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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 21 May 2000 11:01:53 +0100

On Sat, 20 May 2000, Joseph Ransdell wrote:

jr> Though what has been said about Napster is certainly relevant, I don't
jr> think the import of it for self-archiving of one's professional work,
jr> published or pre-print, has quite come into focus for us here. Let us
jr> leave aside the use of it to pirate music, which is a red herring
jr> relative to the concerns of this forum.

It is not a red herring in one essential respect: There are many people
who currently oppose open archiving of refereed research because they
think it is a form of theft: There are university administrators who
think this (feeling the pressure of the serials crisis, but
understandably not wishing to relieve it illegally); there are
librarians who think this; there are publishers who think this; and
there are authors who think this.

The primary motivation and use of Napster for consumer-end piracy simply
reinforces this false impression, which is still holding us all back
from the optimal and the inevitable for research. It is for this reason
that it is so important to make it clear that author self-archiving is
NOT a form of consumer-end piracy at all; it is a producer-end
give-away, and as such, it does not need Napster-like tricks for
distribution. It can and should be done perfectly up-front and legally
by authors on the Web itself. No need for "second economy" bootleg
links between users' PC's: Just proudly self-archive your own refereed
work on your own institutional Open Archive or a central one.
Interoperability will take care of the rest; and consumers will be able
to get your give-away product perfectly legally, and without the need
of any "second network."

Professor Randsell goes on to make further suggestions for Napster-style
distribution, again failing to take the difference between consumer-end
rip-off and producer-end give-away into account. For when it is
producer-end give-away, there is no need for a "second network" or
directly connected computers (with all the attendant needless risks and
vulnerabilities). The good old WWW will do fine.

jr> What makes [Napster] relevant here is its potentialities as a
jr> communications technology that can be used to defeat reactionary
jr> intellectual property practices.

Via consumer rip-off or producer give-away? Is there any reason
whatsoever that the latter should make common cause with the former?

The Net was built in the spirit of shareware, but now that the entire
economy is moving onto the Net, it is just as absurd that the Net
should (quixotically, and chaotically) try to impose the give-away
model on all of Trade, as that the Trade model should now be imposed on
all of the Net. Let 1000 flowers bloom.

The teenage and post-teenage hackers who craft the likes of "Gnutella"
in the hopes of freeing the Golden Goose-Eggs (about whose exact
provenance they are blissfully murky) for one and all, Napster-style,
would simply kill the Golden Goose if they prevailed unchecked. This is
a classical "evolutionarily unstable strategy," in which cheaters
eventually deplete the resource they exploit. There is no reason
whatsoever to link the rational, right, and reachable goal of freeing
the refereed research literature to this sort of murky myopia in any

jr> one advantage it offers that is not accommodated by the public archives
jr> in process of construction at present is that one can make publicly
jr> available many different kinds of resource material in addition to
jr> scholarly or scientific research reports proper...
jr> it could make easily available scholarly and investigative tools of
jr> the sort which heretofore have always perished with those individuals
jr> who devised them.

Are we talking about consumer rip-off or producer give-away? If the
latter, what's wrong with doing it publicly on the Web? (And the Open
Archive interoperability can and will easily be extended to other forms
of give-away too, not just research reports.)

jr> Would people actually be willing to share their research instruments
jr> and materials in that way[?]

Reasonable question. Where the answer is "Yes," the course is clear
(and does not require a second, Napster-style Net: the first one will
do). Where the answer is "No," we are talking about theft rather than
give-away (and most of us will want to just walk-away from that).

jr> this Napster-like technology could yield a distributed archival
jr> database which could easily grow... [but would] have to remain distinct
jr> from the database of e-prints currently envisaged because of its highly
jr> fluid character, owing to its dependence on the willingness of
jr> individuals not only to keep on making the materials available but also
jr> to follow routine practices in revision of their work and in the
jr> development of their personal instruments of research.

It is not at all clear why all of this (if it's legal give-aways)
cannot be done within the Open Archives framework.

jr> the value of it relative to the aims of the present forum could only
jr> lie in its side-effect of tending to encourage self-archiving of the
jr> stable sort wanted here.

On the contrary, any association with Napster-style consumer fraud can
only have the side-effect of retarding open archiving's entirely
ethical mandate.

jr> To use one of Stevan's favorite metaphors, if the horses, being shown
jr> the water, continue to be reluctant to drink, it could be because of
jr> inhibitions that can only be addressed in other ways than those that
jr> suggest themselves when one thinks of the problem of open publication
jr> only in the simplistic and highly abstract way it is usually described
jr> here.

On the contrary. Inhibitions about self-archiving are based on the
unfounded fear that it may be wrong or illegal; gratuitously linking
it to something that may indeed be wrong and illegal hardly helps.

The algorithm is indeed simple, but hardly abstract:

    Researchers' refereed research reports are give-aways; researchers
    should accordingly self-archive them online, free for all. No need
    for a Napster-style "second economy" to do this: Open archiving
    will do it for you (and for any other research-related things you
    may wish to give away too).

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

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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