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3/9/2009
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Critics Slam Pay-Per-View Research Bill

Proposed law would reverse NIH rule requiring free, online availability of taxpayer-funded science.

Opposition is mounting against a bill that would do away with a rule that articles on some taxpayer-funded research be publicly available on the Internet.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, sponsored a bill in February that would reverse the requirement, which was recently adopted by the National Institutes of Health. NIH announced that researchers using federal tax dollars must put their journal articles in a public repository and allow them to be viewed online for free within a year of publication.

The publishing industry supports Conyers' bill, which would protect journals that require paid subscriptions to read the reports. The bill would protect copyrights, which are held by the journals, not the authors. The publishing industry and other supporters argue that Conyers' bill would also protect ROI.

Last week, several Web sites reported that Conyers received more money from publishing lobbyists than many of his peers and that the bill would ban open publication. The news prompted increased opposition and calls for Conyers to withdraw H.R. 801.

Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford Law School professor and founder of the Center for Internet and Society, is among those leading the opposition. He called the bill an "awful idea."

"Conyers' proposal would require that after the American taxpayer has paid for the research, the American taxpayer must pay publishers to get access to the product of the research," Lessig said in a blog post last week.

Lessig wrote the post soon after MAPLight released a report saying that the NIH mandate that Conyers wants to overturn has increased transparency and accessibility to journal articles and research manuscripts.

The nonprofit group that puts out the database said it analyzed campaign contributions and found that the bill's sponsors on the House Committee on the Judiciary received twice as much in contributions ($5,150) during the last two years as members of the committee that didn't support the bill.

Opponents of the legislation, including Lessig, say it illustrates the case for campaign finance reform.

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