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The effect of section 105 is intended to place all works of the United States Government, published or unpublished, in the public domain.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.

This entry was posted in open access, science. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted September 26, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Could this be the test case and point in principle for “Fair Use”?

    • Posted September 26, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      I am not an expert on copyright law, but I think “Fair Use” only applies to work on which copyright exists in the first place. As Michael pointed out, work from government agencies is not subject to copyright and therefore shouldn’t be subject to anything within that law.

    • Librarian
      Posted October 2, 2013 at 4:47 am | Permalink

      because there are non-government owners, the authors could sign over copyright to the publisher. this happens regularly with scholarly content. in that case, could be fair uses, but i’d be surprised if a judge saw “setting content free” as a fair use. it’s a great statement, though! hope to see more faculty taking these actions!

  2. Posted September 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Hey thanks!

  3. jpoa
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    You sir, are a gentlemen.

    And my hero now.

    Congratulations and thank you for being awesome (and sharing).

  4. Posted September 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    As I’m certain you, a professional scientist, know, copyright in journal articles (except for a few enlightened, mostly online, journals) legally belongs to the publishing company, not the author. Thus Science can put results behind paywall because they “own” the copyright. I believe Science does make things available free after some period of time, which is more than some journals in my field (solar physics).

    There is an OSTP policy (published earlier this year) that defines free access to work done with funding from agencies with > $100M of federal research money as “freely accessible within one year” of publication/

    I believe Science meets that requirement. YMMV; for what it’s worth, I wish the authors had published in a journal of record that was more immediately available.

    • Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink


      The OSTP policy pertains to work done with federal grant funding. This is different: NASA is itself a branch of the government, and so work that it produces is not under copyright at all. NASA could not have (legitimately) transferred copyright in these articles to the AAAS since there was no copyright to transfer. The work is in the public domain, and Science’s paywalling it is Just Plain Wrong.

      • Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        To play the Devil’s Advocate here, while the papers do rely on data generated by Curiosity, a lot of the analyses and other supporting data (e.g. in the Jake M paper) come from purely terrestrial sources. In fact, only one of the papers has a corresponding author who’s employed by NASA, so the argument could be made that the papers are not works of the government, “merely” copyrightable works that use government created data (said data being not copyrighted).

      • Scott G
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        If the work is performed by a Federal Employee (e.g. a Civil Servant) then the work cannot be copyrighted by the US Government. If the work is performed by a contractor under contract to the US Government, then the language in the contract, constrained by the Federal Acquisition Regulations, determine the rights of the contractor and the rights of the US Government in the works produced. This means that a contractor can copyright the work if it is partially created by contract personnel, and can, depending on the particular contract language assign the copyright to the US Government, which can *hold* copyrights.

    • Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Science can’t own the copyright if it doesn’t exist, as it shouldn’t since the work was done by a government agency. And no one (i.e. the authors) can sign copyright over to someone else (ie. Science) if they don’t hold it in the first place. So, I don’t think Science has a legal leg to stand on here.

      On a separate note, it’s time we stopped considering ‘free within one year of publication and with limits on redistribution and reuse’ an acceptable alternative to immediate open access, especially when the project uses billions of taxpayer dollars.

      • Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        “It’s time we stopped considering ‘free within one year of publication and with limits on redistribution and reuse’ acceptable.”


      • Fabiana Kubke
        Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        Well said Erin. Indeed, not an acceptable alternative.

      • Andrew Carter
        Posted September 28, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        It’s a little more complicated than that, because it’s not being written or published by “NASA,” it’s being written by researchers who happened to work at NASA and published by Science. I think most people would have a problem with NASA telling the scientists what they can and can’t do with what they learn on the job, so that sword cuts both ways, because they might do something unpopular (like copyright their interpretation of collected data).

        Furthermore, there is absolutely no law against paywalling non-copyrighted material. There’s just no legal protection if someone gets access and redistributes it.

