The SPARC Open Access Newsletter

Formerly, The Free Online Scholarship (FOS) Newsletter.

The Newsletter appears monthly.  For daily updates, see the Open Access News blog.  Both are written by Peter Suber.

Quick links

Searches cover the newsletter archive, the blog archive, and some of my other writings on open access.

SPARC Open Access Newsletter

  • The primary purpose of the newsletter is to share news and analysis of the open-access movement —the movement to put scientific and scholarly research literature online and make it available to readers free of charge and free of unnecessary licensing restrictions. A broader purpose of the newsletter is to explore how the internet is transforming scholarly research and publication. While it includes both news and analysis, the newsletter focuses more on analysis than news, while my blog focuses more on news than analysis.
  • The audience I have in mind consists of scholars, researchers, scientists, teachers, students, librarians, editors, and publishers. I want the newsletter to cover all academic fields and all open-access initiatives.
  • The newsletter was launched in March 2001 as the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter, and in July 2003 changed its name to the SPARC Open Access Newsletter.
  • To subscribe, send any message to <>.
  • To unsubscribe, send any message to <>.
  • To search or read back issues, visit the newsletter archive. All are open access, of course.
  • To discuss issues raised by the newsletter, use the discussion forum. If you send an email "reply" to the newsletter, only I will receive it. When these are relevant to open-access issues, and discussable, then I forward them to the forum —but it would save me time if you would post them directly to the forum yourself.
  • If you have colleagues interested in open-access issues, please invite them to subscribe to the newsletter and join the discussion. The best way is to forward them an email copy of the newsletter or to send them the URL for this web page. I'd appreciate any help in spreading the word.
  • If you have open-access news to report, either post it directly to the discussion forum or drop me a line at

SPARC Open Access Forum

  • The purpose of the forum is to discuss open-access issues, especially those raised by the newsletter and blog. In addition to this, I'll post several kinds of message to the forum —email comments from readers, forwarded messages from other lists, and press releases, announcements, calls for papers, and other documents too long for the blog.
  • Anyone can read discussion postings. But only subscribers can post their own.
  • I am the forum moderator.
  • To subscribe, send any message to <>. For other subscription options (digest and index mode), see the details on the SPARC page. Forum subscriptions are separate from newsletter subscriptions in order to give subscribers more control over how much email to receive.
  • To unsubscribe, send any message to <>.
  • To post, send your message to <>. (For subscribers only.)
  • To search or read past postings, visit the Topica archive (for postings from the forum's launch up to July 3, 2003) or the SPARC archive (for postings from July 4, 2003 to the present). Both archives are readable by non-subscribers.
  • If you write an OA-related contribution to another mailing list, discussion forum, or newsgroup, just add to the cc list. If you are a forum subscriber, then a copy will go to our forum as well.

Open Access News Blog

  • The primary purpose of the blog is to gather and disseminate news about the open-access movement. I often add (labelled) comments to news posts.
  • The blog was launched on May 26, 2002, as FOS News, and on June 28, 2003 changed its name to Open Access News.
  • To comment on issues raised by the blog, use the discussion forum.
  • If you have open-access news to report, either post it directly to the forum or send me a note.

