Re: A Role for SPARC in Freeing the Refereed Literature

From: Hooper, T, Tony, Mr <thooper_at_COMMERCE.UCT.AC.ZA>
Date: Mon Jan 24 19:17:43 2000

As a former academic library director I have great appreciation for
Stevan Harnad's perspective.

What is significant with Peter McKay's response on 19th June is that
the illegality of the undergraduate's actions are almost irrelevant
if there is little likelihood of either detection or a successful law
enforcement action. The reality is that technology has now made
copyright legislation a mechanism for criminalising society. It's
original purpose - the suppression of sedition in the 18th century -
is no longer relevant, and it has become an ineffectual vehicle for
regulating commerce in intellectual property ownership.The time has
come to replace it with a more effective way of rewarding creativity
- such that the originators benefit more than the publishers -
without creating artificial and inappropriate constraints on access
inimical to the culture of the Internet.

 The problem doesn't only apply to academics. Many musicians, angered
by the pathetic royalties paid by music publishers and the slow
turnaround times, are publishing their music voluntarily on the
Internet as MP3 files. As S H pointed out, for decades academic
libraries have been unable to pay the high prices demanded by the
academic journal publishers. The professional library literature is
rich with evidence that the academic publishers have been exploiting
the universities for decades along the lines identified by Stevan
Harnad - "gouging" was the term used by library directors in the US.
Academic institutions throughout the world have been cutting back on
library expenditure through the 1980s and 1990s. The libraries
themselves have always been on the side of free and unfettered access
to information. Executives in most universities have developed a more
pragmatic view.

The technology is now readily available for a new way to ensure rapid
publication, good indexing, quick and easy peer review, and above
all, easy and open access unrelated to financial considerations. It
is just a matter of time before a totally new system evolves
which recognises that the interests of academics and of conventional
academic publishers are no longer mutually attuned. Of course EBSCO,
Elsevier and others may have recognised the problem and be ready to
do something radical to rectify it. If they haven't the tide
identified by Stevan Harnad may swamp them. SPARC appears to be a way
of building a modern-day Noah's Arc, but the reality is that a new
way of defining the boundaries of knowledge and research is on its
way and is unlikely to involve the contemporary academic publishers.

Tony Hooper
Department of Information Systems
University of Cape Town
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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