        • Posted September 28, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

          Andrew, as I pointed out on FB, you’re incorrect about this. US copyright law and many court cases have established that copyright is not available for anything written by government employees in the course of their official duties (which this unambiguously is).

    • Silvio Traversaro
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      This is right only for the pulisher PDF, not for the reserach paper by itself.
      You could check for knowing what are your rights regarding each Journal.

      • Avery
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        I am not a lawyer, but a PDF, regardless of page formatting and stuff, should not be a copyrightable amount of work.

        • Posted September 28, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

          It’s not. This was settled in a Supreme Court case involving legal documents.

  5. Posted September 26, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    a huge thank you! you did the right thing.

  6. Zb
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    There used to be a different copyright assignment one signed at NIH, different than the one you sign as a university. Anyone know what that looks like now for Science

    • Fabiana Kubke
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Science has an exclusive “licence to publish” not a copyright transfer agreement. From their standard guidelines ”
      “11. Authors must sign AAAS’s form even if the Work was created under U.S. Government Contract. – The AAAS recognizes the U.S. Government’s non-exclusive rights to use the work for non-commercial, governmental purposes where such rights are established in the grant or contract.”

      Note the exception “where such rights are established.”

      “12. Authors employed by the U.S. Government should sign in the appropriate section of AAAS’s form.
      The area designated for U.S. Government employees confirms that the Work was written as part of your official duties as an employee of the U.S. Government, and therefore the Work is in the public domain.”
      Having said that, does this prevent Science from putting it behind a paywall, in a similar way that CC-BY works are being sold in Amazon?

      Which means that the work should be in the public domain (assuming the authors are eligible under the clause.
      Science seems to recognise 2 categories: working under contract (sign the exclusive licence to publish) and acting as part of duties of US Govt (public domain). So there is probably a subtlety there that I would not know how it applies.

  7. J. Pooh
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Deja vu all over again a second time.

    This sort of thing ended badly last time. And seemingly failed to instigate significant change.

    Take care.

  8. tzs
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Works produced by US government employees acting within the scope of their employment are not subject to copyright in the United States.

    This does NOT apply to government contractors. Whether or not works produced by government contracts are subject to copyright depends on the terms of the contract.

    In the case of Curiosity, note that much of the work for NASA is being done at JPL. Most JPL employees are neither government employees nor government contractors. They are Caltech employees. Caltech runs and staffs JPL under contract with the government.

    To determine the copyright ownership, if any, of papers produced by Curiosity scientists from JPL, we’d need to look at the contract between Caltech and NASA, and the employment contract between Caltech and its employees that work at JPL.

    • Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      All of the works have a combination of JPL and NASA employees as authors, as far as I can tell. This seems to puts them in a murky grey area, where the non-US government authors can claim copyright and transfer it to a journal, while the government employees (who are legally “co-owners” of the work) can not. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know exactly where that leaves the document as a whole.

      • Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        Seems like there are copyright issues here:

        1) The aforementioned coauthorship with nongovernment authors. From what I can find, the law in that area is unsettled:

        2) Did Science contribute anything copyrightable to the published product (e.g., create a graphic)? If so, then Science does hold rights to that even if it’s based on uncopyrightable material.

        • Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, typos in previous comment. First sentence should read:

          Seems like there are two copyright questions here:

        • Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, typos in previous comment. First sentence should read:

          “Seems like there are two copyright questions here:”

        • Posted September 28, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

          Science doesn’t add anything copyrightable.

  9. Posted September 26, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink
  10. Phil Stooke
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Duh! So most of these people are not government employees, but academics who need to publish in high quality refereed journals just to keep their jobs. NASA published absolutely nothing here, so saying NASA put the articles behind a paywall is what is sometimes termed BS in places less disciplined than the internet. What you should really be saying is – hey guys, as well as publishing where you need to, how about putting out a press release in non-academic language for all those people who are interested. And guess what – they did! (Check JPL website). Conclusion, messed up article, confused author.

