Re: Napster: stealing another's vs. giving away one's own

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 19 May 2000 22:41:09 +0100

On Fri, 19 May 2000, Eric Hellman wrote:


eh> Although a number of lawsuits have been filed trying to shut down
eh> Napster because of its potential for copyright abuse, the music
eh> industry's war against Napster is one they have already lost, even if
eh> they win numerous legal battles. The genie is out of the bottle...

That may or may not be the case, but what is certain is that the kind of
bootleg and piracy that Napster makes possible is certainly NOT what is
being advocated for the refereed research literature.

The decisive disanalogy between napster-based music piracy and the
self-archiving of research is that it is the PRODUCERS (the authors)
who are giving away their own texts in the latter case, whereas in the
former case it is the CONSUMERS who are stealing it.

The musicians whose work is being stolen in this bootleg enterprise are
certainly not willing collaborators in what is happening to their work.
Nor is it at all clear how the music industry is to survive if all
products can be stolen in bootleg form.

It seems to me that if people can steal all the grain a farmer grows,
the farmer goes out of business, and there is no more grain to steal;
back to everyone having to grow their own. (Unlikely that it will
continue to be grown for any secondary "advertising" revenues
piggy-backing on the bootleg.)

eh> The music industry has many parallels with the books and serials
eh> industries; in fact, there are very strong parallels between Napster
eh> and the recent efforts to develop interoperable archives for
eh> technical articles.

I would completely reject this. Napster may have parallels in the
bootleg piracy of digital texts, but that certainly is not what the open
archiving initiative is about. One of the reasons for the prominent
emphasis on author SELF-archiving is precisely that it is only author
give-aways that the initiative is focussing on. There is no intention
to condone or facilitate crimes.

Note that, unlike in music and trade-book production, in research
journal paper production there is and always has been a conflict of
interest between the author and publisher: the publisher needs to sell
their joint product, the author would prefer to give it away. The
solution to this is for the journal publisher to scale down to becoming
a quality-control/certification (QC/C) SERVICE-provider, instead of a
producers of papers, which can instead be given away by being
self-archived online in the open archives. The (minimal) costs of the
QC/C service can be paid for by the author's institution out of a small
portion of its annual institutional savings from cancelling all
payments for the (now-free) PRODUCT (formerly paid for by
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View S/L/P access tolls).

There is no such conflict of interest in the case of music and
trade-book production. There, author and publisher are completely
united in opposing the theft of their joint product. Not so in the case
of the refereed research literature.


    Harnad, S., Varian, H. & Parks, R. (2000) Academic publishing in
    the online era: What will be for-fee and what will be for-free?
    Culture Machine 2 (Online Journal)

    Harnad, S. (1995) The PostGutenberg Galaxy: How to Get There From
    Here. Information Society 11(4) 285-292. Also appeared in: Times
    Higher Education Supplement. Multimedia. P. vi. 12 May 1995

    Harnad, S. ( 1995) Sorting the Esoterica from the Exoterica:
    There's Plenty of Room in Cyberspace: Response to Fuller.
    Information Society 11(4) 305-324. Also appeared in: Times Higher
    Education Supplement. Multimedia. P. vi 9 June 1995 eh>

eh> Similarities:

eh> 1. Both are distributed content distribution schemes.


eh> 2. Both are catalyzed by uniform identifier systems.


eh> 3. Both are driven by grassroots rather than by incumbent industries.

Irrelevant. Only the conflict of interest in one, and not the other, is

eh> 4. The supply of content exceeds the demand.


For the non-give-away literature, Napster allows theft by the consumer,
pure and simple. "Auto-piracy" by the (co)-producer is not piracy at
all, and indeed it can be done completely legally, as described repeatedly
in this Forum.

To put it another way: Like music and trade books, research journals are
at risk of consumer-theft. But that is certainly not what it being
implemented or advocated here. What is being implemented and advocated
here is merely legal (but subversive) self-archiving by the give-away
(co-)-producers of the papers in question, the authors.

That "subversion" is intended to force a rational restructuring and
downsizing of refereed research publication, in line with what is best
for research and researchers, so that publishers can be paid fairly for
the service they provide (the value they add) through QC/C, once they
have scaled down to providing that essential service, and that service
alone (the rest no longer being essential, hence no justification for
continuing to hold give-away research hostage to its needless expenses
in this PostGutenberg, open-archiving era).

eh> Differences
eh> 1. Rock Stars get megabucks from the music companies. Nobel winners
eh> are not significantly compensated by publishers.

This is relevant, though obscurely stated: Rock-stars do not wish to
give away their work; researchers do. That's the trade/nontrade,
nongive-away/give-away dichotomy described above. Rock-stars make
their money from the sale of their work; researchers make what money
they make from the (research) impact of their work on other researchers
and their research. The barriers of S/L/P, denying access to their
research, are eo ipso IMPACT-barriers. Hence the conflict of interest.

eh> 2. Music is youth-driven; print is not.


eh> 3. Many Napster-enabled activities are clearly illegal. e-print
eh> archives are clearly legal.

Not only not illegal, but not analogous, being (give-away) producer
"auto-piracy" rather than consumer allo-piracy. The latter (stealing
what is another) is wrong, and a crime; the former (giving away what is
one's own) is legal, right, and optimal for research and researchers.

eh> 4. Napster has no stored content, whereas archives have storage as
eh> part of their mission.


eh> For the print publishing industry, the key to avoiding the fate of
eh> the music industry is to recognize early on which initiatives are
eh> likely to be conducive to orderly change in their industry, and to
eh> realize that the sort of control over distribution which existed in
eh> the past is a thing of the past.

This is irrelevant, or at best should be addressed to the trade
publication industry (books and magazines).

eh> For example, the music industry has
eh> belatedly realized that RealAudio is a better alternative than
eh> Napster. In a similar situation, the Biomedical publishing community
eh> has raised a particular stink about PubMed Central, which will seem
eh> awfully benign in the face of the more Napsteresque publishing
eh> systems which are sure to arise.

Again, this is based on no substantive analogy (except the general
at-risk state of all digital texts). I hope no one will confuse or
equate the legal open self-archiving of their own work by research
authors with these new and deplorable means of stealing the work of

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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