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Free Online Access After One Year?

Stevan Harnad harnad at cogito.ecs.soton.ac.uk
Wed Sep 27 04:44:02 EST 2000

On Wed, 27 Sep 2000, Richard Gordon wrote:

> I understand your arguments on making online access to the scientific
> literature free. However, I'd like to suggest a compromise, which
> some publishers might be willing to implement right away:
> All online journal articles will become accessible for free at a
> fixed interval after publication.
> A reasonable interval might be one year. Few sales of printed
> journals occur after a year, so only those people needing rapid
> access (and not willing to do the work of writing for reprints or
> accessing preprint depositories) would pay.

I'm not sure in what sense you suggest this as a compromise. If what
you mean is that it would be very helpful if journal publishers freed
their contents on their own websites a year after publication, then of
course it certainly would be very helpful (and indeed a number of
journal publishers are contemplating doing so already, and even

But if what you mean is that authors should not self-archive their own
refereed postprints as soon as they are final, but instead wait until
the publishers themselves elect to archive them earlier, I think that
would be a very bad (and unnecessary) compromise indeed.

The whole point of the self-archiving initiative is to put an end to
the needless and counterproductive access-barriers (hence
impact-barriers) for these give-away refereed research reports. Why on
earth should there be a one-year embargo, restricting access to
accepted, refereed research only to those who can and will pay? What
advantage does the author-researcher, and research itself, derive from
an arrangement like that, now that it is no longer necessary?

No, let authors self-archive their pre-refereeing preprints in
interoperable eprint archives (http://www.eprints.org), and as soon
as they are ready, let them also self-archive their refereed postprints
(or append the "corrigenda file" to the preprint, if the
Harnad/Oppenheim strategy needs to be used to get around restrictive
copyright agreements).

The objective of freeing the refereed research literature online for
everyone, everywhere, forever, immediately, is attained by doing the

For those who are not content with just the self-archived "vanilla"
version of the refereed report, and are willing and able to pay (or
wait) for the publisher's "deluxe" version, let that be available as an
OPTION for as long as there is a market for it (whether it is a year
from publication or even longer).

But certainly no "compromise" should be considered that entails
continuing to needlessly holding the refereed reports hostage to the
deluxe add-ons and their tolls -- not even for a minute. (The immediate
availability of their refereed research is as important to researchers
as the immediate availability of their funds is to investors: an
"embargo" of even a day amounts to a pure, and gratuitous, loss.)

Stevan Harnad                     harnad at cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science    harnad at princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and     phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science     fax:   +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton         http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton            http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM           

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):


You may join the list at the site above.

Discussion can be posted to:

    september98-forum at amsci-forum.amsci.org 

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