    • Posted September 26, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      No. A large number of the authors are NASA employees. And do you really think there wasn’t a coordinated effort to decide on where to send these papers? You think it was just an accident that they all ended up in Science in the same issue?

      • Anon
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        This is, in fact, not true. None of the corresponding authors are NASA employees, and two of the papers posted here have NO NASA employees, so the logic is a bit of a stretch, in this case.

        • Posted September 27, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          You are wrong. All of the papers have as their final author the “MSL Science Team”, which consists of many NASA employees.

  11. Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I’ll give you this, Eisen, you’re gutsy. Crazy, zealotrous, and with a dubious understanding of copyright law (thought still, I’m sure, better than mine), but gutsy.

    • DrugMonkey
      Posted September 26, 2013 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      Of course he *understands* it, 24hrs. He is *challenging* it. I just wish the acolyte waccaloonarim would catch on to this distinction. It would make discussions with them considerably less frustrating.

  12. Posted September 26, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Here is a NASA publication guide for authors In it, they distinguish, as tzs pointed out above, between employees working for an institution under contract with NASA and U.S. Government employees working for NASA.

    They write that most contractors can hold copyright. In this case, the U.S. Government receives a non-exclusive license to reuse or redistribute the work. Any journal publishing the work must acknowledge the Government’s rights, but could limit distribution and reuse to others if granted a license or copyright by the original holder. If instead the authors are U.S. Government employees, no copyright can be claimed.

    I’ve read several journal license agreements that claim that if at least one author is not a U.S. Government employee, then the article is eligible for copyright and can be transferred to the journal by that single author. I haven’t yet found mention of this condition in copyright law.

  13. Robert Warner
    Posted September 26, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Knowledge should be freely accessible, instead of barred behind an antiquated journal publishing system that has outlived its usefulness. In light of the events surrounding Aaron Swartz, you are making a courageous stand. You are an inspiration, and I thank you.

  14. Posted September 26, 2013 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Everything aside, as a species can we not charge $20 to read about some of the most phenomenal discoveries hitherto. We are flying a semi-concious robot all the way to Mars to study the planet, the data is worth more than that!

    • Daniel Jue
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

      As a species, we’ve already paid billions for this project and the data it collects, did you forget?

    • foobar
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      And precisely because it is worth more than that it should be accessible. Because the worth is in being able to build upon it even more worth for humanity, not in harboring it as one of your posessions.

    • Posted October 4, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      I think somebody’s forgotten that his tax dollars have already funded NASA projects.

  15. Krzysztof Kietzman
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    I won’t pretend that I am interested in these particular articles (I’m an American literature major), but I’d like to applaud you for continuing the legacy of Aaron Swartz, which rests in making our academic content widely available to all. Thanks!

  16. anon
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    To be totally honest, the people with the capacity and tools to understand the analyses presented in this research *already* have access through their respective institutions and libraries.

    The general public are more likely to benefit from the press releases, news articles and blogs covering Curiosity’s findings—they’re available free, without stuffy prose and antiquated formatting. This is a technical document that won’t benefit the “IFLS crowd” who’ll happily share pretty pictures of galaxies and watch The Big Bang Theory but have no scientific knowledge or training (or really, interest?).

    I don’t think these kind of acts are as heroic as the perpetrators seem to think.

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      I think you vastly underestimate the capabilities of the public. And anyway, who are you to say what kinds of tax-payer funded, government employee produced documents are too technical for the general public? What about all of the people with Science backgrounds who could read and understand the articles but don’t have subscriptions to Science? What about aspiring scientists?

      • anon
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        You’re right there are edge cases, maybe graduate PhD astrophysicists who are now in working in finance. What are the access options for this tiny niche intersection of society? Well, a yearly subscription to science isn’t all that expensive, they could email the authors and request a preprint, check arXiv, pay their hard-earned $20 or wait a year for the details.

