Florian Cramer on Wed, 20 Jun 2001 14:40:40 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Richard Stallman: Science Must Push Copyright Aside

[From www.linuxtoday.com:]

   Richard Stallman: Science Must Push Copyright Aside

   [ This article originally appeared on Nature's web site. The article
   is part of a larger series on Nature, and the introduction to the
   series provides some useful background on the issues Mr. Stallman
   addresses. -ed. ]

   By Richard Stallman

   It should be a truism that the scientific literature exists to
   disseminate scientific knowledge, and that scientific journals exist
   to facilitate the process. It therefore follows that rules for use
   of the scientific literature should be designed to help achieve that

   The rules we have now, known as copyright, were established in the
   age of the printing press, an inherently centralized method of
   mass-production copying. In a print environment, copyright on journal
   articles restricted only journal publishers - requiring them to
   obtain permission to publish an article - and would-be plagiarists.
   It helped journals to operate and disseminate knowledge, without
   interfering with the useful work of scientists or students, either as
   writers or readers of articles. These rules fit that system well.

   The modern technology for scientific publishing, however, is
   the World Wide Web. What rules would best ensure the maximum
   dissemination of scientific articles, and knowledge, on the
   Web? Articles should be distributed in non-proprietary formats,
   with open access for all. And everyone should have the right to
   `mirror' articles; that is, to republish them verbatim with proper

   These rules should apply to past as well as future articles, when
   they are distributed in electronic form. But there is no crucial
   need to change the present copyright system as it applies to paper
   publication of journals because the problem is not in that domain.

   Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone agrees with the truisms
   that began this article. Many journal publishers appear to believe
   that the purpose of scientific literature is to enable them to
   publish journals so as to collect subscriptions from scientists and
   students. Such thinking is known as `confusion of the means with the
   ends'. Their approach has been to restrict access even to read the
   scientific literature to those who can and will pay for it.

   They use copyright law, which is still in force despite its
   inappropriateness for computer networks, as an excuse to stop
   scientists from choosing new rules.

   For the sake of scientific cooperation and humanity's future, we must
   reject that approach at its root - not merely the obstructive systems
   that have been instituted, but the mistaken priorities that inspired

   Journal publishers sometimes claim that on-line access requires
   expensive high-powered server machines, and that they must charge
   access fees to pay for these servers. This `problem' is a consequence
   of its own `solution'. Give everyone the freedom to mirror, and
   libraries around the world will set up mirror sites to meet the
   demand. This decentralized solution will reduce network bandwidth
   needs and provide faster access, all the while protecting the
   scholarly record against accidental loss.

   Publishers also argue that paying the editors requires charging for
   access. Let us accept the assumption that editors must be paid;
   this tail need not wag the dog. The cost of editing for a typical
   paper is between 1% and 3% of the cost of funding the research to
   produce it. Such a small percentage of the cost can hardly justify
   obstructing the use of the results. Instead, the cost of editing
   could be recovered, for example, through page charges to the authors,
   who can pass these on to the research sponsors. The sponsors should
   not mind, given that they currently pay for publication in a more
   cumbersome way through overhead fees for the university library's
   subscription to the journal. By changing the economic model to
   charge editing costs to the research sponsors, we can eliminate the
   apparent need to restrict access. The occasional author who is not
   affiliated with an institution or company, and who has no research
   sponsor, could be exempted from page charges, with costs levied on
   institution-based authors.

   Another justification for access fees to online publications is to
   fund conversion of the print archives of a journal into on-line form.
   That work needs to be done, but we should seek alternative ways of
   funding it that do not involve obstructing access to the result.

   The work itself will not be any more difficult, or cost any more. It
   is self-defeating to digitize the archives and waste the results by
   restricting access. The US Constitution says that copyright exists
   "to promote the progress of science". When copyright impedes the
   progress of science, science must push copyright out of the way.

   Richard Stallman is the founder of the GNU project, launched in 1984
   to develop the free operating system GNU (an acronym for `GNU's Not
   Unix'), and thereby give computer users the freedom that most of them
   have lost. GNU is free software: everyone is free to copy it and
   redistribute it, as well as to make changes either large or small.
   The GNU/Linux system, combining the GNU system and the Linux kernel,
   has an estimated 17 to 20 million users. Stallman was awarded a
   MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 1990.

   Copyright 2001 Richard Stallman.

   Verbatim copying and redistribution of this entire article are
   permitted in any medium provided the copyright notice and this notice
   are preserved.

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