NASA paywalls first papers arising from Curiosity rover, I am setting them free

The Mars Curiosity rover has been a huge boon for NASA – tapping into the public’s fascination with space exploration and the search for life on other planets. Its landing was watched live by millions of people, and interest in the photos and videos it is collecting is so great, that NASA has had to relocate its servers to deal with the capacity.

So what does NASA do to reward this outpouring of public interest (not to mention to $2.5 billion taxpayer dollars that made it possible)? They publish the first papers to arise from the project behind a Science magazine’s paywall:



There’s really no excuse for this. The people in charge of the rover project clearly know that the public are intensely interested in everything they do and find. So I find it completely unfathomable that they would forgo this opportunity to connect the public directly to their science. Shame on NASA.

This whole situation is even more absurd, because US copyright law explicitly says that all works of the federal government – of which these surely must be included – are not subject to copyright. So, in the interests of helping NASA and Science Magazine comply with US law, I am making copies of these papers freely available here:

Update: Copyright

For those interested in the issue of copyright in works of the US government, please see the following:

Section 105 of US Copyright Act, which states:

Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

House Report 94-1476 which details the reasoning behind this provision:

The effect of section 105 is intended to place all works of the United States Government, published or unpublished, in the public domain. This means that the individual Government official or employee who wrote the work could not secure copyright in it or restrain its dissemination by the Government or anyone else, but it also means that, as far as the copyright law is concerned, the Government could not restrain the employee or official from disseminating the work if he or she chooses to do so. The use of the term “work of the United States Government” does not mean that a work falling within the definition of that term is the property of the U.S. Government.

The only ambiguity in the case of these Curiosity papers is that not all of the authors are US Government employees, and thus the work is, I am told “co-owned” by the authors. I’m not sure what effect this has on the ability of Science magazine to assert copyright in the work, since, at best, they are doing so at the behest of only a subset of the authors. The law makes it clear that its intent is to direct the US government authors to place the work in the public domain, and that any agreement they enter into to restrict access to the work is invalid. This is why I view the practice of taking works authored (and funded) by the US government and placing them behind paywalls to be illegitimate.

Update 2: JPL has now posted the articles on their site 

As of today these articles are now available to download from the JPL website. I assume this was done in response to this post and the attention it received. (They were not there on the 26th when the press releases went out – I looked. And you can see from the PDFs that they weren’t downloaded from the Science website until the 27th.) Let’s hope that in the future that all NASA papers – and indeed the results of all government funded research – are made immediately freely available.

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  1. Mark
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Science isn’t necessarily claiming copyright: the Journal has possession of the Papers and is making people pay to read them via the Science website. I think it’s entirely possible that the Staff know there’s nothing they can do to stop distribution of copies; but they can make some money off this until copies become plentiful.

  2. BootedfromUMSF
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget our SoCal prof who is trying to free science papers too !

  3. Posted November 4, 2013 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    You Can’t Read About Billions of Habitable Zone Planets Unless You Pay

    This stunning, groundbreaking research was funded by NSF and NASA (via tax dollars), announced at a NASA press conference regarding data from a NASA spacecraft (paid for with tax dollars) and … that’s right – you have to pay money to read the article. (2 days for $10.00, 7 days for $25.00.) Oh yes, the journal that is charging you for access is published by the National Acadmey of Sciences which itself is almost totally dependent on government grants (recycled tax dollars). I applaud UC Berkely’s Michael EIsen for his earlier stance on circulating publications from NASA Mars research – and hope that he’ll convince his fellow UC Berkeley faculty member (Geoff Marcy) to do the same.

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