Friday’s good news

Last Friday was a day of both good news and bad news for higher education on the copyright front.

On the plus side, on Friday we learned that the House of Representatives passed, late Thursday night, a Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill that included language to make the public access policy for the National Institute of Health mandatory. What this means is that the published results of research funded by NIH grant monies would have to be made available to the public, whose tax dollars paid for the research, within one year of publication. The NIH offers the PubMed Central database for this purpose, and a small amount of research (compared to the total amount funded) has been made available under a voluntary program for the past three years. A mandatory policy will vastly increase public access to vital health information; the 12 month delay would ensure that subscriptions to the journals that publish these original articles would not be endangered.

This was only a small provision in a huge appropriations bill, but it is the first time a full branch of Congress has endorsed the principle of public access. Publishers lobbied hard against the change, for reasons that are hard to fathom (note — here is an article in which several representatives of the content industry express the reasons for their opposition), but Congress specifically passed over the opportunity to amend this provision. A similar bill, with the open access proviso, will soon be considered in the Senate. President Bush has threatened to veto the Appropriations bill because of disagreement over the amount of spending — not because of the public access rule — so it may be sometime before this mandate goes into effect. Nevertheless, a very significant first hurdle has been successfully cleared.

See a news release from the Alliance for Taxpayer Access here.

Our next post will discuss Friday’s bad news.