The topic of implications of federal funding for research was brought up again recently in this Federal Register notice. The Office of Science and Technology Policy wants to receive public comment on a range of issues related to access to academic publications that were funded by Federal grants. The notice mentions the NIH model
One potential model, implemented by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) pursuant to Division G, Title II, Section 218 of Pub. L. 110-161 (http://publicaccess.nih.gov/) requires that all investigators funded by the NIH submit an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscript upon acceptance for publication no later than 12 months after the official date of publication.
and seeks comments on a range of issues regarding how to structure this broader policy, how to make articles available, how to ensure compliance, etc. This notice seems broader than the NSF-specific discussion I wrote about earlier because it appears to apply to all Federal agencies that fund open research.
It seems to me that there are at least two access-related issues here: whether the agencies that funded the research (and perhaps, reciprocally, all other federal agencies) get open access to the published work, and separately, whether the public at large has similar levels of access. This policy stands to have the largest impact on for-profit journal publishers who currently charge libraries and individuals quite a bit of money to access their materials. If the US government breaks publishers’ monopoly on content (perhaps after a small time interval), that may seriously undermine the viability of for-profit academic publishing.
I see this as a positive development: arguably the value that a journal adds rests mostly in the quality of peer reviews it can solicit, and thus for-profit publishers derive profit from reselling content to a community that that community generated. Given that the advertising, distribution, and copy-editing services can no longer be considered legitimate expenses, there is no longer any good reason to incur the high fees charged by these journals. This policy may give open-access and overlay journals a boost, while causing for-profit publishers to reconsider their business models.