Re: Public Access to Science Act (Sabo Bill, H.R. 2613)

From: Samuel Trosow <>
Date: Fri, 5 Sep 2003 17:14:52 +0100

The US Federal government actually does quite a bit to disseminate
government works. There's the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP),
GPO Access, and FirstGov.

see: (homepage for GPO Access) (setting
out the text of Chapter 19 of Title 44 United States Code, the laws
governing the FDLP)
(setting out the text of Chapter 41 of Title 44 United States Code, the
enabling legislation for GPO Access and the locator services)
(official U.S. gateway to government information)

The distribution system certainly could be much better and indeed more
inclusive. For example, under current law, the US Federal Government
retains a reserved interest in the copyright to all works resulting from
federal funding. Unfortunately, this reserved right is routinely
ignored by publishers when they request and receive exclusive rights or
full copyright assignments in the work, and the government does not
include these works in its distribution systems (something it apparently
has the right to do under current OMB Circulars and Federal Regulations)
This shortcoming is one of the main reason why further Congressional
action is really needed.

In addition to routinely ignoring the reserved interest retained by the
US government, some publishers are actually so bold as to claim
copyright on works that are clearly marked as public domain materials.
(see for example, the June 2003 edition of journal Mitochondrion 2(6):
387-400, published by Elsevier. The paper clearly states that since the
10 co-authors are all public employees, the work is not subject to
copyright. Nonetheless, the Copyright notice appears at the top of the

Samuel Trosow
University of Western Ontario

Sally Morris wrote:
> Stevan Harnad wrote:
> "Most of the existing 24,000 journals would not
> accept to publish public-domain texts"
> I think this is probably inaccurate. I would guess that practically all of
> those journals do publish works which are currently governed by the Public
> Domain status of US Government works.
> To my mind, the question really is whether either the authors or their
> employer actually do anything to avail themselves of the works' Public
> Domain status. No one seems to have been able to answer this question.
> If they don't, why should the Sabo Bill's extension of identical status to
> Federally funded works, in itself, be expected to achieve anything for the
> Open Access agenda?
> Sally
> Sally Morris, Secretary-General
> Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers
> South House, The Street, Clapham, Worthing, West Sussex BN13 3UU, UK
> Phone: 01903 871686 Fax: 01903 871457 E-mail:
> ALPSP Website
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Stevan Harnad" <>
> Sent: Wednesday, September 03, 2003 3:07 PM
> Subject: Re: Public Access to Science Act (Sabo Bill, H.R. 2613)
>>[identity deleted] wrote:
>>>I read your interesting reply to Joseph Pietro Riolo on the
>>>digital-copyright list.
>>>I am thinking of writing a reply to this discussion too. I
>>>think many people believe this is only a question of remuneration and
>>>ego. In what we call the information age - or even the knowledge
>>>society - I believe it is a very very important question to be able
>>>to keep track of who did say what to whom about what. Otherwise
>>>intellectual discussion would almost return to oral tradition with
>>>the kind of distortion that comes with it.
>>[I hope your further comments will be public, to undo the irony of the
>>fact that without permission I could only reply to them here
>>There are probably clever digital ways of tracking who posted what
>>publicly. The public-domain problem is not just that. It's partly
>>about "intellectual property" (for which Europe has rights-protection,
>>independent of copyright, whereas the US does not) and partly about not
>>needlessly constraining authors' right to submit their work to whatever
>>journal they choose: Most of the existing 24,000 journals would not
>>accept to publish public-domain texts. If that had been the only way
>>to attain open access, it might have been necessary to consider it
>>anyway, but since open-access self-archiving is completely compatible
>>with copyright and copyright transfer (or licensing) to the journal
>>publisher, there is no need whatsoever to force the public-domain
>>constraint onto either authors or publishers. Trying to do so would
>>only needlessly delay open access still further. The Public Access to
>>Science Act (Sabo Bill) needs to be modified to mandate open-access only,
>>not public-domain.
>>[By the way, I think that in a sense we *are* going back to the oral
>>tradition -- but with its "verba volunt, scripta manent" handicap
>>remedied by the public and permanent nature of PostGutenberg "skywriting"
>> ]
>>Stevan Harnad
>>NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
>>access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
>>the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
>> or
>>Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Fri Sep 05 2003 - 17:14:52 BST

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