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Copyright And NIH

June 29, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 26

The call by some science, technology, and mathematics (STM) publishers to amend U.S. law to “protect” copyright from the National Institutes of Health suffers from an obvious internal contradiction (C&EN, Sept. 29, 2008, page 33). Crimes such as copyright violation are addressed by prosecuting criminals, not by amending laws. The very proposal to amend the law is a tacit admission that NIH is not violating it.

Scientific journals have long granted government employees and Ph.D. students the right to republish their findings in another form. NIH-funded researchers now reserve the same right; any publisher unwilling to grant that right is free to reject their manuscripts.

No one’s copyright is violated either way, as was affirmed by 46 U.S. law professors in a letter to this bill’s sponsors. The NIH policy has also been endorsed by 33 Nobel Prize winners, 11 of them chemistry laureates. Given the pace of developments, the recent reintroduction of this bill as H.R. 801 by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is clearly futile. (See Peter Suber’s blog “Open Access News,”

Does ACS also plan to take legislative action against Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Wellcome Trust, the European Research Council, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and hundreds of others that have recently adopted public-access mandates? Or will it gracefully concede? As one of the countless members who have published NIH-funded research in ACS journals, I ask ACS to publicly withdraw its support for the Conyers bill.

Thomas Munro
Cambridge, Mass.


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