Congress opens door to US open access

A bill has been introduced into the United States Congress that would require most papers describing publicly-funded research to be made open access within six months of publication.

February 19, 2013

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act, introduced into both houses of Congress on Thursday, would halve the current 12-month maximum embargo required by the National Institutes of Health, and extend open access mandates to all funding agencies with annual budgets of more than $100 million.

The move would also bring US embargo limits for repository-based “green” open access into line with those required for science papers in Research Councils UK’s new open access policy, due to come into force on 1 April. However, RCUK recently announced that it will tolerate embargoes of 12 months (and 24 months for non-science papers) during an initial five-year “transition period”.

The US bill also differs from UK policy in neglecting to state a preference for gold open access, whereby journals provide immediate open access to papers, sometimes for a fee. UK universities have complained that this will require them to pay both to publish their own research and, via subscriptions, to read research from abroad.

The UK science minister, David Willetts, recently told the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into open access that he hoped a “clear position” from the UK government would influence foreign governments, including that of the US. He added that, in his view, “there is a pretty clear trend in both the [European Union] and the US to move in the same kind of direction [as the UK]”.

The White House’s views on open access remain unclear since it has still not made any public statement despite the success of a petition posted on its website last year, which attracted the 25,000 signatures required to compel a response.

Three previous open access bills introduced into the US Congress since 2006 have failed to pass into law.

If the current bill passes, agencies would have up to one year to develop a compliant open access policy.

One of the bill’s three sponsors in the House of Representatives, Republican Kevin Yoder, said: “This legislation is common sense, and promotes more transparency, accountability, and cooperation within the scientific research community.”

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