Elsevier, NewsCorp, Facebook, and Yahoo join ignorant attack on open access

Elsevier, NewsCorp, Facebook, and Yahoo are some of the major players in NetChoice, an industry group "promoting convenience, choice, and commerce on the net."

NetChoice has a watch list for bad legislation that it calls iAWFUL (Internet Advocates' Watchlist for Ugly Laws). The latest version of iAWFUL includes the White House OA directive plus the state-level OA bills in California, Illinois, and North Dakota. (Yes, there was a bill in ND, and no, NetChoice doesn't seem to know about the OA bill in NY.)

Insofar as NetChoice has an argument for opposing these OA initiatives, it's a crude bolus of false assertions and assumptions. I haven't seen this kind of motivated distortion since the days of PRISM and the Research Works Act.

1. From NetChoice: "Bills are requiring professional journals to give away their published content if there was any involvement by state employees or any amount of state government funding."

False. Not one of these bills requires journals give away anything. The bills that cover public funding agencies (the Obama directive and the bills in CA, ND, and NY) regulate grantees who receive public funds, not journals or publishers. Grantees must make a certain version of their work OA on a certain timetable. Publishers who don't like that needn't publish their work. BTW, the NIH has required this since 2008, and not a single surveyed publisher, including Elsevier, has refused to publish NIH-funded research as a result; more on this below. 

The bill in IL is in a completely different category, and merely requires Illinois public universities to set up task forces to consider university-level OA policies. The universities needn't adopt policies, and if they do, the policies needn't take any particular form.

2. From NetChoice: "This unfortunately diminishes the employment prospects of in-state professors and threatens in-state businesses that receive any state assistance."

It's hard to know where to start with such an unintelligible, unargued assertion. In-state professors who receive state funds will have their employment prospects enhanced. Getting funded is good for a scholar's career. The access terms attached to the funding don't affect those career prospects, except to enhance them further by boosting citations to the scholar's work. 

In-state businesses likewise: If they apply for funding and receive it, they're better off, not worse off. The bills don't require them to disclose trade secrets. The bills only apply to work published in peer-reviewed journals.

3. From NetChoice: "These proposals set a precedent for state control over creative productions where any government employees played even a minor role.  These bills’ principles could logically extend to assert state copyright over other content coming out of the state’s colleges and universities. For example: [1] Essays, blogs, and comments written by students employed as teaching assistants, [2] A violin professor’s sheet music or audio recordings, [3] Videos where faculty assisted in production or editing, [4] Photographs taken by work-study students, [5] Original artwork created with guidance from college instructors, [6] Software developed by students where professors assisted with debugging."

When a bill is limited to publicly-funded research published in peer-reviewed journals, then it's limited to publicly-funded research published in peer-reviewed journals. It doesn't cover music or artwork or unpublished notes. Yes, the state could in principle change the focus of its research-funding program, but it has a rationale, and a good rationale, for requiring OA to publicly-funded research and not to other categories. NetChoice's lunatic slippery-slope is like arguing that if the state can compel the recipient of a publicly-funded research grant to spend the money on research, then it could in principle compel the recipient to spend it on cheeseburgers and pornography.

4. From NetChoice: "[I]n-state professors and researchers will be disadvantaged relative to their peers at universities across the country. Second, the bills would deny in-state professors the opportunity for high-profile publications in paid journals, decreasing their chances for exposure and career advancement. Finally, the bills make it harder for in-state universities to attract and retain professors and researchers keen to publish their work in paid journals."

The objection seems to assume that those who receive public funds will be disadvantaged somehow, for example, because they will be prohibited from publishing in journals, or in peer-reviewed journals, or in subscription-based peer-reviewed journals. But that's false. Since 2008, the NIH has required green OA for NIH-funded research published in peer-reviewed journals. Instead of prohibiting that kind of publication, the policy is limited to that kind of publication. Some subscription-based journals dislike the policy and lobby against it; and the wealthiest of those, Elsevier, also belongs to NetChoice. But not a single surveyed publisher has refused to publish NIH-funded authors, not even Elsevier. If subscription-based publishers see risks in publishing NIH-funded authors, then without exception they see more benefits than risks. The NIH policy hasn't limited the freedom of NIH-funded researchers in the slightest.

I don't expect NewsCorp, Facebook, and Yahoo to understand the issues surrounding OA to research. But I expect Elsevier to understand them. And I expect any organization publicizing a watch list of bad legislation to read the legislation it criticizes, and summarize it accurately. The members of NetChoice should be ashamed, and supporters of OA, along with supporters of accurate public debate, should push back strongly.

Unfortunately, the FUD is spreading. ComputerWorld just publicized the NetChoice iAWFUL list, further distorting the list's original distortions. For example, NetChoice is merely lazy and oblivious to the distinction between OA through journals and OA through repositories (gold OA and green OA). ComputerWorld positively mixes them up, and suggests that state and federal OA initiatives are gold mandates.

#oa #openaccess #netchoice #fud #elsevier   #newscorp   #facebook #yahoo
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