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Open Access to Government Information: 2005

One entry in Peter Suber’s wrapup of Open Access in 2005 in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (issue #93 January 2, 2006) is on government information:

In 2005 we saw more profit-seeking (or “surplus”-seeking) businesses demand that the government stop providing public access to publicly-funded information. This is a demand to profit at the expense of taxpayers or a demand that taxpayers pay twice in order to guarantee a revenue stream for a private-sector organization. In support of their demand, the organizations argue that free information from the government is unfair competition, as if what they really wanted was a free market. The leading example was the American Chemical Society’s attempt to shut down or scale back PubChem, the OA database launched by the NIH. Congress denied the ACS request to defund PubChem and now the ACS and NIH are working out the terms of their coexistence, with the NIH holding all the cards. AccuWeather was at least as brazen as the ACS, wanting to repackage and sell government-collected weather data to the public without “competition” from the National Weather Service. AccuWeather even paid Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) to introduce a bill in Congress to protect the company’s revenue stream from government OA. I’m glad to say that the Santorum bill doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. You can criticize these demands as harmful in their substance and dishonest in their rhetoric, but you can’t dismiss them as losing propositions. In 2002 a trade association of publishers (Software & Information Industry Association) successfully used similar arguments to persuade Congress to kill PubScience. These arguments might succeed again if we are not paying attention.

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