Publisher anti-OA Lobby Triumphs in German Bundesrat

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 25 May 2007 22:09:36 +0100

    Peter Suber, in today's OA News, has done a superb job in critiquing
    the way in which the publishers' anti-OA lobby (which is increasingly
    becoming an anti-Green-OA mandate lobby) has successfully persuaded
    the German Bundesrat to adopt their position.

    (It is a familiar story: Conflate Green and Gold OA. Then argue
    against Gold OA as a pretext for opposing Green OA mandates, without
    ever having to say so. The very same thing happened in the UK, with
    the publisher lobby successfully persuading Lord Sainsbury and the
    Department of Trade and Industry not to mandate Green OA. In the UK,
    Research Councils UK had the wisdom to take matters into their
    own hands, and five of seven have since gone ahead and mandated
    it anyway. As the UK does not have the monopoly on good sense,
    one has every reason to believe that German research funders and
    institutions too will go ahead and mandate Green OA just the
    same -- and after them the EC, and eventually even the US...)
    http://users.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/4151.html

    But read the excerpts for yourself, and then Peter' sage comments:

http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/2007_05_20_fosblogarchive.html#8893535301898109011

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The OA decision of Germany's Bundesrat

The International Publishers Association (IPA) has released released an English
translation of the Bundesrat Decision of May 11, 2007.
http://www.internationalpublishers.org/images/pdf/PR_Copyright/bundesrat_ds139_07_en.pdf

Excerpt:

    Decision of the Bundesrat

    Communication from the Commission of the European Communities to the
European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee
on scientific information in the digital age: access, dissemination and
preservation

    COM (2007) 56 final; Council Doc. 5748/07

    In its 833rd session on 11 May 2007, pursuant to 3 and 5 EUZBLG (Act on
Cooperation between the Federation and the Federal States in European Union
Affairs), the Bundesrat adopted the following Opinion:

    1. The Bundesrat generally welcomes the Communication from the Commission
taking up the increasingly important topic of knowledge dissemination in the
digital age....

    The call for the freest possible, immediate and open access to information
corresponds with the aim of the EU to increase the competitiveness of the
European economy.

    2. At the same time, the Bundesrat points out that the call for the freest
possible, immediate and open access to scientific information may conflict with
the protection of intellectual property, and in particular copyright, which is
also a significant criterion for the success of the internal market and the
promotion of innovation and creative activity....

    3. The Bundesrat therefore welcomes that the Communication does not only
present ways to facilitate knowledge transfer, but also outlines the position
of publishers, emphasising their central role in the scientific information
system.

    In this context the Bundesrat particularly welcomes that the Commission
recognises the quality control function of publishers of scientific
publications, and that it intends to monitor open access experiments - also
offensively pursued by publishers, as well as to support their publication
costs.

    Publishers, and particularly the scientific journals they publish, play a
pivotal role in the scientific information system. Over the past years, the
publishing industry has undertaken substantial investments in the area of
?online publishing?, thereby already contributing to an efficient dissemination
of information. In doing this, publishers constantly compete for authors and
readers. This ultimately guarantees the high quality of scientific
publications....

    5. The Bundesrat regards open access publication as an additional method of
knowledge dissemination, in particular with regard to research results.
However, the Bundesrat also points out that open access does not avoid the
costs of knowledge processing and knowledge transfer, but rather shifts them
from the users to the authors; that there are also reasons in favour of
publishing scientific publications through a publisher.

    The Bundesrat welcomes that the Communication does not regard changes, in
particular limitations on copyright, as necessary to reach the goals....

    6. The Bundesrat points out that in the light of predominantly effective
competition in the market for scientific information, public intervention is
advisable only in demonstrably necessary cases and with as low in intensity as
possible.

    In the view of the Bundesrat, the co-financing of research infrastructures
(in particular ?digital repositories?) announced by the Commission does raise
the fundamental question of the extent to which the supply of information is a
public duty. This question should receive particular attention within the
framework of the discussion process now launched by the Commission....

