Magazine article Information Today

The Politics of Open Access

Magazine article Information Today

The Politics of Open Access

Article excerpt

The battle of words over how research results should best be distributed heated up again this fall. And once again, the heat was coming from Europe.

In late October, a conference sponsored by the venerable Max Planck Society in Germany produced and issued the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities" (

A few weeks later, STM, the international scholarly publishers' association based in The Hague, countered with a defense of traditional publishing models and warned that too rapid a movement to open access could actually jeopardize scholarship, not improve it (

The arguments on both sides are not unfamiliar.

On one hand, wouldn't it be nice if, in an Internet-enabled world, scholarly research results could fly around the Web as readily as e-mail, unfettered and unrestricted by arcane publishing models and archaic copyright laws--not to mention outmoded academic reward systems. If only everyone would just agree to get with the program, we'd be living in intellectual Utopia tomorrow, never mind the true cost.

On the other hand, the classical, but decidedly digital, publishers argue back: "You really don't understand how good you've got it. We've bent over backwards to figure out how to get this job done right, pay for it all, and for all intents and purposes, get research results into the hands of those who need them, even if the stuff isn't available 24/7 to everyone with an Internet access account. Besides, what you're talking about is going to cost the public a fortune."

This debate always sounds to me like two estranged lovers fighting over child custody. Much is written between the lines.

However, little has been left out of the Berlin document, which is the clearest articulation of open access principles so far. Coming on the heels of the Bethesda Statement and building on the Budapest Initiative, the new declaration borrows key points from the earlier attempts but expresses them in terms of a much grander vision.

According to this new proclamation, open access is not just about journal articles. …

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