Re: A Role for SPARC in Freeing the Refereed Literature

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2000 15:15:01 +0100

Please see the "napster" thread in this Forum. My own view is that
there is a profound DISanalogy between consumer-end rip-off,
napster-style, of NON-give-away work (such as MP3 music), which is
illegal and not to be condoned, and author-end open-archiving of
give-away work (refereed research reports), which can be done
completely legally, and is both optimal for research and researchers
and inevitable.

I don't think that conflating consumer-end take-away with producer-end
give-way in any way helps the rightful cause of freeing the refereed
literature; rather, it gives its adversaries the chance to liken it to
music-, book- and software-piracy.

On Wed, 21 Jun 2000, Hooper, T, Tony, wrote:

> the illegality of the undergraduate's actions [nabbing MP3s via
> napster] [is] almost irrelevant if there is little likelihood of either
> detection or a successful law enforcement action.

Digital consumer piracy may (or may not) prove to be an unpreventable
crime, with unenforceable laws, but it is certainly not a VICTIMLESS
crime (except when the producers themselves wish to give their product
away, in which case it is not necessary to steal it in the first

The digital give-away by researchers of their own refereed research
reports is intrinsically a victimless crime -- except if their
publishers try to make it so, by holding their joint product hostage to
restrictive copyright agreements. But that conflict-of-interest can be
amicably resolved by simply paying publishers up-front for their one
essential service (implementing peer review) out of the savings from
freeing the literature.

No need or room for napster-style piracy at all.

> The time has come to replace [copyright] 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.

There may or may not be a need (and a suitable way of meeting it) for
this in the many non-giveaway domains I've mentioned (books, music,
software), but refereed research is in another category entirely, for
its reward is the unrestricted access by other researchers (and
increased research impact) that comes from freeing it; no refereed
research author would trade that for fees, royalties, or any other
pay-for-product scheme: Theirs is not a trade product; it is more like
an advertisement.

> 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.

There seems to be a misunderstanding here. Does anyone imagine that
these musicians are interested in giving it all away forever?
Temporary, early-career give-aways for self-promotion, yes, but if
that's all there ever was to be, would they bother doing it at all?

    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)

> 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.

The technology makes it possible to separate what used to be the
unitary process of refereed research publication into two component
functions: Quality-Control/Certification, and Dissemination.

Publishers can continue to perform the former (and be paid fairly for
that service), while authors and their institutions perform the latter
(though Open Archiving).

This partitioning ONLY fits the refereed research literature (and
perhaps other give-away literatures); it does NOT fit books, music, or

> SPARC appears to be a way of building a modern-day Noah's Arc

And one would rather free all of the refereed research literature, once
and for all, not just save for one more year that smaller and smaller
portion of it that some of us can still afford at all.

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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