        It’s not about underestimating “the Great Unwashed”. I wouldn’t demand architectural drawings for publicly-funded buildings be made available to me; they’re technical documents of which I am neither the intended audience or capable of understanding. The same applies to car wiring diagrams and mechanics (even if they’re for state-procured police cars).

        Maybe this is just a debate on proportions, I’d argue a handful of people would benefit from this publication (those edge cases I refer to), whereas you seem to think it’s a sizeable proportion of society. If the latter is indeed the case, where are these people within OA societies, events, petitions. All I tend to see in these circles is academics (such as yourself) who have almost total access to any of their technical documents through their institution.

        • Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

          anon, you greatly underestimate the need for access to the peer-reviewed literature from the Great Unwashed. See for example the statistics about what proportion of access to PubMed Central is from non-university addresses, the rate at which JSTOR declines unauthorised attempted accesses, and anecdotal websites like

          • anon
            Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

            But are there any websites or projects akin to whoneedsaccess that were initiated by non-academics? Are there any citizen groups rising up for this cause?

            I would love to believe the premise you guys present that there’s an angry army of Job Public saying “What do we want? Peer reviewed literature! When do we want it? Now!” … “1,2,3,4, we want CNS and more!” etc. Instead it appears to be confined to academics suffering from confirmation bias when they receive a tweet from Crohn’s patient X who wants to know why we don’t have a clue about Chrohn’s. How does a jargon-laden GWAS study aid this person? Well, that’s probably a little off-topic, but hopefully I’ve made my concerns clear about the guerrilla OA movement being a top-down prescribed cure to a potentially exaggerated problem without grassroots support. Needless to say, assuming we still disagree at this juncture thank you both for the debate (and for allowing my comments anonymously).

        • rockdoc
          Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink


          Your comments are, at the very least, tinged with arrogance. Publical funded science is owned by the public. They have the right to view the results whether the are “edge cases” or not. Maybe those not blessed with your intellect could find these papers interesting enough to aqcuire whatever knowlege they need to understand them.

          I have little personal interest in architectural drawings of public buildings, but why shouldn’t these be freely available? The public has paid for these, whether they choose to examine them is their decision, not yours or mine.

          • anon
            Posted September 27, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

            I agree largely, personal insults aside. It’s unusual to equate a monetary value with denial, am I being denied a Mercedes? Can we construct a moving narrative around that, are they taking away my rights by asking a fee? A personal subscription to Nature print and online costs around $100 per annum (when IFs are released, ~36$). Regardless, to return to the analogy, my point is that it’s the people riding around in Benz C-classes ordaining to the proles “let them eat science” (or mercedes, even. OK the analogising fails here).

            The taxpayer narrative is indeed an emotive one; presumably it follows that US citizens alone are allowed free access? Your last point in particular is where I think we are well-aligned, it doesn’t fall on professors and tenured academics to tell the public they want open-access.

    • anon
      Posted September 30, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink


  17. Paul Caritj
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I think this is great, but you should consider whether there is content in these articles that was not produced by NASA but, rather, was added by Science. At the very least, the entire first page is, I would think, copyrightable and copyrighted by Science. It may also be possible that elements of the layout, graphics, etc. in subsequent pages is copyrighted.

    • DrugMonkey
      Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      “Value added”

      • Joe Pickrell
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

        Credit where credit is due: that first page is lovely, isn’t it?

  18. anon
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Well, whoever owns the works, it’s not you. But driving web traffic here could be viewed as profiting off public works, so I that’s a pretty ethically gray area as well…

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      The works are in the public domain. They belong to nobody.

      • DrugMonkey
        Posted September 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        I pay taxes to the US Federal government so I own a part of them. I hereby permit Eisen to use my tiny portion as he has seen fit.

        • Mario Colombo
          Posted September 28, 2013 at 4:22 am | Permalink

          DrugMonkey you really haven’t understood yet the meaning of ‘public domain’. As Michael states, these documents belong to nobody. That’s why nobody can deny access to them.

