Lessig, Eisen, Conyers Trade Barbs Over Controversial Copyright Bill
Andrew Albanese -- Library Journal, 03/10/2009
- Big Paper?
- Was HR 801's road to reintroduction paved with publisher money?
- Conyers rebukes Lessig & Eisen; Eisen rebukes Conyers
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Sure, times are tough, but can you really buy John Conyers (D-MI), chair of House Judiciary Committee, for $9000? That was the underlying argument made by Stanford University’s Lawrence Lessing and Public Library of Science’s Michael Eisen, who last week suggested on the Huffington Post that the road to re-introduction for the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (HR 801), the controversial bill that would outlaw NIH-like public access mandates, was paved with publisher money.
"A new report by transparency group MAPLight.org shows that sponsors of [HR 801], led by John Conyers, received twice as much money from the publishing industry as those on the relevant committee who are not sponsors,” Lessig and Eisen wrote. “This is exactly the kind of money-for-influence scheme that constantly happens behind our backs and erodes the public’s trust in government.” Lessig and Eisen urged mobilization against the bill—a bill vehemently opposed by the library community, as well as all 33 U.S. Nobel laureates in science and 46 law professors.
In a sharp rebuke, however, Conyers wrote, also on the Huffington Post, that “Lessig’s recent comments on the scientific publishing issue and my sponsorship of a bill on the subject simply cross the line.” He said as his bill moved forward, he hoped discussion would focus on the merits. “No one is well served by ad hominem attacks, baseless smears, or a distorted presentation of the facts.”
Association of American Publishers’ (AAP) counsel Allan Adler told LJAN the assertion that “Big Paper,” as Lessing and Eisen flippantly called the publisher lobby, was absurd, and “insulting.” Adler distanced AAP from the fray, noting that the group is not a political action committee (PAC). He also noted that the contributions alluded to by MAPlight.org, totaling some $110,000 for all of Congress, included book publishers, newspapers, and general periodical publishers—none of which, he stressed, had a position on the narrow issue of scientific publishing at stake in HR 801. Alluding to Lessig’s campaign to counter government corruption, Adler said he hoped the law professor “would set his sights a little higher.”
Detroit and copyright?
Meanwhile, in the midst of the bluster from both sides, something of a copyright debate broke out. Sounding more like a Society publisher than a Detroit democrat, Conyers—whose main opposition to the NIH policy has always seemed to be related to the Judiciary committee’s jurisdiction—suggested that the NIH policy “would limit publishers’ ability to charge for subscriptions” since the same articles would be available freely within a year.
“If journals begin closing their doors or curtailing peer review, or foist peer review costs on academic authors,” he noted “the ultimate harm to open inquiry and scientific progress may be severe.” Turf war not to be forsaken, Conyers also called the NIH policy “a change slipped through the appropriations process in the dark of night.”
Those comments in turn drew a blistering response from Eisen, again on the Huffington Post. “Conyers would have us believe that it is just a coincidence,” Eisen wrote of Conyer's receipt of publisher contributions and his copyright bill, “but his response to our letter, like the bill itself, is taken straight from the publishers’ playbook.” And on the merits, Eisen said Conyers’ arguments were “specious” and “reflect fundamental ignorance about how science and scientific publishing work."
He also noted that far from being “slipped in,” to the appropriations bill, as Conyers’ suggested, the issue has been debated for nearly a decade. “Elias Zerhouni, who was NIH Director until last year, spent years crafting this policy in consultation with scientists, publishers, and members of Congress,” Eisen wrote. “Does Representative Conyers really think he better understands what’s good for science than do all of these groups and people?”
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