Public Policy & Legislation





The scholarly publishing community plays an indispensable role in the scientific research enterprise – by facilitating scholarly communication, disseminating scientific information, managing the scientific record and coordinating the peer review process.  Publishers’ continuing investments in digital platforms with the latest Web 2.0 capabilities have helped to deepen their contributions to the science community and the public— expanding accessibility, improving interoperability and fuelling innovation.

There is an ongoing public debate about how to expand access to published research literature to the research community and the public, while ensuring continued quality, integrity, preservation and sustainability of scholarly communications.  Publishers share the goal of widening access and have been at the forefront of the effort that has made more scholarly information available to more users than at any time in history. 

The following is intended to help answer questions about scholarly publishing and access to scholarly literature.   For more information, see Publishing Facts

For more information on these topics . . . 

  1. What is "open access”?
  2. What is involved in publishing research?
  3. Who pays for publishing in an open access model?
  4. Do publishers support expanding access to information?
  5. Why is open access getting a lot of attention lately?
  6. Isn’t there a need to make published research more accessible to researchers?
  7. Should the public have access to research that is funded by the taxpayer?
  8. Do publishers support wide access to information?
  9. What are some of the ways people can access articles for free?
  10. Should open access be mandatory?
  11. How have publishers advanced innovation in scientific publishing?
  12. Do publishers provide access to journals in developing countries?
  13. Can the organization of peer review be done for free?
  14. How important is peer review?
  15. Do publishers add value to scholarly articles?
  16. What is the value of the U.S. professional and scholarly publishing industry?
  17. How do publishers view the NIH policy?
  18. Does the NIH public access policy affect copyright?
  19. Isn't the NIH policy compatible with copyright?
  20. Will the NIH policy harm the U.S. publishing industry?
  21. Are there alternatives to the NIH policy?

What is "open access"?

The term “open access” is used in a number of different contexts.  One model, sometimes referred to as “author pays” has a specific economic component whereby an author or sponsor pays the publisher to have his or her article freely available for access by the public.  Some publishers apply this model to all of their published articles in a journal, whereas a number of subscription-based publishers offer hybrid models.  In those arrangements, an author or a sponsor may have an option to pay a specified fee, which supports the costs to make the article freely available on the publisher’s platform immediately upon publication.  Other publishers voluntarily open public access to research articles on their sites after a delay or embargo period that varies depending on the discipline, the type of journal, and the impact that time may have on the value and usefulness of a journal’s articles and its subscription base.    

Open access is also used interchangeably to refer to public access or free access.  An article may be offered free of charge via the Internet (e.g., through an author's personal or professional Web site, institutional repositories, government databases, conference sites, pre-print servers and other sites).  However, these sites may contain different versions of an article with information that can vary significantly.  In contrast the publisher site contains the peer reviewed, edited, formatted, tagged and enhanced version of record (VoR) along with any post-publication annotations.

What is involved in publishing research? 

The publishing process is large, complex and costly.  In recent years, publishers collectively have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the transition from print to electronic delivery, and in the process have built and continue to refine a robust digital electronic environment for delivery of information to their readers.  Publishers supply editorial services and incur expenses.  Even though some editors volunteer their time, many larger journals employ salaried high-level professional editors or staff editorial offices.  High-quality page composition, copyediting, layout and design, scanning, and tagging bibliographic and reference data must be managed whether an article is prepared to be read online or in print.  Peer review is a tightly managed process.  Maintaining and periodically updating a digital archive requires substantial resources, as do launching new journals and maintaining and enhancing online platforms to improve speed, access and functionality.

Information technology has replaced or reduced some production costs but not entirely, and digital technologies have brought new and different costs into the picture.  Most costs will not significantly decrease under open access.  At a high quality publication, staffing and editorial costs largely remain the same under either open access or subscription-based editorial models.  Archiving costs are even higher in the electronic era because electronic archiving requires building the service, regularly updating the platform and software, and continuously maintaining comprehensive searchable sites with millions of linked articles, costs that will continue under any access model.  Publishers have invested heavily in systems to take in manuscripts and shepherd them throughout the review process.  These systems have helped to reduce the time between submission of an article and its first appearance on the web, accelerating the availability of cutting edge research to the community.

