Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, June 16, 2008

OA as a transition of power

Jean-Claude Guédon, A Take on Peter Suber's "The Opening of Science and Scholarship".  A new contribution to the Publius Project of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, June 16, 2008 (and a response to my contribution, The opening of science and scholarship).  Excerpt:

There is much to be liked in Peter Suber's piece, but one of the most important facets of his argument certainly lies in his beginning: "Who controls access..?" Indeed, the issue of control is closely related to access. Placing it center stage as Suber does reminds us that power is at stake in the quest for Open Access. Discussing the issue of power is not always appropriate in polite company, but in the case of Open Access, it cannot be avoided....

In listing the advantages of Open Access, Peter Suber brings out characteristics that correspond to the non-contentious meaning of "revolutionary" (and he does not use the word). However, the publishers' resistance to Open Access is not easily understood from this non-confrontational perspective. Only the quest for power can account for their fierce reactions and their intense lobbying efforts, both in Washington and Brussels....

[T]he rise of the internet removed almost all obstacles to copying, including time and cost. To preserve their role (and revenues), publishers felt that the architecture of control inherent in the print world had to be adapted to the digital world. Key elements of the new architecture of control include centralized servers protected by passwords and licensing schemes rather than outright sales. Moreover, publishers want their copy of the scientific or scholarly article to be the reference copy, the only copy that can be cited.

Why do authors submit manuscripts to publishers although they restrict their dissemination so much? Simply because the architecture of control also includes the branding capacity of journals....

To conclude, the deeper phenomenon behind Open Access has to do with the internet itself. The networked, distributed structure of the TCP/IP protocols harbors an architecture of control of its own which challenges other modes of control. These challenges emerge in various fields, for example free software and the distributed production of knowledge as in Wikipedia. It also reveals itself in the ways in which scientists and scholars want to work and recover full control over the mores of their tribe.

In short, Open Access is a wonderful observation platform to study how an old architecture of control unravels and a new one emerges. For this reason, it is important not only in itself, but also as a way to question the unfolding of the digital age and to meditate on its future.