Reader Comments the FOS Newsletter / SPARC Open Access Newsletter

  • I just received & read, with great interest and pleasure, the latest newsletter. Thank you! You are doing us all a great favour! Raising awareness about free publishing is important, and while very few people are able to research the field for the best services, etc. on their own, everyone seems to be interested. This is where the newsletter can be a real help.
         —Johan Wilhelm Klüwer, Editor, Nordic Journal of Philosophical Logic
  • An excellent way to stay informed about current scholarly electronic publishing developments. A valuable, if provocative, source of information.
         —Charles W. Bailey, Jr., Author, Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography
  • Very impressive, managing to combine broad scope with knowledgeable insight.
         —Steve Hitchcock, Editor, Perspectives in Electronic Publishing
  • Reading your newsletter recently prompted me to devour your entire back catalog in one sitting —what excitement! FOS provides such a wonderful wealth of information on current trends in free electronic publishing, that I will save many hours a month in research time alone. Thank you for providing such timely information and useful commentary on one of the most crucial topics in academia today.
         —Vance Bell, Editor, Other Voices
  • This is one of the most varied and richest resources I know not only about free scholarly publishing, but digital rights management, trends in content dissemination, e-publishing and e-books in general —and the economic and moral issues these new technologies keep raising. The links it provides lead to a wealth of information and useful tools, and the news summaries are concise but complete. This newsletter is both synoptic and detailed. A treat.
         —Sam Vaknin, Author, TrendSiters
  • Highly intelligent and well-written. Puts [FOS news] in a broad context and makes interesting and important links that are not seen elsewhere. Consistently interesting and valuable.
         —Ann Okerson and James O'Donnell, Editors of NewJour
  • As well as articulately and thoughtfully presenting an editorial viewpoint that you may or may not agree wtih, FOS is a very good, wide-ranging survey of much that's of interest in the world of networked information, scholarly publishing and related areas.
         —Clifford Lynch, Director, Coalition for Networked Information
  • This is the best newsletter I've seen.
         —Trudy Gardner, Assistant Dean for Educational Resources, Rush University
  • The FOS Newsletter is a prodigious piece of work. Staggering.
         —Terry Foreman, Professor of Philosophy, Murray State University.
  • Best digital newsletter about digital rights and wrongs....It presents impressively well-balanced, competent, and succinct summaries of events in the for-profit and nonprofit digital publishing world with links to full-text articles, reviews, editorials, project sites, and related background information....It's a must for anyone who wants to keep current in this field and see both sides of the coin.
         —Péter Jacsó, "Jacsó's Cheers and Jeers for 2001," Information Today, January 2002, p. 24.
  • Many thanks for the newsletter —can't sing its praises highly enough.
         —Catherine Fisher, IDS Project Officer, Global Development Network.
  • I have been reading your newsletter for a few months now. I have not stopped being amazed at the amount of material you gather together, the thoughtful analysis and comment you make, and your careful writing.
         —N. A. Prakash, Indian Academy of Sciences

Editorial Position of the FOS Newsletter / SPARC Open Access Newsletter, version 1.9