Professional publishing has its costs.  The scientific publishing industry must continue to deliver high-quality, peer-reviewed content.  The existing business models of publishing are based on the principle that copyright enables publishers to invest resources to create, improve, innovate, and exclusively enter its products (i.e., content) into the stream of commerce to the public.  Publishers can and do experiment with alternative models, but a publisher cannot provide these services for free.

Who pays for publishing in an open access model?

This is not always clear.  What is clear is that publishing is neither inexpensive nor free.  The public benefits from the scientific publishing industry producing organized, high quality, peer-reviewed journals.  The existing business models of most scientific journals are founded on copyright protections that enable them to exclusively disseminate/distribute the content of their journals.  Under mandated access models, the choices these protections provide publishers could be damaged and lost.

If journals move to open access models, the burden of costs of publishing and peer review will shift to authors or their institutions.  Some existing open-access journals operate on an author-pays model, and authors or their institutions pay several thousand dollars per article to publish in them.  In some instances, publishers receive grant funding to start up and sustain their publishing programs as well as supplement the actual costs of publication beyond the fees paid by the authors.  These open-access journals are relatively new in the market and are the exception, however, and it is unclear whether these journals will be able to continue to provide services once their initial funding expires.

In the predominant sustainable business model, subscriptions paid by the end users provide the bulk of the revenue that supports the vast majority of scientific journals.  Most journals do not require authors to pay large sums of money for publication but rather recoup their costs by charging fees for access to libraries and individuals who need and use the information.

The big question is: Who is to pay to fund new access fees?  Given the number of scientific articles published each year, the total paid for fees could be substantial.  For example, the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates 80,000 manuscripts each year relate to the research NIH funds.  If NIH were required to pay the cost for each of these manuscripts to be published (with estimates for first-copy publishing costs in a range starting around $1,500 to as high as $10,000, depending on the journal*), it would amount to hundreds of millions of additional taxpayer dollars per year.  Perhaps the money would reduce the same pool of taxpayer dollars that funds research – resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars that could be spent to fund more, valuable biomedical research.

*King, Donald. “The cost of journal publishing: a literature review and commentary,” Learned Publishing, 20: 85 – 106, April 2007.

Do publishers support expanding access to information?

Absolutely, this is a publisher’s mission.  Publishers are in business to provide access to research, not limit it.  The very nature of publishing is to make all information widely available to the public as well as to researchers. 

Every year publishers invest extensively to support and enhance access to new scientific information.  In the last two decades, publishers have developed new technological advancements that have dramatically improved the efficiency and quality of scientific communication.  Publishers have explored and implemented a variety of business models to make content as widely available as possible, including a range of distribution and access models.

A direct result is the public has more access to more information in more formats through more media than ever before.  These capabilities support more researchers submitting more articles, and more journals distributing more information to users, educators, practitioners, students, and the public than at any time in history.

For more on the costs of scholarly publishing see Publishing Facts

Why is open access getting a lot of attention lately?

In 2008, a policy emerged from the NIH that requires its grantees to submit final peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication by an independent publisher to a government database called PubMed Central, a freely accessible database, within a year of publication.  The NIH uses the manuscripts primarily to support its own operations.  Similarly, there have been mandates from other funding bodies (particularly in Europe) and universities to require Web posting of author manuscripts, under varying terms and conditions. 

However, NIH and the funding bodies also make these articles available to the public, the same market whose subscriptions financially support the journal publishing process.  Discussion of the impact of the NIH policy and these other open access mandates has been increasing.  The NIH does not provide any funding to publishers.

It should be noted that the NIH has not taken advantage of the opportunity to make accessible to the public the reports that it receives from grantees to file an annual progress report and a final report upon completion of the grant activities.  These reports have generally been in the public domain, and many other funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) have similar requirements.  Articles derived from the research are written in a different format from the reports, and benefit tremendously from the peer review process, editing functions, formatting and features such as adding links that publishers provide.

Policies that mandate open access publishing unilaterally force scientists to limit themselves to open-access journals or hybrid journals or risk violating the agreements they have with their publishers.  Scientists should not be limited to publishing in a few compliant journals.  Doing so limits intellectual freedom and scholarly independence and is, quite simply, against the public interest.  Scientists and their publishers understand and support the government’s goal to broaden the accessibility of research, and they have incentives and are committed to making research widely available.  However, forcing publishers to adopt a singular business model that might not be appropriate is not supported by sound economic policy.

Isn’t there a need to make published research more accessible to researchers?

