The Open Access Movement in fragile balance

Report (2003) by Sandra Fauconnier about Darius Cuplinskas' talk at Copy the Rights!

Darius Cuplinskas was the first lecturer of the Copy the Rights! seminar at DEAF03. He gave a presentation that focused on the role of the Open Society Institute in the Open Access movement (a movement promoting free access to online scientific literature), and on the history of that movement itself. The Open Society Institute in Budapest, part of the Soros Foundations network, has been active in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the past 10 years; currently the network is moving its activities to other developing parts of the world such as Southern and Western Africa, Latin America and others. Cuplinskas works for the Information Program of the OSI Hungary, which offers support in the field of information technology and helps, among others, Internet providers and libraries in setting up a good infrastructure. Through its contacts with research libraries in developing countries, the OSI has become involved in the Open Access Movement. In November 2001 it co-initiated the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which was backed up by a $3,000 grant by the Soros Foundation. Since then, nearly 3,000 research scientists have signed the Initiative, expressing their interest in making their research articles more openly available; furthermore, BOAI has supported and funded various Open Access-related activities.

Cuplinskas emphasized that the Open Access model - emerging from scientific publishing, which he called the oldest open source movement - has a lot of parallels with other domains and that a lot can be done within the current copyright system.

He then drew a brief history of scientific communication, which goes back to 1665 when the first print-based journal was published. It had five functions - registration of intellectual property of the authors; credentialling via refereeing and quality via peer review; "branding" of authors; dissemination; archiving - which remained largely unchanged for 300 years and founded a political order within scientific communication, with a constitutional tension of access versus quality, dissemination versus hierarchy. Scientific publishing was not quite profitable until after World War II, when Eugene Garfield invented "citation indexing", a system that makes it possible to rank journals according to the number of citations they receive. Thus, a very strong hierarchy emerges with a list of prestigious core journals (10% to 20% of all scientific journals). Soon, an alliance between scientists and publishers was forged, scientific publishing became big business, during the last 10 years prices of journals have risen 200% (!) and an oligopoly of only a handful of large-scale journal publishers came into being (Reed Elsevier, Kluwer, Springer, Wiley).

Next, Cuplinskas listed some important Open Access activities that react to this situation - lobbying groups and initiatives such as SPARC and the 2001 Public Library of Science (PLoS) petition, free online publishers such as BioMed Central (which works with author processing fees), important eprint repositories such as the huge and very successful arXiv.org, founded in 1991 by Paul Ginsparg, and the Open Archives interoperability initiative. Movements such as Open Access and Open Source depend on some important criteria: a commons, integration mechanisms with some hierarchy and a legal framework - these movements can't exist without copyright!

Finally, Cuplinskas stated that the present time is a crucial juncture for the Open Access movement; the following five years will decide whether this movement will obtain sufficient impact or die a silent death. High-quality back-end applications on top of open eprint archives and traditional journals will be crucial there; the "Faculty of 1000" project, where biologists recommend their favorite papers, is a good example of such an application.

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