Source: http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2016/05/30/in-dramatic-statement-european-leaders-call-for-immediate-open-access-to-all-scientific-papers-by-2020/

Or so say Science and various others; you can read the EU PR directly. And of course, mixed into the tenor of the times, this becomes “another reason to stay in the EU” (and we’ll quietly forget about an apparently insane new car hire rule). Anyway, what immeadiately strikes me about this “new” thing is that it is what the US has had forever, so why is it being touted as so exciting? Even Science, who are USAnians, don’t mention that aspect, so perhaps I’m wrong. Also, I shouldn’t forget to snark how pathetic it is that in EU-world (or perhaps just snail-like-government-in-general-world) “immeadiate” means 2020.

What I’m thinking of is Copyright status of work by the U.S. government which is a delightful policy in many ways. To quote wiki, A work of the United States government, as defined by the United States copyright law, is “a work prepared by an officer or employee” of the federal government “as part of that person’s official duties.”[1] In general, under section 105 of the Copyright Act,[2] such works are not entitled to domestic copyright protection under U.S. law and are therefore in the public domain. The crucial bit is “in the public domain”. Compare that to Crown Copyright where the reverse applies – everything is copyright; and they have to jump through special hoops to make PR pix available. For example, look at wikipedia. Which is stuffed full of pix produced by Feds; because you can, with no trouble at all. And the US situation isn’t perfect: in some way I don’t fully understand, contractors aren’t covered in some situations.

However, not being a copyright lawyer and hating all that goes with such, I don’t want to go into those details. Instead, let’s turn to scientific publishing. Traditional, non-open-access journals regularly require you to sign away copyright (or rather, because of course you personally don’t own the copyright in your own work because you did it for your employer the government, your institution on behalf of the government signs away those rights). Cue much gnashing of teeth. Unless of course you’re working for the Feds, whereupon the journals just shrug and say “oh well we’ll publish it anyway”.

If any individual scientist, or institution, refused to sign away copyright then their papers would be rejected, because the journals are powerful. But if any major country, or group of countries, did the same, then the journals would just kowtow the way they do to the Feds and say “ah well”. So the mystery is why the UK, France, Germany, and hence the rest of the EU haven’t done this years back; or rather, the apparent mystery, since it isn’t particularly mysterious: no-one in UK government is particularly sympathetic to giving things away for free, because they are stupid; and the journals have lobbying clout; and “it would cost jobs” and similar nonsense.

Notice that making US Fed papers non-copyright doesn’t allow you to download them from the journals themselves, which of course can still charge you for access. But it allows authors to make them freely available. In contrast, the NERC “Open Research Archive” won’t allow you to download papers.

The EU proposal is somewhat vague, at least as I read it. All scientific articles in Europe must be freely
accessible as of 2020… Open access means that scientific publications on the results of research supported by public and public-private funds must be freely accessible to everyone… From 2020, all scientific publications on the results of publicly funded research must be freely available. It also must be able to optimally reuse research data. To achieve that, the data must bemade accessible, unless there are well-founded reasons for not doing so…. So this doesn’t mandate publication in OA journals; individual scientists or institutions making papers available would suffice. The data bit would be nice, but from my viewpoint its a far smaller issue than the papers.

So, the overall question is, why is the EU making such a fuss about doing something the US has had for ages? Especially since they’re going to do it in a stupid broken way, instead of just passing a law that say “no copyright in government works”?