There are very few gaps in researchers’ ability to access published research.  Journals are openly available through libraries and at institutions to most people involved in scientific research.  Access is available to the full text of articles online going back hundreds of years.

Researchers in developing countries now access published research through Research4Life, a public-private partnership of publishers, UN agencies, and universities.  This program provides free or low cost access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content online in over 7500 peer-reviewed international scientific journals, books and databases.

Authors themselves also make their work accessible to the research community.  Journals generally allow the authors to place their manuscripts on personal or institutional websites or repositories, distribute the copies of the final published copies of their articles to colleagues, to incorporate them in subsequent work, or to use them in classroom teaching.

More than 2/3 of the researcher respondents in a 2008 study of peer review by the Publishers Research Consortium described their access to scholarly journals literature as good or excellent.  Researchers rank “access to research journals” very low on their overall list of concerns.

Nevertheless, should the public have access to research that is funded by the taxpayer?

Yes, and they do.  The public has access to published articles through private libraries, university libraries (which are generally accessible to the public), hospital libraries, medical society libraries, research centers, public libraries via interlibrary loan, and often directly from the publisher upon request.  The agencies that fund research already have the option to make available to the public the research reports that they receive from authors.  

It’s important to note, however, that while taxpayers may fund the costs of conducting research, they do not fund the costs of publishing articles written after the research is completed and professionally edited, vetted, organized and published.  So while the information upon which articles are based should be a matter of public record, the articles themselves, covered by copyrights and organized in the form of journals, are the work product of the efforts of publishers.  The cost of subscriptions or author fees is necessary to recoup the considerable cost of validating, certifying, and publishing the articles that discuss and document those research findings beyond the reports and data generated by the research and on file with the funding entities.

Do publishers support wide access to information?

It is the mission of publishers to make information as widely available as possible, not to limit it.  The very objective of the publishing endeavor is to make scientific information widely available in an organized manner to the public as well as to researchers.  Publishers invest heavily to support and enhance access to and the availability of new scientific information.  In the last two decades, publishers have developed numerous technological advancements that have tremendously improved the efficiency and quality of dissemination of scientific communication.  Publishers explore new technologies and apply a variety of business models best suited to making content as widely available as possible, including open and free access models.

Publishers’ efforts have provided the public more access to more information in more formats and faster than ever before.  They have increased efficiencies to accommodate more researchers who are submitting more articles to more journals.  The result is faster dissemination of more information to more researchers, educators, practitioners, students and members of the public than ever before.

What are some of the ways people can access articles for free?

Most people involved in scientific research and in need of scientific information already have access to the articles in journals through library subscriptions at their affiliated institutions.  Most university libraries have a mandate as part of their mission to provide onsite patrons to access their large collections of journals -- both paper and electronic.  The digital environment has greatly expanded the volume of information that academic libraries can offer their users, thanks to consortia and other publisher licensing arrangements that provide access to titles in addition to the subscriptions that are maintained by a particular library.  Most public universities and libraries make their print journal collections available to users from the community.  They also offer access to journal collections through interlibrary loan, a service which connects a wide and diverse network of cooperating libraries and that provide users with access to information far beyond what is held locally.

For people who cannot take advantage of library collections, there are many alternatives.  Some medical publishers or associations provide free copies or low-priced electronic downloads to members or the public who ask for research information for their own or a family member's medical condition.  Most publishers have made provisions for their articles to be posted to publicly accessible databases for free access after a period of time.

Publishers created and introduced patientINFORM in 2006 in cooperation with several Voluntary Health Organizations.  patientINFORM is an online service that provides patients and their caregivers access to some of the most up-to-date, reliable, and important research available about the diagnosis and treatment of specific disease groups at no cost to the patient.  With patientINFORM consumers have the ability to not only read the latest research, but also to find help interpreting that information and accessing additional materials.  By making it easier to understand research findings, patientINFORM empowers healthcare consumers to have improved discussions with their physicians and make informed decisions about care.

To read more about patientINFORM, visit

Should open access be mandatory?

No.  Scientists should be able to publish in the journals of their choice where they feel their work will be best reviewed by their peers and where its publication will have the greatest potential to advance their field of science.  Publishers do offer a variety of options, including “author pays” and sponsorship models to help authors comply with the requirements of funding agencies to make articles publicly available.  However, policies that mandate “open access” publishing as the only option, without providing support in the form of publication fees or sponsorship, puts an unreasonable burden on an author and limits effective scientific communication. 

