Omnibus spending bill grants free public access to NIH-funded research

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Under the terms of the omnibus spending bill that was legislatively passed in December, scientists receiving grant money from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) now have to submit a final copy of their research papers to the NIH when the papers are accepted for publication in a journal. An NIH database would then post those papers, free to the public, within 12 months after publication, according to the Washington Post.

The Post reported that taxpayers, who are paying for the research, should not have to subscribe to expensive scientific journals in order to read about the results.

The publishers are concerned that they would lose income from paid subscriptions that would undermine their ability to sponsor educational activities and peer reviews. They believe that the policy may violate copyright law, a potential legal tangle that some hinted might have to get sorted out in court, the Post wrote.

“The issue isn't finished yet,” said Allan R. Adler, vice president for legal and governmental affairs at the Association of American Publishers, which lobbied hard against the bill’s passage. “It's not as simple as some have made this out to be.”

In opposition, Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, led the fight for the open-access language. Joseph told the Post, “Now there will be $29 billion in taxpayer investments freely available to the public," referring to the NIH medical research budget.

The NIH will now start working out how to implement the legislation, which could take six months, John Burklow, NIH communications director, told the Post. "Our main goal right now is to make sure everyone understands the policy and knows how to follow it" once it comes into effect, he said.