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

From: Peter Suber <peters_at_EARLHAM.EDU>
Date: Sat, 13 Apr 2002 22:01:28 -0400

At 06:13 PM 4/13/2002 +0100, you wrote:
>Fri, 12 Apr 2002, Peter Suber wrote:
> > I like the open treaty idea.
> >
> > Now that CIC
> > 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.
> >
> > 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.

Some of the content that CIC institutions share freely among themselves is
in the give-away category (ejournals) and some is not (ebooks). It's true
that I wasn't tracking this distinction when I made my suggestion. But I
haven't changed my position on the importance of author consent (hence, on
the distinction between give-away and non-give-away content). I should
have said that CIC could put the give-away portion of its content into
open-access archives.

But I still like the open treaty idea to enlarge the CIC consortium and I
still believe that including give-away content in the consortial sharing
can be a step forward. Stevan and I agree that if an institution does not
provide open access to the journal articles of its faculty, then it should
do so. But here I'm adding that if it provides open access only to
reciprocating universities, then that is better than not providing open
access to anyone. By calling it a "huge mistake", Stevan implies that it
should be avoided at all costs.

In the context of my original message, I was replying to the question how
CIC could do more than it is already doing to help the cause of open
access. One way to restate my answer is that putting its content into
open-access archives would be best, and that moving from a dozen members to
an "open treaty" would be second-best.

Here's another way to put this. Compared to open access, consortial
restrictions on give-away content are unjustified. But compared to priced
access, open access to consortial members is a step in the right direction.

(More below.)

>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.

It's one thing to argue that restrictions on access should be lifted. But
here Stevan is also arguing that unrestricted access should be the "only
objective". If this means that recognizing a second-best path negates the
value of the best path, then I believe it is mistaken.

If the second-best path diverts anyone from the best, then it is a snare
and distraction. But if it is a step up from the third-best, then it is an

If it could be shown that providing open access for give-away content only
to reciprocating institutions delays the day that an institution provides
open access to everyone, then I might join Stevan in discouraging
institutions from considering it. But this is an empirical question on
which I'd like to see some evidence. Perhaps limiting an institution's
open-access options to "all or nothing" will eventually lead it to choose
all. But perhaps opening up degrees or stages of widened access, or open
access to progressively larger audiences, will start to change author and
reader expectations, and exert competitive pressure on priced providers,
that will eventually bring us to open access more quickly. I really don't
know, but this is the question I think we need to answer.

Peter Suber, Professor of Philosophy
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374

Editor, The Free Online Scholarship Newsletter
Received on Sun Apr 14 2002 - 12:52:58 BST

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