How have publishers advanced innovation in scientific publishing?

From the time the first journal was published, publishers have been the organizers of the scientific record.  Publishers make this organized record available to the scientific world and to the public.  Publishers develop and use the latest information technology, production tools and Web innovations to ensure connectivity to and availability of information, and to equip researchers with the best tools possible. 

Publishers developed the widely used Digital Object Identifier (DOI) and CrossRef service to standardize article reference linking across primary journal databases and to link information elements within an article to a range of data repositories.  Publishers employ "forward citation linking" so readers can trace how articles have been cited by other scientists and by the popular media.  By licensing their copyrights, publishers permit linking content to other integrated databases of information.  Many journal publishers also link articles to public or private databases that act as repositories of the raw data generated by researchers within federal agencies and by research funded by the U.S. government. 

Publishers have aggressively addressed issues of current and future information collections.  Numerous publishers have invested substantial funds for retrospectively digitizing back volumes of their journals – in many cases as far back as volume 1, number 1, covering more than one hundred years in many instances – to make a rich history of scholarly literature electronically accessible and robust with one click from the user’s desktop.

The Cochrane Collaboration provides an example of a cooperative international endeavor that maintains a database of clinical evidence-based medical analyses and consensus statements to help clinicians separate "fact from fiction".  It offers links from its analyses to the underlying cited literature via Digital Object Identifiers and CrossRef links. 

Medical publishers have also cooperated with web-based information services such as WebMD to provide linking arrangements that enable both physicians and patients/caregivers to navigate authoritative information resources for trustworthy, reliable and current medical information.

Do publishers provide access to journals in developing countries?

Yes.  Since the 1990’s, publishers have been working with the United Nations on a series of programs to provide developing countries with free or low-cost access to important life sciences-related content.  Research4Life is the collective name given to three public-private partnerships, HINARI, AGORA and OARE that make health, agricultural and environmental research available to institutions in the developing world.  The Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI), launched in 2002, a partnership with the World Health Organization, ensures that relevant health information is available to health personnel, policy makers, researchers and scientists around the world.  Similarly, Access to Global Research on Agriculture (AGORA), a partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organization and launched in 2003, provides researchers, policy-makers, educators, and students in developing countries access to vital research that will ultimately help increase crop yields and food security.  Finally, Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE), a partnership with the United Nations Environment Program launched in 2006, expands the capacity of developing world organizations to improve the quality and effectiveness of environmental research, education, and training in low-income countries. 

Collectively, these three programs provide researchers at more than 5,000 institutions in 108 developing countries free or low cost access to over 7,000 journals from the world’s leading scientific, technical, and medical publishers.

For more information on these programs, see

Can the organization of peer review be done for free?

Probably not.  In a recent global study commissioned by the Publishing Research Consortium, 85 percent of scientists indicated that they believe peer review greatly helps scientific communication, while 93 percent of them believe peer review is necessary.  Scientific publishers have been at the forefront of innovations that have improved and continue to improve the peer review process.  However, this is not free of expense.

Scientific publishers process more than a million papers every year through a rigorous vetting with help from hundreds of thousands of distinct referees.  While it is true that peer reviewers themselves are usually not paid, publishers invest hundreds of millions of dollars in managing the peer review process.  Managing peer review uses the latest communications technologies and requires large and sophisticated electronic resources (databases of referees, their areas of expertise and current assignments, the status of papers under review, etc.), associated support personnel, and many paid full- and part-time editors.

How important is peer review?

Extremely.  Peer review identifies and validates research and innovation.  It encourages authors to meet the accepted standards of their discipline.  The process can help to avoid unsubstantiated scientific claims, unacceptable interpretations, and personal opinions.  Peer review specifically identifies weaknesses in scientific papers and ensures that the content of a scientific paper is both novel and advances the scientific record.  In fact, industry estimates suggest that approximately half of all papers submitted for publication are rejected in their initial submission because they do not sufficiently meet a journal’s criteria.  Scientists tend to rely upon the editorial process and peer review as validation of quality, and it is almost universally accepted in support of the research process.

