The Giveaway/NonGiveaway Distinction at the Free Software Free Society Meeting in Kerala

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Wed, 10 Dec 2008 13:12:45 -0500

Richard Stallman (at the Free Sofware Free Society Conference today
in Kerala, India) seems to have come to the mistaken conclusion (from
my own talk, presumably) that I am somehow against Free Software! 

But Richard (whom I admire very much) doesn't seem to understand that
what I am actually trying to do, for concrete, pragmatic, strategic
reasons, is to very explicitly distinguish the special case of
("gratis"Green) OA from the other 4 "open" cases (free/open software,
open data, creative commons licensing, and wikipedia) that resemble
OA in some respects, but only partially. The purpose of pointing out
this distinction is so that we can at long last reach universal Green
(gratis) OA. Universal Green OA will then in turn help strengthen and
accelerate reaching the goals of the other 4 "open" movements.
Conflating all 5 goals today will not.

The reason Richard does not seem to grasp or accept this is also
related to the reason he is so effective where he is indeed
effective: He is on an ethical crusade (an ethical crusade in which
he is just as right as if he were crusading for providing free health
care for all, the curing of all diseases, the remedying of all
injustices). But ethical rectitude in principle is alas insufficient
to elicit ethical practice, or at least not on a scale that is
anywhere near universal: To achieve that, you sometimes have to
appeal to self-interest too, at least initially.

For OA, it is simply hopeless to try to get all or even most creators
of digital content to provide OA to their creations today if they do
not even want to make it freely available. They all ought to want to,
perhaps; but telling them they ought to want to (or that it is more
ethical to want to) is not enough. 

That is why it is essential to have a practical strategy that is
aimed explicitly at the subset of creators that, without
exception, already want to give away their creations (because it
already happens to be in their own interest to do so). Those are the
authors of the 2.5 million annual articles that are the target of OA
and of Green OA mandates: OA's target content. They publish their
research only for the sake of uptake, usage, application and impact,
not for revenues or fees. That simply cannot be said of the authors
of most software (or other kinds of digital content) today.

What I was trying to explain at FSFS was just that this special case
(of calling on authors to provide OA to their refereed research
articles) has to be distinguished from the general case of calling on
all authors of all kinds of digital content (whether it be books,
data, software, music, movies, or "knowledge") to make their content
free or open. 

And the reason is that OA's target content all consists of
exception-free creator give-aways already: No ethical case for
openness or give-away needs to be made in the special case of OA's
target content, because its authors already give it all away.
Moreover, although most of them won't go on to do so of their own
accord (because they are too busy and/or worried about copyright),
most of those authors, when surveyed, state that they would go on to
make their give-away articles OA too, willingly, if their
institutions or funders were to mandate it: And theevidence is that,
when it is indeed mandated, these authors do indeed comply and do it.

So mandates work for author-give-away content. Authors say they will
make it OA, willingly, and the actual mandate adoptions confirm that
authors do as they said they would do. 

There is no reason, however, to expect mandates to work
for non-give-away content, today. Authors certainly have not said
they would willingly make their non-give-away products (books,
software, music, video, data) OA if it were so mandated; nor are
there any mandates that test whether they would comply, willingly or

It is not even thinkable today to try to mandate providing OA to
content for which its creators not only don't provide OA
spontaneously of their own accord, but don't want to provide OA,
because they don't want to give it away in the first place (hoping
instead to make money from it). 

OA mandates have already been sluggish enough so far in just reaching
consensus on adoption for just give-away content. What they need is
to provide much better and clearer information for authors, their
institutions and their public funders on what OA and OA mandates
really entail -- and what benefits they bring for authors, their
research, their institutions, and the public that funds them --
rather than an unrealistic and confusing raising of the existing
hurdles to reaching consensus on mandate adoption by conflating
giveaway content with content that its creators do not (yet) even
wish to give away, and for which a credible case based on
self-interest cannot yet be made.

Having said that, I of course agree completely with Richard Stallman
that if software authors are publicly funded for developing their
code, the funder can and should mandate that it be made FS/OS! That
is a special case in which OA and FS/OS have far more in common than
they do in general. But relative to all the software being written
today, the portion that is being developed with public funding is, I
suspect, quite small (which is not to say that it should not be
mandated to make that portion FS/OS!)

Stevan Harnad
Received on Wed Dec 10 2008 - 18:23:20 GMT

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