  • Scholarly literature ought to be free and online.
  • "Scholarly literature" here means the professional research literature in every field of the sciences and humanities. This consists primarily of peer-reviewed journal articles and their preprints. In nearly every field, scholarly authors willingly publish these works without any expectation of royalties or other direct payments, and have done so for over 300 years.
  • "Free" here means (1) free of charge for the reader, (2) free of unnecessary licensing restrictions, and (3) free from filters and censors.
    1. Free of charge for the reader. Scholarly literature will never be free to produce. Hence if readers are not to pay the costs, then these costs must be subsidized. One premise of the open-access movement is that the costs of publishing scholarship online are so low that the required subsidy is trivial. The costs are low because the literature is donated by authors who do not expect payment (more below), and because publication is to the internet, not to paper. If the required subsidy is small, then it can be made by universities, libraries, professional associations, foundations, endowments, authors, non-profit organizations, or even for-profit publishers. The costs can also be offset by revenues from priced add-ons or savings from the cancellation or demise of traditional, priced journals.
    2. Free of unnecessary licensing restrictions. Online scholarship should not distinguish between authorized and unauthorized users or block access to unauthorized users. The copyright holder should consent in advance to unrestricted reading, downloading, copying, sharing, storing, printing, searching, linking, and crawling. The copyright holder should not use digital rights management (DRM) as it is usually understood, as a barrier to the unauthorized and unpaying, although DRM is acceptable in harmless forms for scientometrics and impact analysis. Copyright holder consent suffices to authorize open access legally. Hence the public domain is unnecessary, although the public domain also suffices.
    3. Free from filters and censors. The internet is becoming our common public library. Nations, employers, and schools which keep their people from reading certain sites are engaged in censorship and violating human rights. If the sites are scholarly, then they are also impeding research and stultifying inquiry. As scholarship becomes online scholarship, the right to visit any site becomes a critical component of academic freedom.
  • "Online" here means available on the public internet in a form in which users can read, copy, redistribute, link, print, crawl, download, store, and search the full text.
  • Steps toward free online scholarship sometimes count as progress. When they do, I will praise and publicize them in the newsletter. But fully free and fully online are better.
  • Free online scholarship can take many forms. It may consist of preprints or postprints, articles or books or multi-media presentations. It may supplant or supplement print editions of the same writings. It may use prospective or retroactive peer review. It may stand alone at the author's web site or be collected into archives organized by institution, by discipline, by journal, by conference, or in other ways. It may be static or dynamic, read-only or interactive. There are many other variations, not even counting those that are not fully free or fully online. The best future will undoubtedly require the coexistence and cooperation of many of these forms, and many forms yet to be tried.
  • Peer-review is no more difficult or less desirable for free online scholarship than it is for other forms of scholarship. It can be done as effectively for online publications as it can for print publications. In fact, it can probably be done better. There are countless new ways to facilitate peer review in an interactive electronic enviroment. We should encourage experimentation and monitor the results.
  • Print is not the enemy. If the same literature can appear online and in print, so much the better, unless the cost of the print edition leads the publisher to charge for the online edition or deny authors permission to put their works online.
  • Copyright is not the enemy. Copyrighted literature can be fully free and fully online. Open-access literature might even need copyright in order to ensure that works are not distributed in misattributed or mangled forms. Many open-access authors will also want copyright to prevent commercial reuse or exploitation. However, while copyright reform is not necessary for open access, open-access literature will become more plentiful in more varieties more quickly if copyright law is intelligently revised, and if journals adopt the practice of leaving copyright in the hands of the author.
  • Author consent is a necessary condition. The only scholarship that should be free is that which its authors want to be free.
    • Presently, scholars donate some of their intellectual property (primarily journal articles) to the world, without expectation of payment, and hold some back (primarily books) to produce revenue. While research would clearly advance more quickly and efficiently if both sorts were free and online, the open-access movement can only work with the literature that authors consent to give away. Authors have a right to try to make money from their work instead of giving it away or before giving it away.
    • While author consent is a condition of open access, author consent can be won through persuasion or incentives. The most powerful and most legitimate incentive is a large, robust, interconnected, well-used, and highly respected system of open-access literature.
  • The call for open-access scholarship is primarily an appeal to authors to put their works online, voluntarily, without charge. Secondarily it is an appeal to publishers to put their publications online, voluntarily, without charge. It is definitely not an appeal to vigilantes to make unfree literature free against the will of the author or copyright holder.
    • On the other hand, while authors and publishers have a right to put a price on their literature, copy protections on priced literature must be compatible with the rights of readers and purchasers to copy excerpts in fair use, make back-ups, and keep the files readable when they change or upgrade machines. They must also be compatible with the rights of libraries to retain continuing access and lend works to patrons. When scholarship is fully free and online, we need never worry about fair use or copy protection; but I mention this proviso anyway to explain why the newsletter covers, and supports, efforts to preserve readers' and purchasers' rights in priced literature.
  • Different disciplines have different cultures, different needs, and different circumstances. Together these entail that they will adopt open access at different rates.
  • Open-access scholarship, like the internet itself, is new. We have barely imagined its possibilities. We have moved some print literature to the net, and have taken a few steps toward new services unavailable in print, such as hyperlinking, searching, and integrating publication with discussion. But we are very far from taking full advantage of the new medium. Realizing the potentail of the internet for scholarship will require creativity, imagination, and time.
  • For more background, see my Open Access Overview and my writings on open access.
  • I won't be surprised if some of the details of this editorial position change over time. I expect to learn a lot as we move forward.