The importance of the process has been underscored in light of high profile cases of scientific fraud.  The instances of a few authors successfully publishing fraudulent or fabricated data in major journals call for oversight that is more rigorous by the entire scientific publishing industry.  Several cases focus on conflicts of interest in the scientific research community where authors failed to disclose financial support for research that had perceived or obvious implications for the companies that provided that support.  Today, it is incumbent upon publishers to be as rigorous as possible in the peer review process to help uncover financial conflicts of interest by reviewers, editors, and authors and to thoroughly evaluate articles and associated materials for signs of scientific fraud -- both before and after publication.  The costs of additional checks on the process are mostly borne by publishers.

Publishers are also supporting a shared plagiarism detection system called CrossCheck designed to detect instances of unauthorized use of articles previously published.  This system is entirely financed by the publishing community.

Do publishers add value to scholarly articles?

Absolutely.  For more than two centuries, publishers have served society and promoted the advancement of science and the arts through widespread organized distribution of scientific and scholarly ideas.  Publishers have actively built their journals into recognizable and trustworthy brands and avenues for scholarly findings and concepts, and in doing so they provide a direct benefit to society and and the advancement of human knowledge.

Scientists publish their research and enjoy the prestige of the journals that accept their articles.  Their peers recognize the value of their work based in large part on the reputation of the journals in which they publish.  Tenure committees at universities weigh the reputation and quality of journal when considering promotions.  A researcher’s ability to attract additional grant funding is greatly enhanced by publishing in respected journals.

Building prestige takes time and investment.  Publishers devote substantial resources to establishing peer review systems, keeping editorial processes at the highest levels, and maintaining the operations of their journals.  Through these direct investments, publishers reinvest the revenue from their journals into science.  Journal revenues fund advocacy for research and the cost effective or gratis dissemination of information to the public.

Typically, the publisher's site integrates the peer reviewed, vetted version and is also likely to have embedded links, enhanced functionality, post-publication annotations such as errata, and other tools and services that add significant value for the user.

What is the value of the U.S. professional and scholarly publishing industry?

Considerable.  Publishing is a cornerstone of research, and research is critical to the U.S. economy.  U.S. investment in research and development accounted for 5 percent of real GDP growth between 1959 and 2004, and 7 percent between 1995 and 2004 .  American research drove our economy in the 20th century, and it will continue to be a driver in the 21st.  The publishing industry is integral to this growth.

According to a study conducted by the National Science Foundation (

The professional and scholarly journal publishing industry segments include academic, non-for-profit, society/association, government, private, and public corporate sectors, all providing services and benefits to their members, constituents, and markets.  Scientists, educators, and researchers rely on the reputation of research journals to validate the credibility and contribution of their published work, to disseminate research, to certify the work of others, and to share perspectives about entire bodies of research.  Top-tier journals inspire confidence and promote the advancement of science and its translation to practice. 

Scholarly publishing provides jobs.  Within the U.S., more than 1,000 scholarly, professional and research publishers employ over 30,000 people and directly support an additional 20,000 jobs.  The total annual revenue from the U.S. industry sector is more than $8 billion, including journals, books, and databases, with approximately half of the revenues supporting those jobs coming from journal publishing.  In science for example, U.S. authors produce about 40% of the global article research output.  Over 50% of U.S. professional and scholarly publishers’ revenues derive from subscriptions delivered outside the US, totaling an estimated $2 billion in foreign trade.  Mandated large-scale public access policies can disrupt this significant economic sector.

Publishers’ copyright exports are a large economic sector in which the U.S. enjoys a positive balance of trade.  Foreign entitles who now license copyright (translations, derivative works, etc.) will exploit a free access policy as they will no longer be required to pay for access to U.S. research articles.  Global foreign industries that compete fiercely with U.S. corporations (e.g., pharmaceutical, high tech) will take advantage of free access to U.S. research findings, while the increased burden of maintaining the global research information infrastructure will be inequitably borne by the U.S. taxpayer and research institutions.

How do publishers view the NIH policy?

The NIH policy seeks to address a challenge or problem that has not been proven to exist.  In doing so, the NIH policy introduces legal conflicts with an author’s and publisher’s copyright and undermines intellectual property rights and the economic incentive of publishers and rights holders.  The policy makes their copyrighted material available without compensation in online sites, for dissemination to anyone, anywhere, anytime.  Such mandatory open access erodes and disrupts the proven, balanced economic model that supports and sustains journals as dynamic and effective vehicles for promoting scientific communication for centuries.  It removes the substantial safeguards that journal publishers take to protect their journals from unauthorized misappropriation.

