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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 14 Apr 2002 19:07:16 +0100

I agree with Peter that the differences under discussion are about
untested empirical predictions, and that no one can know for sure in
advance how they will come out. So we are discussing a priori

On Sat, 13 Apr 2002, Peter Suber wrote:

> Some of the content that CIC institutions share freely among themselves is
> in the give-away category (ejournals) and some is not (ebooks).

But the give-away/non-give-away distinction is NOT co-extensive with the
ejournal/ebook distinction! Both ejournals and ebooks are PUBLISHER
products (and, of course, universities can be publishers too, which
contributes to the ambiguity here); and, in general, neither ejournals
nor journals are give-aways today (just as neither books nor ebooks

The relevant distinction is hence between non-give-away
journals/ejournals/books/ebooks, on the one hand, and give-away
refereed-journal ARTICLES, on the other. It is the latter that are
author give-aways.

Hence "ejournals" vs. "ebooks" is not the issue, at the
institutional level (unless we are merely talking about a consortial
site-license between epublishers, for their published titles, rather
than between universities, for their refereed research output!).

The relevant distinction for universities is hence that between their
own authors' journal-article output (all give-away) and their own
authors' book output (mostly non-give-away). (I think there is a
wide-spread systematic ambiguity -- if not an ambivalence -- about this
fundamental distinction in all current discussions and thought about
this subject.)

> 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.

Thanks for the clarification, and I didn't doubt that the distinction
was clear in Peter's own mind and intentions. What is more important is
that it should also be clear in CIC's mind, and the minds of
like-minded institutions that might follow suit, or might be thinking
along similar lines.

I must also note an element of complication that arises from this,
however. (And this has nothing to do with the specific point about the
preferability of making all give-away content open-access rather than

If an open-treaty consortium is intended for its own outgoing content
(both author non-give-away books [the majority] and author give-away
books [the minority], plus refereed journal papers [all give-away]),
and it is accessible only to those who join the consortium, then it
makes the criterion for consortium membership rather vague, if not

"Join, and then contribute whatever you decide is give-away?"

(If there are no fees for joining, this simply reduces to open-access,
with the consortial-joining a mere formality.)

"Join, and you must contribute everything, give-away and non-give-away?"

(This will be a deterrent to joining, and hence a needless deterrent to
the give-away of give-away content, simply because it is co-bundled with
non-give-away content.)

"Join, for a consortial joining fee."

(This is basically a consortial site-license, which is a form of
negotiated toll-access. For non-give-away content, it might be a valid
new source of revenue and perhaps the stable PostGutenberg business
model. But for give-away content, it is merely a new source of unwanted
and unneeded chains. Hence again a pity to try to co-bundle the two
profoundly disparate forms of content. The right solution for the one
is the wrong solution for the other.)

> 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.

Perhaps a "huge mistake" is an exaggeration: I should have said that it
was vague and ill thought-through, and that if one thinks it through,
one will find that it is either (1) incoherent (applying incompatible
solutions to disparate kinds of content) or (2) merely a form of
site-license, effectively perpetuating access-denial to the give-away
literature, or (3) an arbitrary access restriction, merely decorative,
yet dysfunctional.

Note that providing access only to reciprocating universities already
has a name, and that name certainly isn't "open access": It is a
consortial site license (or interlibrary-loan agreement). The terms
could in principle be worked out with the participating publishers, and
the whole thing could just turn into another Trojan Horse like the Big

"Journal Publisher Click-Through Monopoly: A Trojan Horse"

How much simpler it is to call a spade a spade: Each university has its
own give-away content, written not for the sake of royalty income but
for the sake of research impact. If the university finds its way to
self-archiving that so as to increase its access and impact, what is
the point of restricting that access (and impact) to participating
consortial universities?

To summarize: My guess is that the give-away/non-give-away aspects and
the site-license aspects have not been thought through, and if/when they
are, open-treaty consortial-access to give-away content will be found
to be (3) decorative/dysfunctional.

