This Year’s Anti-Open Access Bill is Dead; Though The Manner of Its Death is Interesting

The Research Works Act, H.R. 3699, was introduced in December with little fanfare.  The bill would roll back the National Institutes of Health public access policy.  When the bill grabbed attention beyond the usual suspects in January, that was novel, more novel than the introduction of bills to expand the NIH public access policy to other federal agencies.  I figured the Research Works Act would meet the fate of similar legislation (both for expanding federal access and for restricting it) over the last few years.  It would go nowhere.  News reports yesterday indicated that would be the bill’s fate.

The Research Works Act is indeed dead, based on this statement of the bill’s two main sponsors, who state they “will not be taking legislative action” on the bill.  Representatives Maloney and Issa indicate they plan to continue following the issue of open access and balancing the interests in public access to federally funded research with the intellectual property rights asserted over scientific publications.

What’s different this time is not that an anti-open access bill didn’t get anywhere.  Open access bills (both pro and con) have not advanced in Congress since the bill that codified the NIH public access policy.  But we now have members of Congress who supported the bill pointedly walking away from it.  Sure, they aren’t racing to support the latest bill to expand open access.  But it will likely be harder to find supporters for a different edition of the Research Works Act in the next Congress.

What’s next?  I still see little progress on the legislative front, as it remains much easier to oppose than to enact.  The Office of Science and Technology Policy finished a public comment period on open access, and the National Science and Technology Council may have something to say about this issue in the next few months.  While I don’t know what direction the Executive Branch may push this open access tussle, perhaps the effort won’t look so Sisyphean, at least for a while.