PSP and ALPSP: j'accuse!

From: Leslie Carr <>
Date: Fri, 11 May 2007 01:11:56 +0100

Thanks to Chris Armbruster for bringing the PSP and ALPSP position
paper: "Author and Publisher Rights for Academic Use: An Appropriate
Balance" <
author_publisher_rights.pdf> to the attention of this list.

The paper starts with some conciliatory words suggesting that there
is no conflict between the needs of researchers and the rights of
publishers and ends with a proposal that researchers should not be
allowed to share their work with people outside their institution. It
states that "the scholarly publishing system" is best left to
"publishers as professionals" and that they should be allowed to
control all the aspects of publishing and dissemination "in
recognition of the value of their services". It seems plain that the
document is directly targeting Open Access, although the term is
never used.

I live in the city of Southampton, halfway along the south coast of
England and the place where the Viking King Canute attempted to
command the tide to turn back some 1000 years ago. This famous event
gives me some empathy for publishers as they attempt to turn back a
tide. However, despite this latest white paper, the tide that
publishers face is not "Open Access", "the Budapest Initiative" or
"the Berlin Declaration"; it is simply "the Web".

In the decade that the World Wide Web has been an established means
of communication, the economic value of disseminating information has
plummeted. It is neither difficult nor expensive to share documents
with individuals scattered across the globe. It still requires
management and discipline to do in anything other than an ad-hoc way,
but fundamentally it is orders of magnitude easier to disseminate
information (scientific, scholarly, commercial or personal) from
author to audience.

This is motherhood and apple pie - my school-age children understand
it and apply it with MySpace, Blogger and YouTube. Primary publishing
is a businesses based on dissemination - a service that used to be
very difficult but is now, literally, child's play. It is not
Institutional Repositories or Open Access Mandates that have changed
that - it is the Web.

And so it is precisely the report's key phrase "the value of their
services" that is my contention: the value has all but gone. "The
value of their services" underpins all the recommendations - it is
the justification for shutting each researcher's work inside his or
her own institution, it is the justification for insisting on
copyright transfer and complete control over "the publication

Talking about "the scholarly publishing system" with hushed tones,
and assigning it to the safe keeping of "publishers as
professionals" (damn those interfering amateur researchers and
librarians!) does not alter the fact that we want to achieve some
very simple goals which the current crop of industry players seem to
be making rather heavy weather of: we want to disseminate our
research outputs and data. Thanks to the Web, we can do it.***

What is Open Access? It is a special name given to the way that
researchers have to walk through a minefield to achieve what everyone
else does easily i.e. putting material that they create onto the Web.

What are Repositories? They are simply the result of researchers
discovering that if their children can do it, then so can they.
*** Thanks to the web, we DO do it. Most workshops, colloquia and
conferences all manage this process without so much as a by-your-
leave from journal publishers. We even carry out peer reviewing
processes to rival any journal. I write this message from the
Sixteenth International World Wide Web conference in Banff, a
research venue with a 10% article acceptance rate.
PS Despite the above, I am not anti publisher! I believe that there
is a role for successful participants in "the scholarly publishing
system" to take enormous amounts of money from willing research
institutions. It's just that we're playing a different game now - the
stakes have been raised. It's simply not good enough to offer us
dissemination and access services that are bread and butter for the
Web - we want more.
Received on Fri May 11 2007 - 02:18:49 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:48:54 GMT