          • DrugMonkey
            Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

            They belong to the public. I’m in that group. Plus, I paid for part of them.

        • Moshe Bitten
          Posted September 30, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

          No, they do not “belong” to the public. Legally, they belong to NOBODY, and thus nobody may disallow access to them.

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      How exactly is he “profiting”? this is a non-profit blog, no advertising, etc.

  19. Anon
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    The Stolper and Leshin papers posted here (as examples) have an author list composed entirely of private researchers, so it’s hard to understand how it’s fair to appropriate their work here, under the claim it should be government-owned.

    • Posted September 27, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Again, you are incorrect. The MSL Science Team, which includes NASA employees, are authors on all 5 papers.

  20. clueless noob
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a fun paper, “Copyright in government employee works”, directly from NASA’s website: Money quote:

    The principle of these cases is that a work authored by a government employee for the use of the government cannot be the subject of a United States copyright. A work, therefore, authored by a government employee which can be considered as an assigned or expected duty cannot be protected by copyright. A work voluntarily authored by a government employee and not intended for use by the government, however, can be protected by copyright. Thus, a copyright would exist in an article authored by a government employee at the direct request of a publisher or editor of a private publication, even though the article was written on government time and its content related to the author’s official duties. In turn,a copyright would not subsist in an article on a government agency’s activities authored by the agency’s public affairs officer and published in a commercial periodical or in a work assigned by a superior to a government employee which the employee prepared outside of working hours.

  21. 他喜欢开窗
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. To play devil’s advocate, let us say I am from China。Now I can see your government progress freely online. You could have stop this with just 20 USD, now it is free everyone can use them. Do you want secret shares between Chinese Government and US Government? Most likely not!

    • Vicki
      Posted September 28, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      Fine, you’re from China. Do you seriously expect me to believe that nobody currently in China has a subscription to Science, and that the Chinese government cannot afford $20 to get access to the paper? If it was worth keeping secret in that sense, the papers wouldn’t have been sent to Science, they’d be classified.

    • DrugMonkey
      Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      China? Ummm, guy? When’s the last time you walked by an average US University laboratory building in, oh, just pick any science.

  22. Fred Bosick
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Sir!

  23. Dave
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    There’s a bigger question here — what if the science that Science publishes IS junk? Having fun with the title of Michael’s blog aside, this journal (as well as its British competitor, Nature) have a cosy relationship with scientific missions whereby the journal grants a certain amount of page space or number of papers to the mission in question in return for the exclusive right to publish the results. If the science is flaky, or just outright wrong — as it often is with planetary geology (I am a planetary geologist), then the restriction that everyone is bemoaning here — the bar to access — becomes something far worse: the bar to question or criticise. In effect, Science can publish bad science and bar those who would call it into question from doing so using the same commercial interests that are used to ‘copyright’ that same science. My 2c worth, from personal experience.

    Bad news all around…

    • Miles Wade
      Posted September 28, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Even if the results turn out to be bad science, at least the public has a chance to understand why. The other added benefit is that others following the research are given at least notice to move away from the same or similar approaches.

  24. G.R. Speirs
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Thank you Dr. Eisen for making these documents available and for caring about the freedom of scientific information.

  25. PNR
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    You are so amazing, you’re basically the Robin Hood of science. Please remember to tell yourself this every time you look at the mirror, because it would be a travesty if you were to ever for a single second underestimate your heroism.

    Do you actually understand the content of the papers, though?

    I hear you screaming ‘but that’s not the point! Tax funded research should be freely accessible to all!’ Maybe it should. But you live in a country where your taxes are directly paying to bomb innocent civilians in the Middle East. While I think that is a MUCH bigger deal, what I am saying is that taxes get raised and spent in all sorts of messed up ways, and the right-wing argument that they should therefore be cut to a minimum, and the left-wing argument that everything that benefits from taxes should be free are equally demented.

    Grow up, the lot of you.

