Monday, 9 January 2012

SOPA and the AAP: Dumb and Dumber? Publishers seek to crush open access in US Congress

Happy New Year all; and if you'll indulge me I'd like to share some personal opinion on some rather troubling news to come across the pond.

As we all sidle into a new year, over in the States it seems that the season of goodwill to all men has faded faster than ever.  As you can't help to have seen in the last week or so that once again publishers in the body of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) are rattling their sabres and doing their level best to get the US Congress to push through the SOPA bill.  Bringing with it some of the worst aspects of our own lamentable Digital Economy Act 2010, SOPA seeks to strengthen copyright in such a way that will (at worst) do pretty awful things to the Internet; along the way scuppering open access to publicly funded research.

Hopefully you all had a chance to read the AAP's Christmas present "Publishers Applaud Research Works Act, Bipartisan Legislation To End Government Mandates on Private-Sector Scholarly Publishing"; and personally I'm thankful I avoid reading it to the new year, lest I have choked on my turkey with bitter disgust.  As a (kinda) librarian I think the particular phrase that stuck in my craw was the following:

Journal articles are widely available in major academic centers, public libraries, universities, interlibrary loan programs and online databases. Many academic, professional and business organizations provide staffs and members with access to such content.
That is if you can afford their vastly inflated prices of course and I would be shocked to discover any public libraries in the UK whom had the fiscal ability to purchase research journals for their readers.  On top of this once again we see the private sector, on whom so much of our economy hangs, ignored.  They don't buy journals for the most part and rely heavily on open access repositories like those you and I run to provide access to the publicly funded research our taxes pay for. 

And a Happy New Year to you too Elsevier!

Publishers it seems seem to think we live in a dream pre-internet world, where the exchange of publications could be tightly controlled through subscriptions and licensed interlending.  Repositories have actually respected the rights base of publishers for many years, seeking only to archive and share where permitted.  One can almost sense that if this bill was to become law that open access advocates would push harder than ever for academics to disregard copyright law and start freely sharing and making available articles; not in controlled institutional repositories but on file sharing sites like the Pirate Bay.  Let's see how long they would be able to defend their old world economic model then.

I am naturally, not advocating the above, but it doesn't take a large suspension of disbelief to see the scholastic publishing world going down this route.  Do we really want anarchy in the OA?  Many of the academic evangelists of open access would probably be delighted to see such a move, as they feel that those of us in the repository community cleave too closely to respecting traditional understandings of author and publisher rights. 

My initial title to this post is sadly unprintable and doubtless those of us working to unlock the IP created by our scholars in open access can only roll our eyes in horror as yet another road block seems to be placed in our way.  It does rather raise the spectre of a similar bill being brought to bear in our own Mother of All Parliaments as I'm sure we've all heard from various publishers just how important they are to the UK economy; forgetting as usual that HE and the research conducted within it is actually worth far more.

Thankfully for those of you looking for a far more knowledgeable, less irascible and more detailed debate on the subject will find that other correspondents have written some eloquent demolitions of the bill and in particular the lamentable support that publishers seem to be throwing behind it. 

Every one of you needs to make sure that you bring this potential bill and the moves by publishers to tighten their stranglehold on the intellectual publication market to the attention of the movers and shakers in your own organisation.  The academics, the ProVCs for research and if you've got the metal the VCs as well.  You might also bring it to the attention of your serials and periodical librairans, especially those with links to publisher backed bodies like UKSG. 

Frankly it's time we stopped letting the publishers have their own ways in this arena!

As an organisation UKCoRR's voice may not be overly loud (yet), but we try hard for our members!  Certainly we lack the multimillions and billions of the publishing corproations and their lobbying potential, but that doesn't mean we can't all make a noise.  Publishers might not listen to those of use in supporting services but they need to listen to researchers; without whom they wouldn't have a publication to stand on.

But as always UKCoRR members, the Committee welcome your take on this!

UKCoRR: Opposes the SOPA and the APP's Position
(And now my offical hat back on)

UKCoRR's not in the habit of making policy statements; which is perhaps something that will have to change this year (and a topic for debate at the January meeting) but I can say that with the full support of the Commitee and as the Chair of this organisation I have no hesitation in stating that UKCoRR is firmly in opposition to SOPA and the AAP's position with respect to it.


  1. If "UKCoRR's voice may not be overly loud (yet)" then I'm glad to see Gareth trying to make it louder. But I have some concerns in this case. Does this post confuse SOPA and RWA? They seem to be referred to interchangeably, connected by AAP. Gareth concludes by committing UKCoRR to oppose SOPA, but not RWA.

    More pertinently, since this is the voice of UK repositories, what can repositories do beyond oppose SOPA and RWA (presumably both)? There are implications in the proposed legislation that are hugely negative for repositories, of course, but there is also a need to guard against instinctive reactions - anti-publisher inevitably but with e.g. calls to abandon library journal subscriptions ( - that are also ultimately antithetical to repositories.

    In promoting and protecting the role of repositories in this highly-charged atmosphere, UKCoRR should also consider carefully the wider effects of the proposals with reference to the interdependencies of green open access on which they depend.

    Oppose the proposed legislation for the detriment it seeks to introduce and lay open the indefensible complicity of the publishers who support it, without defusing that message by invoking old enmities.

  2. Any chance of proper social media sharing buttons at the bottom of this blog Gaz!? Feel free to delete my comment

  3. Hi John - it's a fine idea and one that Paul S is working on as our Web and Publicity Officer (suspect it might just be a button to switch on in the widgets, but I'm more aux fait with WordPress config myself). I'll nudge him to remind him all the same! G

  4. Hi Steve - and thanks for the comments, I keep thinking "Small but Mighty" for UKCoRR; given the influence and vocal range of our members. I will confess reading around this subject I might have conflated SOPA/RWA - perhaps I come down on being having the issue muddied by the AAP. But yes, I agree that UKCoRR is opposed to both, perhaps RWA all the more.