North American-based science and technology publishers account for upwards of 40% of all peer-reviewed scientific research papers published annually.  Therefore, mandatory public access policies will disproportionately impact U.S. publishers.  By severely restricting the scope of protection for a critical class of copyrighted works, the NIH policy deprives both authors and publishers of their free choice to use the business model best suited for disseminating content and could ultimately reduce incentives to make substantial investments in peer reviewing, publishing, and disseminating scientific research.

At the same time, the primary beneficiaries will largely be non-US entities who neither fund nor invest in research but will have free access to the information in the copyrighted journal articles.  U.S. publishers have already gathered evidence that companies in China and India are planning to resell and distribute without authorization articles downloaded from NIH's PubMed Central database – material produced by U.S publishers at their own expense.

Does the NIH public access policy affect copyright?

Yes.  The NIH policy raises numerous important questions with regard to copyright principles, policy, and law.  Copyright in the modern world of electronic dissemination is a complicated issue.  The rights recognized under the U.S. Constitution remain fundamental.  Article I empowers Congress "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. 

When an author asks a publisher to publish a research article, the author agrees to transfer copyright so the publisher will undertake the effort and expense of preparing the article for final publication.  The publisher relies on holding copyright to enable it to recoup publication costs and continue to invest in scientific communication.  The full benefit of copyright protections is weakened when authors are required to permit NIH to make their journal articles available to the public for free.  Moreover, the mandated access policy gives publishers little or no subsequent safeguards from piracy.  Scientists should not be limited to publishing in a few compliant journals.  Doing so inhibits intellectual freedom and scholarly independence and is, quite simply, against the public interest.

Isn't the NIH policy compatible with copyright since Section 105 of the Copyright Act says that copyright protection is not available for any work of the United States Government?

No.  Section 105 bars copyright in "work[s] of the United States Government," which are defined in the Section 101 as works of "employees" and "officers" of the U.S. Government as part of that person's "official duties.”  Congress did not design these provisions to cover works created by U.S. Government contractors and grantees.  In the legislative history of the 1976 Copyright Act, a committee of the House of Representatives explicitly acknowledged copyright could be an important incentive to both creation and dissemination of works by contractors and grantees.  The committee recognized that there are many “cases where the denial of copyright protection would be unfair or would hamper the production and publication of important works."  The NIH policy has had this negative effect.

Will the NIH policy harm the U.S. publishing industry?

The concern is that it will, and industry research supports this conclusion.  Factors such as price and reliability of access affect librarians’ decisions to keep a journal subscription or cancel it, according to a study by the Publishing Research Consortium.  The survey reveals a significant number of librarians would be likely to cancel subscriptions and stop paying for a journal if they could access its articles for free online – even if the articles were not available for a year and even if not all articles are available via open access.  When given the choice of subscribing to a journal or waiting twelve months for free access, many libraries will cancel their subscriptions and wait.

In the life sciences, on average, only 60% of an article’s lifetime usage takes place in the first year of publication, leaving 40% commercial value of an article lost when it is available free 12 months after publication, according to another study published by the Special Libraries Association.  Finally, only 15% of the value of an article in American Psychological Association (APA) journals is recouped after the first year of publication according to the APA.

With the potential loss of so much subscription revenue, publishers worry about their ability to recover costs associated with publication.  Moreover, if the NIH policy were to be adopted by other federal agencies, the number of threatened journals would increase dramatically.   This is particularly true in fields like mathematics, physics, and chemistry where many articles find their highest level of usage in the third to fifth year after publication. 

Neither scientific research nor journal publishing is driven by a single economic or business model.  Publishers follow a variety of models and their positions on public access policies vary.  A “one-size-fits-all” policy is not appropriate for most journal publishing where specialized disciplines and different types of articles (e.g., primary research, reviews, letters, methods, reports, case studies, etc.) have a wide range of time-to-value ratios.

Are there alternatives to the NIH policy?

Yes. There are better models for providing for access to taxpayer-funded research without infringing upon copyright concerns.  For example, in the 2007 America COMPETES Act, the NSFwas directed to adopt a policy that provides public access to final reports, summaries and citations related to research projects the NSF funded.  This process makes results of federally funded research publicly available without jeopardizing authors, publishers, scientists, and researchers interests the organized publishing process.

Publishers widely support the kind of public access that the NSF has adopted.  It demonstrates an acceptable way for the federal government to promote the research it funds without undermining publishers or infringing upon the copyright protections that have sustained scientific communication for more than one hundred years.