    • Posted September 28, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      I am not arguing that everything that benefits from taxes should be free. I am merely pointing out that existing US law says that works like this should not be subject to copyright and placed behind a paywall.

      • PNR
        Posted September 29, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        Good luck with that, then.

        I’m arguing it’s incredibly deluded to think your actions make any difference.

        • Posted September 30, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

          I don’t think it’s such a Quixotic gesture. Or if it is, it’s turning out to be a pretty <a href="sturdy tilt at the windmill, all the same.

        • Pavan Vaidyanathan
          Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

          Well, clearly it did make a difference. JPL has posted all the relevant papers for free on their website. Kudos to you, Mike!

  26. Alan
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Well done sir, I hope other scientists are equally outraged and follow your example. Shame so many are convinced that to do so may legally implicate them, as any good lawyer would relish the opportunity to defend these injustices.

  27. Todd Fagin
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Since when are U.S. government employees prohibited from publishing the results of their research in a private, peer-reviewed journal? This is a highly questionable reading of U.S. copyright law–at best.

    • Posted September 28, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      They can publish wherever they want. They cannot, however, claim copyright in the work, and, as a consequence, neither can the journal.

  28. Miles Wade
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    None of the papers would have been published except for the fact that US taxpayers paid the bill to put Curiosity on Mars. That makes all the papers “fruit of the tree” and that fact alone should make the resultant papers public domain. Copyright law is wrong.

    Whether or not the authors are NASA employees is spurious. US funding most likely pays the salaries directly or indirectly through funding for most of the salaries of at least the US scientists listed.

    • Miles Wade
      Posted September 28, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Signed up as a member of the AAAS so I could get inside the paywall.

      Turns out they list the authors as scientists at JPL and CalTech, so yes they were ALL US government employees OR contractors!!

      They also claim that they only are claiming the right to publish, not the copyright of ownership.

      • Tim
        Posted September 28, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Caltech is of course a private institution.

        • Posted September 28, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

          Yes. But the JPL is, as I understand it, a NASA facility managed by CalTech. I used to work at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a DOE facility managed by the University of California. When I was there all of our papers were treated as works of the US government and therefore ineligible for copyright.

    • DrugMonkey
      Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      “Fruit of the tree”? DUDES! Call Congress, our budget troubles are over forever. Too bad for the shareholders of BigPharma though…..

  29. P. Lane
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Nicely done. Good job.

  30. bj
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Without the govt funded research, the independent “co-authors” would have nothing to write. Free your data!!

  31. Posted September 29, 2013 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    Science Insider now reports about the posting of the Curiosity papers on this blog. Most interesting bit: According to them, it’s not up to the journal to take any action in this case.

    “In essence, that means it is up to the authors, who hold copyright, to decide whether they want to take any action against Eisen. ”
    ( )

    The idea of scientists “taking legal action” against other scientists for sharing papers is ridiculous; scientists don’t get any royalties and they BENEFIT if more people have access. Actually, more attention for their work is exactly what they want.

    So, is this good news for future course of action following Eisen’s example, maybe even on a larger scale?

  32. Jane Kuenz
    Posted September 29, 2013 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Thank you. Keep it up.

  33. C. Curtis
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Something else to throw out here –
    If you are employed by a company, the product of your work is often what is called “work for hire” and is not your intellectual property. Most scientists know this because universities will often assert ownership of patentable discoveries, and scientists must negotiate their ability to patent their discoveries.
    There is a strong argument to be made that if research is paid for by taxpayer money, then the work is “for hire” by the government. In that case, the copyright rules apply that apply to the federal government — i.e., that it is not copyrightable.
    Philosophically, there is little justification or need for copyright protection in this situation. Copyright exists to protect income from creative work, and so encourage more such work. Authors of scientific work do not make income from scientific papers; their renumeration is in the form of status. Copyright or lack thereof does not affect that renumeration, and it is not transferrable.

  34. 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.

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

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

  36. 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.

26 Trackbacks