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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 21 May 2000 11:26:42 +0100

On Sun, 21 May 2000, Dr. John R. Skoyles wrote:

> Traditional publishers seek Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View
> S/L/P access tolls. Self-archiving removes that. But only in part. As
> important is the interface that provides access to papers.
> ResearchIndex-like engines can find and sort out self-archived papers
> even without the aid of meta-data-tagging. The next generation might do
> even more -- for example, imagine the possibilities if latent semantic
> analysis was done across papers and the results used to aid paper and
> topic searching. These possibilities suggest that companies will arise
> in the near-future to exploit self-archived papers and open archives by
> competing to set-up the most user-friendly sites with novel add ons
> [such as LSA based searching] for accessing them. Los Alamos Eprint
> Archive let us be blunt is not very user friendly -- at least in my
> experience -- there is much room for improvement in this direction. The
> take over by such start-ups could be rapid: as the Nature piece noted,
'in less than a year, the Google search engine has become the most
> popular on the web'. In a year, companies might be offering competing
> user-friendly interfaces piggy-backed on top of open archives.

It is not clear what your point is: Making open-archive services
possible that piggy-back on open-archive databases is one of the
explicit goals of the Open Archive initiative. For example, here at
Southampton, besides designing (free) open archiving software so
universities can set up their own open archives, we are designing new
(free) ways of navigating open archives, including completely
citation-interlinking of all archived papers. Commercial providers are
free to develop and try to sell open-archive services too -- but in
this arena they will have to compete with the researchers' own free
services. (And none of this has anything to do with Napster-style
consumer-end theft.)

> My second comment has nothing to do [as you imply] with proposing
> changes to quality control. It has to do with the morality of
> scientific publishers taking what economists call a 'rent' from the
> reputation that journals have built up over the years through the
> freely given labours of editors, reviewers and contributors.... {This]
> is [theft] by commercial organizations of what came originally from the
> scientific community. Its existence is a key part of the debate about
> shifting publishers to their proper role as quality control service
> providers. They will face a major loss of revenue: they would like
> others in government and even the courts to feel sorry for them, for
> surely they will argue such a loss has occurred because of '[theft]'.

This is all rather too shrill for my taste. Let research authors not
worry about fighting the battles of libraries to combat the serials
crisis or of publishers to protect their current revenue streams. Let
them just self-archive their give-away refereed research in interoperable
open-archives set up for them by their universities and Learned
Societies. Let nature take care of the rest.

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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