Rossner believes that a public access policy like the one instituted by NIH or proposed by FRPAA would not necessarily harm the revenues of publishers. But his optimism and Rockefeller's record of profitability may be better suited to more agile, flexible companies. If open access after a short embargo posed no threat to Elsevier's profit margins, the public relations boost alone would justify a policy about-face, and it is hard to understand why the company was so eager to make campaign contributions to politicians in exchange for their support of the Research Works Act, or why the company would have pushed for the Act in the first place. Instead, the company has remained silent on the issue, and has not dissented from the Association of American Publishers's opposition to FRPAA. Several phone calls and emails to Reed Elsevier seeking their comments on this story were not returned.
One point made by every open access proponent we spoke to was that this is a thoroughly non-partisan issue. Taxpayers are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the scientific, technical, and medical research that is produced around the world, whether via direct governmental agencies and grants or through publicly-funded universities. It only stands to reason, they argue, that taxpayers should get access to the research for which they pay.
There is also a sense of inevitability about the open access movement. The generation that laughed at the thought of paying $18 for a music CD has become the generation that is already used to finding the research they care about in pre-print or open access form at sites like arXiv, SSRN, and PLoS. The special pleading made by for-profit publishers about the costs of data tagging and infrastructure are belied by the straightforward usability of sites like those. While interviewing graduate students and younger scholars for this story, several of them volunteered that if the paywall-ridden publisher sites disappeared from their library access portals tomorrow, they would hardly notice, while any downtime at SSRN or arXiv would be felt intensely.
As for the White House petition and the FRPAA legislation, some observers wonder whether some executive leadership on this issue wouldn't be a painless, costless way for the President to rekindle some enthusiasm among the tech-savvy, young, engaged voters that made such a difference to his 2008 campaign. Giving taxpayers access to resources that they've already paid for is impossible to spin as a partisan special interest, and many companies in the industry have come around to the idea that it is also good policy.
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