Here I formerly kept my list of what you can do to help the cause. I've since moved to its own page. This note is simply to redirect visitors who arrive through an old link to the old list.

Scope Notes.  These notes give more detail on the newsletter's scope of coverage than the editorial statement above.

  • Free Sources.  In the newsletter I tend to focus on news and opinion published in free sources. This is not a protest against priced sources or another strategy to advance the cause of open access. On the contrary, I believe that open-access proponents must not fall into the trap of believing that if it isn't online [or free online], then it doesn't exist or isn't worth reading. In most fields today, this is wishful thinking and will remain so for a long time to come. When work important to OA is published in non-OA sources, then I call on the author to deposit it in an OA archive, but I also try to gain legitimate access to it. I focus mostly on free sources because I don't have the funding to subscribe to many priced sources and because the free sources are already so abundant that I have a hard time keeping up with them. If I were better funded, I'd subscribe to many more priced sources and hire a staff to help me cover the full range of relevant sources.
  • Neighboring Topics.  These topics come up occasionally in the discussion of open-access issues. When they do, I will cover them, but I don't plan to cover them thoroughly in their own right. (BTW, I give these neighboring topics slighly more coverage in the forum than in the blog or newsletter.)
    • freedom of speech in general or on the internet
    • academic freedom
    • distance learning and its associated online materials
    • use of the internet in teaching
    • the free software movement, the open-source software movement
    • priced online academic content
    • free online access to government information and government services
    • free online non-academic content, e.g. news and entertainment supported by advertising
    • P2P networks and file sharing for priced content like music and movies
    • funding of science and scholarship
    • print and online publishing technology
    • search engines and other research tools
    • measurements for the impact and usage of online content
    • licensing terms for online content
    • copyright, licensing, and fair use
    • copyright reform
    • DRM, copy protection, encryption, and efforts to break or bypass them
    • privacy and anonymity
    • plagiarism, defamation, and scientific misconduct
    • security of the internet
    • legal regulation of the internet, libraries, and publishing
    • media concentration and monopoly
    • distortions of truth-seeking introduced by profit-seeking
    • peer-review variations and peer-review reform
    • content management, knowledge management
    • data mining, text mining
    • ebook readers, ebook business plans
    • the semantic web
    • grid computing
    • digital libraries
    • digital preservation
    • deep linking
    • the digital divide
    • metadata

In lieu of a long list of links to relevant sites, here are several ways to find related information.

What is my interest in open-access scholarship? I have four interests. One is academic. I want to use open-access scholarship in my teaching and research, and I want teaching and research to advance because all teachers and researchers will be able to use it too. One is political and economic. Prices restrict access and intolerable prices restrict access intolerably. One is epistemological. Truth-seeking, and decisions about what scholarship is worth publishing, should not be distorted by profit-seeking. And one is aesthetic. The opportunity here is simply beautiful.

Apart from writing the newsletter and blog, I am working to realize open access on several fronts. I am the Open Access Project Director at Public Knowledge. I am a Senior Researcher at SPARC. I was the principal drafter of the Budapest Open Access Initiative and the moderator of the BOAI Forum and the SPARC Open Access Forum. I'm on the advisory board of the ALA's Information Commons Project, the steering committee of the Scientific Information Working Group of the U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, and the board of governors of the International Consortium for the Advancement of Academic Publishing. Until they were phased out, I was the general editor of Hippias and co-editor of Noesis, two free online search engines for the field of philosophy with peer-reviewed indices.

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FOSN:  ISSN 1535-7848

SOAN:  ISSN 1546-7821

Peter Suber
Research Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College
Open Access Project Director, Public Knowledge
Senior Researcher, SPARC

Copyright © 2001-2007, Peter Suber. This is an open-access document.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.