Re: Napster: stealing another's vs. giving away one's own

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 21 Dec 2003 12:23:16 +0000

[Identity deleted] wrote:

> Journals/publishers control the "means of production" of scientific
> knowledge. In recent times, though, technology has arisen that allows the
> proletariat to end-run this control. The internet has made the monopoly
> over production/distribution obsolete.

No one "controls" the means of production of knowledge. The peers
(researchers) and their institutions produce the knowledge, the peers
review it, and the peers use it. The journals implement the peer review
service and provide the access, recovering their costs by charging access
tolls. In the online age, peers can supplement the toll-access to their
own articles by providing open-access for all would-be users whose
institutions cannot afford the toll-access -- through institutional
self-archiving. This may or may not eventually lead to "perestroika"
in the cost-recovery method, in the form of a universal transition
from user-institution access-tolls to author-institution peer-review
service-charges and institutional access-provision, but universal
open access itself can already be provided by authors, today.

All of this pertains only to the ("give-away") authors of peer-reviewed
journal-articles, however, not to all authors, of all scientific knowledge
(e.g., books, textbooks). And none of this has much to do with the

    Harnad, S. (1991) Post-Gutenberg Galaxy: The
    Fourth Revolution in the Means of Production of
    Knowledge. Public-Access Computer Systems Review 2 (1): 39 - 53

> I can see in your manifesto, that you are very clear on separating
> the actions of mp3 traders and self-archivers. This is very wise.
> But, don't you think the issue is the same?

The issue is definitely not the same for products that
are and are not give-aways by their creators. This is the
first and most fundamental PostGutenberg distinction. If
one conflates the two, no sense (or progress) can be made:

    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 net has enabled everybody to share any sort of content - text or
> movies or mp3s. Moral issues, legal issues - these don't matter in a
> materialist framework.

Share? That euphemism conceals the obvious: There is a difference between
producer give-aways and consumer rip-offs. I can only share what I produced.
Buying a digital product is not the same as buying a digital site-license to
disseminate it to everyone else on the planet. That will work for some products
and producers (e.g., peer-reviewed journal articles), but for many
products and producers, it will just cause what would have been their
products to be still-born (i.e., not produced). It is absurd to imagine
that the human motivation to produce in proportion to the potential for
payment is somehow reserved for analog production alone, simply because
of the pilfering possibilities provided by the digital medium!

That is neither a moral nor a legal issue, it is a practical, human issue.

    "Napster: stealing another's vs. giving away one's own"

> it would be fun to bring in Richard Stallman, GNU, and the
> idea of copy-left (which does apply to the Issue).

Richard Stallman has signed the Budapest Open Access Initiative
and participated in the American Scientist Open Access Forum:

    Re: PostGutenberg Copyrights and Wrongs for Give-Away Research

but open/free source/software and open access to peer-reviewed
research are not the same sort of thing (partly because of the
give-away/nongive-away factor, and partly because software is collectively
modified whereas article-texts are not):

    Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

> And this also raises a valid point, as RMS says: eventually, all content will be
> digital and everything will be able to be copied and distributed for (mostly)
> free by anyone. Unless of course our governments mandate laws to build DRM on
> the hardware level, monitoring what we view, when, and how often.

This is all orthogonal to the special case of the annual 2,500,000
articles in the the planet's 24,000 peer-reviewed journals -- every
single one of them, without exception, an author give-away, written
purely for research impact, not for royalty revenue. This is simply not
the case for many other digital objects.

> I can see the logic, that in order to convince the academic world (which is
> rather conservative) and the journals, you have to structure your arguments
> within the bounds of current economic/legal/moral laws. Because there really is
> nothing radical about self-archiving. It doesn't break any laws, it's easy, and
> the return value is immense. It's sad to see it being adopted so slowly.

I am structuring my arguments along these simple, legal, non-radical
lines because that is all that is needed for universal open access to the
peer-reviewed literature. It is indeed sad that the research community
is taking so long to come to its senses, but it will!

    Harnad, S. (1995) A Subversive Proposal. In: Ann Okerson &
    James O'Donnell (Eds.) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads;
    A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing. Washington,
    DC., Association of Research Libraries, June 1995.

> What I'm really curious: what is your personal view on all this?
> To quote:
> ("Information is free" is nonsense: There is and always was both give-away and
> non-give-away information. Steal the latter and you simply kill the incentive to
> provide it in the first place.)" (from

My personal view is that -- human nature being what it is (shaped by
our selfish genes to favor survival and reproduction) -- there will
always be those who don't want to give away their work -- indeed, who
will not bother to do the work in the first place if they cannot make
money (or enough money) with it.

> Of course, if we're all going digital, the difference between give-away and
> non-give-away won't matter anymore, it will still be copied and distributed.
> All content is going to be free one day, don't ask me how this will work for the
> economy...

My guess is that both technological and legal means will be devised
to protect non-give-away digital products and producers from theft as
effectively as we protect non-give-away analog products and producers from
theft. And if not, human nature being what it is, many potential producers
of potential digital products will do something else instead. But the
opportunities for give-away digital products and producers are dramatic.

> then I see this quote:
> "It is very important to clearly distinguish and distance the two, because any
> inadvertent or willful conflation of the self-archiving initiative with napster
> can only retard the progress of the self-archiving initiative toward the optimal
> and inevitable."

Correct. (And I meant it!)

> So maybe it could only hurt the self-archiving movement to mention it
> in the same breath as napster/p2p/etc. What do you think?

That's exactly what I think. We have enough needless misunderstandings slowing
our transition to the optimal and inevitable outcome already
(at least 31, and napster is one of them):

> by self-archiving I mean putting already-peer-reviewed works online.

Remember that the peer review is done for free, by peers, but the process
is implemented, at some cost (about $500 per paper) by the publisher.

> means of production/distribution: Methods of producing and printing
> the journals.

What about the method of providing the peer-review (corrective feedback and
evaluation and eventual certification) service ($500 per paper)?

> the academic community: people who submit to journals.

They submit for two reasons: (1) peer review and (if successully revised
and accepted for publication) certification as having met that journal's
known peer-review standards and (2) access-provision to the outcome. These
two are not the same thing, and hence separable in the online age. The
first step toward separation is for the author and his institution
to supplement the toll-access provided by the publisher by providing
open-access for those would-be users who cannot afford the tolls --
through institutional self-archiving. That may or may not eventually lead
to journal publishers downsizing to become only peer-review/certification
service-providers, with access-provision offloaded entirely on the
distributed institutional OAI eprint archive network, with the peer-review
paid for, per paper, out of the institutional toll-savings. But either
way, it will already have provided universal open access to this give-away

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist Open Access Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
    Post discussion to:

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Sun Dec 21 2003 - 12:23:16 GMT

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