Yesterday’s edition of Science included four papers that describe some of the most detailed results yet available on the rock and soil analyses performed by the Curiosity Mars rover. Each of the papers was produced by a large team, in all but one case including international researchers. But all five of the papers had the same last author: the MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) Science Team, a group of people organized by NASA. Immediately after the papers’ release, a scientist and open access advocate used NASA’s involvement to justify posting all three papers on his personal website. Michael Eisen is a researcher based at the University of California, Berkeley, but he’s probably better known as one of the co-founders of the Public Library of Science, one of the most prominent open access publications in science.

He has maintained a strong advocacy of making scientific results and publications available to anybody with the ability to download them. In a blog post that explains his actions, Eisen notes that Science places its articles behind a paywall based on having a copyright on the material, provided by its original authors as part of the publishing process. But the US copyright code specifically forbids the copyrighting of “any work of the United States Government.” NASA is a government agency, and this is its work; therefore, Eisen concludes, there was never any copyright to transfer to Science.     

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