Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, August 03, 2007

Intro to OA for the FOSS community

Bruce Byfield, Academia's Open Access movement mirrors FOSS community,, August 2, 2007.  Excerpt:

Free and open source software (FOSS) has roots in the ideals of academic freedom and the unimpeded exchange of information. In the last five years, the concepts have come full circle, with FOSS serving as a model for Open Access (OA), a movement within academia to promote unrestricted access to scholarly material for both researchers and the general public.

"The philosophy is so similar that when we saw the success that open source was having, it served as a guiding light to us," says Melissa Hagemann, program manager for Open Access initiatives at the Open Society Institute, a private foundation for promoting democratic and accessible reform at all levels of society. Not only the philosophy, but also the history, the need to generate new business models, the potential empowerment of users, the impact on developing nations, and resistance to the movement make OA a near twin of FOSS....

By the start of the millennium, a number of academic groups were starting to see the Internet as a solution to these problems. In December 2001, 13 representatives of these groups met in Budapest to organize. They produced a document called the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Starting with the declaration that "An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good," the initiative called for making all academic articles available online. It was followed in April 2003 by the Bethseda Statement on Open Access Publishing, and in October 2003 by the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, both of which suggest how OA could be implemented. Together these three statements -- sometimes known collectively as the BBB Declaration -- provide the practical and philosophical basis for the development of OA.

As with FOSS, the initial reaction to OA was derisive. "They laughed at us," says Hagemann, who is one of the original signers of the Budapest Initiative. "During presentations I would give in various countries, I would be laughed at." At first, the movement's representatives even had trouble gaining membership in the Association of Learned Professional Societies, which issued a news release sharply criticizing OA. Just as with FOSS, these criticisms included claims that OA lacked a business model and was unsustainable. Other criticisms included the claim that OA amounted to vanity publishing and would lack peer reviews, both of which have proved unsubstantiated in practice.

And, in another parallel to FOSS, as OA has spread, so resistance has spread to government lobbying and even threats of lawsuits in some instances. Hagemann alleges that the American National Institute of Health, for instance, has had its implementation of OA delayed through the intervention of Congress and Senate members listening to the publishers' lobbying groups. Similarly, she says the Association of American Publishers has recently hired a Washington lobbyist to campaign against OA.

"They used to laugh at us, but now they're taking us very seriously and working against us politically," notes Leslie Chan, a senior lecturer at the University of Toronto and one of the organizers of online publisher Bioline, as well as an original signatory of the Budapest Initiative. His comments echo a quote by Gandhi often heard in FOSS circles as well: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." ...