Free Access to Scientific Information Sustained with Public Funds Has Become Law in Argentina

by Digital Rights LAC on December 21, 2013

By Beatriz Busaniche

“Article 1: Public agencies and institutions that make up the National System of Science, Technology and Innovation (SNCTI), in accordance with Law No. 25.467, and receive funding from the national government, must develop individual or joint digital institutional repositories storing the scientific and technological output resulting from work, training and/or projects financed, in full or in part, with public funding for researchers, technologists, faculty, postdoctoral fellows and masters and doctoral students. This scientific and technological information includes all documents (journal articles, technical and scientific papers, academic thesis, among others) that result from any research-related activities.”

With paragraphs like the one in article 1, Congress finally sanctioned an acknowledgment of a long-sustained claim on behalf a good part of the national academic community and civil society organizations who believe that everything that is conducted with public funding belongs to society as a whole and must be subject to free access.

The law also stipulates that researchers, technologists, faculty, postdoctoral fellows and masters and doctoral students whose research activities are conducted with public funding must deposit or expressly authorize a copy of the final version of their scientific and technological work, either published or in print, for the free access repositories of their institutions. This is subject to a term no greater than six months from date of publication or approval. The law also includes primary research data.

With such a law, Argentina is now a solid player in the global free access to scientific and technological information movement. For years, this global movement has been striving to defend the principles of free access to scientific information, a uniquely complex field that is particularly susceptible to the consequences of a restrictive and generalized intellectual property system.

Over the past decades, the system of private ownership of research conducted with public funding has gone rampant. Different level researchers working with State funds need to publish their work in order to advance their careers within the scientific system. At the same time, they depend on journals that monopolistically appropriate the results of their research through the copyright system and later sell publications back to the institutions that actually carried out the research.

This creates an eloquent yet vicious circle by which the State funds research, the State funds peer reviews of the resulting work, the State demands that researchers publish their results to advance their careers, but the result of the research is transferred, via intellectual property contracts, to private journals that, in turn, hold these works captive in the market, while their main customers are the actual universities and public and private research institutions that need to stay up-to-date on developments in several scientific fields. The State funds the entire production chain, but journals appropriate themselves of the results and sell them back to the State.

For years, the free access movement has been working toward breaking this vicious cycle. In Argentina, the unanimous sanction in the Senate of the Institutional Repository Act constitutes a significant contribution to such efforts.

The Intellectual Property Dilemma

What little debate was sparked by the law in Congress revolved around the potential breach of intellectual property rights that could be posed by this law. Thus, that is what will most likely spark claims by interested parties. However, this view is completely unsubstantiated in light of the sense and purpose of the intellectual property system.

The intellectual property system in Argentina is governed by Law No. 11,723, which serves utilitarian purposes. This means that the law constitutes a public policy that is aimed at promoting the publication of works and development of arts and sciences for the purpose of fostering public domain works and intellectual wealth. Therefore, intellectual property is understood to mean none other than a system of incentives for the production and publication of works.

In the scientific arena, output incentives work through entirely different methods, since public researchers and faculty depend on the national budget for their research and the system itself conditions their publications. Scientists do not make their living from copyright, instead they support themselves through salaries and funds allotted to them by research institutions, universities, etc. Even under a strict intellectual property system, most researchers receive no payment for the publication of their works.

In other words, not only does the new law maintain the current system for output and publication incentives, but it also promotes better and greater access to the works of these scientists, while enabling the diffusion, promotion and recognition of the works of scientific services.

Therefore, we must agree with statement issued by, Alejandro Ceccatto, Secretary of Scientific Articulation of the Ministry of Science and Technology, that “this law is a response to the monopolistic position of large international publishing companies that concentrate the publication of scientific research. The goal is for scientific research that is funded by society to be accessible to it. It is unacceptable for the State to finance a person’s research and for society not to have access to the knowledge obtained.”

Peru is the only other country in the region with a similar law. Other countries, such as Brazil, have been considering a law of this sort for some time, but have not made any progress to that effect. In the United States, medical research conducted with public funding is subject to free access and all output by federal agencies belongs to the public domain (an interesting example of this is the scientific output of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA]). The European Union has advanced with isolated policies and upheld free access through its discourse. Argentina is, thus, one of the first countries to establish a generalized public policy including all publically funded research; therefore covering public scientific services funded by the State for the benefit of society as a whole.

* “Free access to scientific information sustained with public funds has become law in Argentina” by Beatriz Busaniche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Translated by Paula Arturo