2013 in Review: Positive Developments in the Fight to Open Access to Research

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As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2013 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy. Click here to read other blog posts in this series.

2013 has been a hot year for the movement to democratize publicly funded research. Legislation was introduced in Congress, and the White House issued a directive in support of making the results of billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded research freely available online. Some universities have started their own open access initiatives, and three states have proposed good legislation—one of which, in Illinois, became law. oa-logo.png

The traditional publishing industry is fighting back. They have offered their own "fixes" to the problem of closed access—most notably CHORUS, a journal article database controlled by the publishers themselves. Meanwhile, subscription prices continue to rise, forcing university libraries to pick and choose between journal subscriptions, and creating or reinforcing unnecessary barriers to cutting-edge research—much of which is publicly funded.

Two bills—one good, one bad—relating to open access were introduced in Congress this year. The good bill, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), is step in the right direction. If passed, a great majority of federally funded research would be widely available no more than six months after it was originally published. We urge everyone to sign and share the petition in support of FASTR today.

The other bill that addresses open access this year, the FIRST Act of 2013, is bad news. The bill supposedly promotes open access, but the proponents’ idea of “open access” is absurd. The legislation proposes that research funded by taxpayers can live behind a paywall for up to three years. The public shouldn’t have to wait three years to access the results of the science we make possible.

Meanwhile, the White House has come out in favor of more robust public access policy, requiring federal agencies to create plans to ensure the public can read and analyze their work, without charge. We look forward to reading and commenting on what agencies submitted in response to this directive in 2014.

But the action isn’t all inside the Beltway. California, Illinois, and New York have all introduced promising state-level open access bills in 2013. Several universities are instituting their own open access initiatives. For example, the University of California system adopted a policy that will make academic research freely available in an open digital repository. And the University of Iowa has created a fund to help cover the costs of open access publishing.

To close the year, be sure to add your name to our growing list of supporters petitioning Congress to pass FASTR. And stay tuned as we continue to fight for the right to read, analyze, and build on top of the academic research that we–the public–bankroll with our tax dollars.

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