Open Access. This is the first in a series of posts I plan about copyright law and access to publicly funded research. In this post, I highlight the public domain status of research articles by federal employees under U.S. law and issue a call for action by open access advocates.
The proposed Federal Public Research Access Act of 2006 has an important provision that would require covered agencies to mark peer-reviewed articles by agency employees as being in the public domain and to post such articles online immediately. This is an incontestibly sensible requirement, but federal agencies and members of the public need not await the outcome of this pending legislation to make this provision effective.
Why? Because under Section 105 of the Copyright Act, any "work of the United States Government" is not subject to copyright. That means any journal article written solely by federal employee researchers (think NASA, NIH, etc.) is in the public domain. If an article is co-authored by one or more non-federal employees, then the copyright status is more complicated.
For the moment, let's focus on articles written solely by federal employees. These articles, as part of the public domain, belong to you. If you find one, you are free to post it online and to mark it as part of the public domain.
The trick is to find these articles. If you are in an office of intramural research and have access to bibliographies of articles written by federal employees, can you send me a copy or post it online? If you otherwise have access to such bibliographies, please post it or send me a copy.
Going forward, agencies should start requiring that articles written solely by federal employees be marked as such so that we can get these online now.