Free Our Books: Extending Open Access
Published 12:26, 10 March 09
I've written much about open access on this blog; but generally that's been about open access to articles in academic journals. Another huge class of material paid for by the taxpayer is academic books. So, applying the same logic as for articles, shouldn't we all have free access to digital copies? That's what Free Our Books thinks:
Public funds pay vast majority of the academic research; the results should therefore be public. Inexpensive electronic publishing should make this possible. But private publishing companies still own these results, and restrict access to them by charging exorbitant fees. In the case of academic journals, publishing companies are making huge profits by requiring publicly funded universities to pay very high subscription fees on behalf of students and academics.
We, the citizens, through the state, pay for the production of academic books and research papers twice, first through salaries and research grants, and second through the purchase of books and journal subscriptions. This is how the the most fundamental principles of academia, to study and to share its findings, are obstructed, and its operation is made far more expensive and cumbersome. Good news is that this has been partially recognised and Research Councils UK (RCUK) has pushed hard (2005) in the direction of both mandatory self archiving (2006) of all research outputs and open access in general.
When it comes to books, the argument, however, isn't as simple and as straight forwad as in the case of Guardian's campaign Free Our Data - whose name we're reusing. Nor has it been problematised widely, like it has been in the case of journals and RCUK recommendations. Significant contribution of editors, subeditors, proofreaders and other working on texts being produced (wages) and personal gain of authors of best selling works (share of sales) complicates the issue. In short, open access and self-archiving of publicly funded books, whose importance for social sciences and humanities is enormous (unlike in physics and maths) is yet to be widely discussed and there aren't immidiately obvious solutions visible. That is, unless we treat books, as we think we should, as just another form of research output - both when funded directly by one of RCUK councils, or by the individual universities.
(Via Open Access News.)
Posted by Glyn Moody at 10:08 PM
Labour's Open Hypocrisy
The independent Power of Information Task Force published its report on 2 March. The report contained 25 challenging recommendations to government aimed at improving the use of information in this new world. The Task Force's work has been recognised internationally as providing a cutting-edge vision, with examples of what modern public service delivery might be.
The Government welcomes the task force's vision, accepts its overall messages and will be responding on the detailed recommendations shortly. We are already taking steps to implement this vision and in 2009 we will seek to deliver the following:
Open information. To have an effective voice, people need to be able to understand what is going on in their public services. Government will publish information about public services in ways that are easy to find,easy to use, and easy to re-use, and will unlock data, where appropriate, through the work of the Office of Public Sector Information.
Open innovation. We will promote innovation in online public services to respond to changing expectations. The Government will seek to build on the early success of innovate.direct.gov.uk by building such innovation into the culture of public services and public sector websites.
Open discussion. We will promote greater engagement with the public through more interactive online consultation and collaboration. We will also empower professionals to be active on online peer-support networks in their area of work.
Open feedback. Most importantly, the public should be able to have a fair say about their services. The Government will publish best practice in engaging with the public in large numbers online, drawing on the experience of the www.showusabetterway.com competition and the www.londonsummit.gov.uk, as well as leading private sector examples like www.ideastorm.com.
Open information, open innovation, open discussion, open feedback: well, that's just super-duper and fab and all that, but why not allow a little openness about what the UK government is doing? How about getting rid of the absurd Official Secrets Act, the very antithesis of openness? How about putting the teeth back in the Freedom of Information Act? How about not refusing to publish documents about the Iraqi war? How about letting us see details of MPs' expenses? How about letting us know where our MPs live? How about letting the public openly rate the government itself - the one group that seems excluded from the wonderful plans to "ebay-ise" UK public life?
Because, strange as it may seem, openness does not have hard lines: if you're going to be open, you're going to be really open, everywhere. Otherwise, it just further debases an increasingly fashionable concept, takes our cynicism up a notch or three, and alienates those of us fighting for real openness.
Posted by Glyn Moody at 4:31 PM
South Korea Joins the "Three Strikes" Club
For years, the content industries having been trying to get laws passed that would stop people sharing files. For years they failed. And then they came up with the "three strikes and you're out" idea - and it is starting to be adopted around the world. First we had France, then countries like Italy, Ireland - and now South Korea:
On March 3, 2009, the National Assembly's Committee on Culture, Sports, Tourism, Broadcasting & Communications (CCSTB&C) passed a bill to revise the Copyright Law. The bill includes the so called, "three strikes out" or "graduated response" provision.
The provision gives authority to order ISP to send warning letters to the users, delete or stop transmission of illegal reproductions, suspend or terminate the accounts of the users, or close the bulletine boards to the Ministry. It also gives power to order information and telecommunication service providers to block connections to their information and telecommunication network of such ISPs.
The modified bill will be up for vote in April, and it is most likely that the bill pass in the National Assembly and come into force in April.
What's the secret? why has the "three strikes" idea caught on where others have failed? And what is the best way to stop it spreading further?
Posted by Glyn Moody at 1:48 PM
Sailing to Port 25
An interesting move by Microsoft:
I would like to introduce Mark Stone, who will be a regular contributor to Port 25 going forward. Mark has a long association with open source.
He did his first Linux install in 1994 and, in the fifteen years since, has served as O'Reilly's executive editor for open source, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Linux Technology, publisher for the web arm of SourceForge's open source evangelism efforts, and later Director of Developer Relations for SourceForge.
During that time he helped Microsoft launch its first two open source projects on SourceForge.net. He has also co-edited two of the foundational books on open source: Open Sources and Open Sources 2.0.
At SourceForge, and as an independent consultant, he has worked with technology companies large and small to help them formulate their community engagement strategy around open source.
He has most recently been working at Microsoft to help identify and support community projects that advance open source on the Windows platform.
Alas for the well-intentioned souls in Redmond, such snuggling up to the open source community is rather vitiated by this kind of stuff.
Posted by Glyn Moody at 10:32 AM
Guardian Leads the Way (Again)
At a time when most newspapers are talking doom and gloom, the Guardian is instead doing something - and thriving (maybe there's a correlation?). Here's its latest shrewd move:
The Guardian today launched Open Platform, a service that will allow partners to reuse guardian.co.uk content and data for free and weave it "into the fabric of the internet".
Open Platform launched with two separate content-sharing services, which will allow users to build their own applications in return for carrying Guardian advertising.
A content application programming interface (API) will smooth the way for web developers to build applications and services using Guardian content, while a Data Store will contain datasets curated by Guardian editors and open for others to use.
So far, so conventional. Here's the important bit:
The Guardian is positioning its Open Platform as a commercial venture, requiring partners to carry its advertising as part of its terms and conditions, while BBC Backstage states clearly that its proposition is for individual developers designers and not for "big corporates".
This is the future of content, which will be made available freely, but revenue-generating features will be bolted on to it as above. (Disclosure: I occasionally write for the Guardian; but not much.)
Posted by Glyn Moody at 9:55 AM