Also see the IPA press release accompanying the translation (May 24, 2007).
http://www.internationalpublishers.org/images/pdf/PR_Copyright/pr_germanbundesratonopenaccess_20070524.pdf

Excerpt:

    IPA welcomes the statement by the Bundesrat. Says IPA Secretary General
Jens Bammel: ?IPA appreciates the balanced arguments and constructive tone
chosen by the Bundesrat. Open access is a great opportunity which must be
explored. At the same time care must be taken that we do not lose what is in
fact working so well in other business models. This debate should be conducted
in a measured way, based on sound arguments and empirical facts reflecting the
high standards of academic debate in the journals themselves. The Bundesrat
statement is a welcome contribution to this debate.?

    Adds Jens Bammel: ?The principle must be that business models for
publishing scientific information should not be mandated by governments but
should prove their own value and sustainability in the marketplace, and with
the researchers how freely chose the most appropriate journal for each
article.?

Comments. For background, the Bundesrat was discussing the EC's Communication
on access to scientific information in the digital age, February 15, 2007.
http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/digital_libraries/doc/scientific_information/communication_en.pdf
For my thoughts on the same EC Communication, see SOAN for March 2, 2007,
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/03-02-07.htm#ec

   1. First I thank the IPA for making and circulating this English
translation.
   2. The good news for OA supporters is that the Bundesrat endorses the goal
of OA ("The call for the freest possible, immediate and open access to
information corresponds with the aim of the EU to increase the competitiveness
of the European economy.")
   3. The good news in a minor key is that the Bundesrat's reservations about
OA are based on misunderstandings. There's hope that we can educate the
members and counteract the publisher lobbying whose effects show so strongly
here. On the other hand, the Bundesrat has already acted and the chances for
reconsideration any time soon are slight.
   4. OA needn't interfere with copyright. If the Bundesrat objection ("the
call for the freest possible, immediate and open access to scientific
information may conflict with...copyright") is abstract, and includes sloppy or
careless implementations of OA, then it's true. But in exactly the same way,
TA publishing may also conflict with copyright. If the claim is more specific,
that certain OA proposals conflict with copyright, then the Bundesrat has not
specified the proposals or the conflicts and we can only wait until it does so.
Moreover, the objection is contradicted by the Bundesrat's own acknowledgment
in #5 that "the [EC] Communication does not regard changes, in particular
limitations on copyright, as necessary to reach the goals...."
   5. [T]he Bundesrat also points out that open access does not avoid the costs
of knowledge processing and knowledge transfer, but rather shifts them from the
users to the authors.... Where does one start with this bolus of
misinformation? First, no serious proponent of OA ever said that OA publishing
was costless. Second, the Bundesrat is apparently focused on fee-based OA
journals. But let's disentangle this. Even fee-based OA journals do not
usually shift costs to authors. They charge publication fees but the fees are
usually paid by funders or employers, not by authors out of pocket; and many
fee-based journals will waive the fees in cases of economic hardship. Beyond
this, most OA journals do not even charge fees. And beyond this, the EC
Communication was not even talking about OA journals. It was talking about OA
repositories, which never charge fees.
   6. The Bundesrat points out that in the light of predominantly effective
competition in the market for scientific information.... This is an unfunny
joke that could only have been written by a publisher lobbyist.
   7. Finally, Jens Bammel's argument that we should let the market decide
which models to adopt is easily answered. Scientific research and publication
are permeated by government spending and government policies, and do not
represent a market in any ordinary sense. In Europe as in the US and around the
world, most scientific research is funded by taxpayers, most scientists work at
public institutions and are paid by taxpayers, and most subscriptions to
subscription-based journals are bought by public institutions and paid by
taxpayers. If publishers really mean that government money and policymaking
should keep out of this sector, then they should say so. But they would go
bankrupt under such a rule. What they really want is the present arrangement of
government subsidies for the work they publish, government subsidies for their
own subscription fees, and double-payments by taxpayers who want access.
(That's a market?)

Peter Suber, Open Access News
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/2007_05_20_fosblogarchive.html#8893535301898109011
Received on Sat May 26 2007 - 10:50:47 BST

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