On not conflating the give-away and non-give-away literature

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_cogprints.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 13 Apr 2002 18:13:31 +0100

Fri, 12 Apr 2002, Peter Suber wrote:

> I like the open treaty idea.
> http://chronicle.com/free/2002/01/2002012301t.htm
> Now that CIC http://www.cic.uiuc.edu/
> has worked out the groundrules for sharing content freely, it should
> be relatively easy to admit new members who are willing to agree to
> the same groundrules. The same advantages that persuaded the original
> CIC members to join should also persuade other universities to join.
> The faster and further it spreads, the better for open-access and
> the goals of the BOAI. http://www.soros.org/openaccess/index.shtml
> Of course, putting their content into
> OAI-compliant archives free for the whole world would be even
> better. But if they have their reasons to make their content free
> only to reciprocating universities, then I hope they will consider
> the open treaty idea.

It is, as always, extremely important to make the most fundamental
PostGutenberg distinction of all: The distinction between the author
give-away and author non-give-away literature:

The general objectives of the CIC "open treaty" concept seem
promising -- for books, which are, in general, NOT author give-aways.
But I think it would be a huge mistake to extend it to refereed
research papers, which are and always have been author give-aways.

(Peter is thinking above, whimsically, about the reverse, namely, about
how nice it would be if the open-access model, which is meant
specifically for give-away content, could also be extended to
non-give-away content in some way; I don't see how it could be, but I
see great danger in misapplying the non-give-away, access-restriction
model to give-away content, written only to maximize usage, uptake and

I raise here some questions about whether consortial access restrictions
are appropriate for the give-away literature that is the focus of our
concern at BOAI: The refereed research literature. I don't know whether
CIC is contemplating extending the "open treaty" model to this
literature too, but if (and only if) it is, I would raise the following

(1) The advantage of consortial efforts is that they guarantee
reciprocal efforts. So this would be good from the standpoint of
inducing all participants in the "open treaty" consortium to disclose
their their respective full-text content, and to provide access to it
to one another, especially if the only condition for joining the
consortium were that (and not some form of access fee, equivalent to a

(2) The disadvantage is that it denies access to non-consortium
participants. It is true that they too could join, and perhaps the
pressure of not being able to access is a pressure toward joining, just
as joining is a pressure toward providing the content. But are we sure
-- or do we even have reason to think it probable -- that these
constraints will actually help rather than hinder the hastening of open
access to the entire refereed literature for everyone?

(3) For, on the face of it, access-denial by a consortium is just
another instance of the all-too-familiar and all-too-widespread fact of
access-denial, simpliciter. It is this needless access-denial to
give-away content, an obsolete Gutenberg-era holdover, that open-access
efforts are devoted to remedying. Is there any reason to believe that
the remedy for this access-denial for give-away content lies in a new
form of access-denial ("you don't have access unless you join the

(4) Isn't that new form of access-denial merely reinforcing the
long-standing and counterproductive notion of access-denial to give-away
content? (Is it not rather too reminiscent of a site-license?)

(5) Should we not be working to eliminate the notion of access-denial to
give-away content, as fully and directly as possible?

(6) And isn't denying access to non-consortium members simply prolonging,
completely voluntarily this time, the very thing that open-access is
intended to remedy, namely, lost research impact? Do CIC consortium
members derive benefits from the fact that their give-away contents are
accessible only to one another, and not to the rest of the world?

I ask these questions not because I am certain that I have the right
answers (or even that CIC is contemplating applying the open-treaty
consortial model to give-away content at all), but because I am
convinced that these questions have to be raised and weighed explicitly
and consciously. Otherwise there is the risk that we are fooling
ourselves -- as CIC certainly would be, if the motivation for this
exclusionary policy were the mixed agenda that consists of (a)
relieving library serials burdens, (b) increasing research access and
impact, and (c) perhaps eventually cashing in in some way on the
university's intellectual output.

I would strongly recommend that (b) (maximizing research access/impact)
should be the only objective (for the special case of the give-away
refereed-research literature). The result will also have the eventual
indirect effect of remedying (a) (the serials crisis), but the
consortial model is too directly (and needlessly) modeled on (a),
whereas it is not suited to (indeed at odds with) (b).

And as to (c) (potential revenue from university output), this is a
conflation of the give-away (refereed research) and non-give-away
(books, textbooks, software, patents) sectors of university
productivity. The give-away refereed research literature should be
treated completely differently, and not as any sort of candidate for
access restriction at all. The open-treaty, consortial model (indeed,
perhaps even a publisher site-license model) may well prove to be the
optimal one for non-give-away content in the PostGutenberg age, but it
should in no way be combined or conflated with the open-access model,
which is the right one for refereed research and the wrong one for

One size does not fit all.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):

Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

and the Free Online Scholarship Movement:
Received on Sat Apr 13 2002 - 18:14:14 BST

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