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How to Fast-Forward Learned Serials to the Inevitable and the Optimal for Scholars and Scientists

By Stevan Harnad

Abstract

There is no conflict of interest between a trade author and a trade publisher. The trade author's product is his text, and the trade publisher produces and sells it for him, so they can both make a fair profit. Both wish to protect their product from theft; both wish to restrict access to those have paid for it. Contrast this with the specialised scientific and scholarly research literature: The research has been funded by a governmental research supporting agency or a public institution of higher learning and the results are meant to be made publicly available, especially so that other specialists can read and build further research on it. Through this cycle of research/report/research, all of humanity benefits from the fruits of learned inquiry. But because of the substantial real cost of producing print on paper in the Gutenberg era, research publication had to adopt the same economic model as trade publication: Researchers, who were not writing to sell their words, and would gladly have given them away to reach the eyes of their fellow researchers the world over, in their joint enterprise of broadening human knowledge, were forced instead to make the "Faustian Bargain" of transferring copyright to their publishers, who would then try to recover their substantial expenses plus a fair profit by selling those words as if they had been produced for trade. Research libraries the world over paid the hefty price, purchasing all the important journals so that each individual article could find its own small, scattered readership in perpetuum. This era is now potentially over: The much lower cost and much broader reach of electronic publication can free research from the counterproductive access boundaries imposed by the trade model. Research grants can now easily afford to cover the minimal marginal cost of electronic publication, making the research literature free for all, as it was always meant to be, with the growth of human knowledge no longer needlessly restrained by the Faustian Bargain and humankind the greatest beneficiary

Topics: Copyright, Economics, Peer Review
Year: 1997
DOI identifier: 10.1300/j123v30n03_12
OAI identifier: oai:cogprints.org:1695
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