-thinking open access publishing models, and focused on the need for policies that facilitate full utility of digital information in order to enable scholarship and research.  
 
Rep. Lofgren supported this assertion, presenting a letter supporting Open Access in general and FRPAA in specific, signed by 52 Nobel Laureates to be submitted for the record
 
During the lively Q&A session, Rep. Lofgren spoke to the need for a different model. She asserted the current scholarly publishing model where authors receive no pay for their works cannot be sustained, and that it is, in fact, “on life support.” She expressed her support for FRPAA, noting that this particular legislation would help enable the proper mandates needed for open access. 
 
SPARC, along with six leading National and regional Library organizations, submitted a statement in support of FRPAA for the Congressional record.
 
With interest in public access - and FRPAA - running high, we'll keep you posted on any additional upcoming activity.
 

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