Of course Peter is right that if, despite this, open-treaty
consortial-access proves to be the magic bullet, or, to switch
metaphors, the polydipsic agent that at last succeeeds in inducing the
academic cavalry and their hosts to drink from the waters of
self-archiving for the sake of their give-away content and its lost
impact, then it is certainly welcome. For, once the benefits of this
partially increased access become apparent, the scales will fall from
researchers' eyes (and so will the remaining arbitrary access

>From the standpoint of probability, however, and parsimony, it does
seem like a rather Rube-Goldbergish way for the token to fall, at last.
But who knows?...

> 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.

Agreed. But let us remember that at the moment the CIC have a
consortium and the notion of "open treaty," but no content! (The
current horse/water status quo; a stand-off.)

Hence the right way to state the probabilities is: What is more likely
to draw their researchers' refereed research papers into university
Eprint Archives at last? The lure of consortial-access or the lure of

If it is the former, then more power to it, of course, be it ever so

> 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.

But in the absence of archive content in the first place, one must ask
whether that content is more likely to be attracted by the siren call
of consortial access or open access? Particularly when the siren call
of consortial access sounds suspiciously like the siren call of
consortial site licensing (the Trojan Horse mentioned earlier)...

> sh> 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.

This is rather like talking about being "a little bit pregnant."

Here are ways in which access (not OPEN access, which is clearly
defined in the BOAI as "free
and unrestricted online availability, which we will call open access")
can be increased:

(1) make it accessible online (even if not toll-free)

(2) make it accessible online to more users (site license)

(3) make it accessible online at a lower access-toll

(4) make it accessible online toll-free, but at a later date

These are all ways of making research MORE accessible (probably there
are other ways too). We are all in favor of more access (who would be
opposed to increasing research access/impact?) -- except perhaps if
it is at odds with open access, i.e., if partial access is increased at
the cost of decreasing or slowing the likelihood of open access.

Some of these trade-offs are unavoidable: Libraries must survive from
day to day, so they must seek and take advantage of lower prices and
site-license deals. But that is happening in any case. And that is not
the BOAI.

The BOAI is concerned specifically with open access, and should be
careful to support partial-access solutions only if they increase,
rather than decrease the probability of open access.

> 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
> advance.

It's a bit more complicated than that, as I've suggested above, if you
substitute "open access" for "best."

> 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.

I'd say the same, but with the other default hypothesis: "If it could
be shown that restricting access to reciprocating institutions DOES NOT
delay open access," then BOAI should encourage it.

But BOAI should certainly encourage institutional self-archiving, for
the sake of hastening the growth of institutional give-away content.
BOAI should perhaps simply not be involved in the formal details of the
accessing. In the end, institutional self-archived content, guided by
the benefits of maximizing access and impact, will find its own way,
regardless of what formal plans the institutions may have made as a first
approximation (e.g., consortial access) to the inevitable and optimal
endstate: open access.

So I'd say, if it successfully draws content, consortial-access is a
harmless formality; without content, it is meaningless; but if it
discourages content (by advocating new forms of restricted access
instead of open access), it may become part of the problem rather than
the solution -- and especially if it perpetuates the conflation of
give-away contents with non-give-away contents, and of university
access/impact issues with university intellectual-property-revenue

> 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.

There is an unstated premise in the way you are imagining it: You are
imagining the content already there, and the only variable being the
degree of access to it, from none to all. This might apply to journals
-- along a hypothetical price and usage continuum that stretches from
toll-access to open access -- for most journal publishers already have
their full-text contents online. But it does not apply to universities
until and unless they have their own authors' refereed-article content
archived online. And their likelihood of getting their own authors'
content online could depend on their formal plans and rationale for
getting it online.

But I agree that these are all very hypothetical questions, and can
only be settled empirically. I would suggest only that CIC should
uncouple completely its strategy for non-give-away and give-away
content, treating the two completely independently. And then if they
have a better incentive for getting their own give-away content
self-archived online than the incentive of impact maximazation through
open access, then BOAI should certainly support that better incentive.
(But then what IS that incentive for consortial access rather than open
access, for give-away content?)


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 Sun Apr 14 2002 - 19:07:42 BST

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