Saturday, February 19, 2011

Open Access

I am not an expert in social media and do not know why all the feedback on this blog comes through email instead of comments. Today, I am answering to an emailed comment on my post of Friday, January 28, 2011 where I announced the links to our EI papers. The topic is open access.

It came from Dan B., who works for G. in Mountain View (emphasis is his):


Regardless of the cost to produce the paper, to ask for $18 for a copy is senseless from an operational viewpoint, because nobody is going to buy it. As a result, this paper that you spent so much time working on ends up in a walled garden, essentially unavailable to the world at large.

I claim that's just stupid. It is a bad grafting of electronic media onto traditional dead-tree media.

In a more perfect world:

(1) any work paid for in whole or part by government agencies, if not classified, should be put on the web, free. That includes all research done at public universities and most done at private universities. This would include all medical and genomic research.

(2) any work otherwise paid for by a corporation can, at the discretion of the corporation (HP for you), be made publicly accessible at no cost.

The physicists figured this out nearly 20 years ago. The traditional model of paying publishers huge amounts of money for paper subscriptions is passe, fini, kaput. Information wants to be accessible.

I don't believe I can put up more than 15 minutes on youtube on any account, let along yours, for free. I'd suggest that you divide it into two parts. You could call them Part1 and Part2 :-)

-- Dan

Ignore the last paragraph for now, I will come back to it at the end of the post.

The fundamental question is how does society fund the creation of art and knowledge. This was first discussed vigorously by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732–1799). Beaumarchais was a flamboyant and boisterous figure whose life reads like a picaresque adventure, but he is the one who championed the concept of author's right (protection of the author), which through the Convention of Berne (9 September 1886) is related to the British concept of copyright (protection of the work).

Staufen, Dr. FaustThe goal of the author's right is to provide a sequential solution to the dichotomy between financing authors and open access to their work.

[I am writing from my recollection of what I learned in high school in the French literature class, so the following may be somewhat inaccurate.]

In the past, creative minds like scientists and artists were supported by patrons. Sometimes this had disadvantages, like Dr. Faustus here at left having his neck broken when his employment contract expired after 24 years and he was not able to succeed in his assigned research. Other times, especially when the creative mind was an independently wealthy patron himself, it allowed for a very comfortable and gratifying life.

Although Beaumarchais himself was in the latter category (among others he made a big pile of money selling weapons and ammunition to the insurgents in the American colonies fighting the British for their independence), he realized that when the French applied the guillotine to their aristocracy, they also eliminated most of the patrons, leaving scores of artists and scientists without the means to pursue their creative work.

He advocated that society needs their creations, and therefore has to always provide a means for them to create more work giving them two rights: the moral rights and the monetary rights to their work, i.e., recognition and means to live and create more.

What Dan B. writes is that in the case of the calibrated lunch viz. fuchsia paper (which is work for hire), the paper should be made available under open access, i.e., for free, by the hiring party.

Because of our moral rights as the authors, the paper must be available from a reputable source, like a learned society or a reputable scientific journal. In our case, the paper is available through the SPIE Digital Library (DL).

The SPIE DL is hosted by the American Institute of Physics (AIP), which for this purposes runs a datacenter or cloud computing farm and pays a staff of people to provide the service. It costs about $500 to make a paper permanently available, and their funding model is that institutions pay an annual subscription to give open access to their members.

For example, in HP Labs all employees have open access to all SPIE, IEEE, etc. papers they need for their research to create new products for the company. Although Dan's employer is an advertising company, they employ a large number of researchers and engineers to create technology that increases their advertising income. With that, I am very surprised G. in Mountain View is not an institutional member of the SPIE DL and the other fine digital libraries catering to the technologies of their interest.

What Dan is suggesting in his email is that my employer should pay the $500 to make the fuchsia paper open access. Unfortunately, my organization does currently not have the $500 to make the paper open access for Dan and everybody else. Also, to be fair it would have to make available also all papers by my coworkers, in addition to pay the institutional membership to the SPIE DL.

Actually, to research the open access process took more of my time than it took me to write the paper, so trying to swim against the flow is clearly not a good tactical move for a creative mind. The $18 is really only for the few people for whom it is not meaningful to subscribe to the SPIE DL, for example color consultants or teachers who only need this individual paper.

About "bad grafting of electronic media onto traditional dead-tree media," the AIP just lets you download a PDF file. It is each purchaser's personal business to decide how they want to exercise their fair use rights. For example, Dan's company might want to provide him with a fine HP TouchPad tablet computer, which is an excellent media delivery device for the fuchsia paper, and does not require dead tree media.

The traditional academic process for disseminating knowledge is to first publish a paper as a technical report for the consideration of one's friends and collaborators. The feedback is then used to write an improved paper that is submitted to a scholarly journal, with the referees and associate editors guiding through further revisions. This process allows the efficient dissemination of research, ensuring that readers are only exposed to quality results.

In common law countries like the USA, copyright law in principle allows the informal publication of the final paper as a technical report under certain restrictions, but this contradicts the moral right half of the law, especially in civil law countries, which use author's right instead of copyright.

The technical report version of our paper is still available as a free download from HP Labs at this link: This brouillon may be adequate for starving researchers, but the moral portion of the author's right law demand that Dan base his work on the formal publication in the SPIE DL.

At this point, Dan might interject that the AIP should find other funding to host papers than charging for a subscription. In the current American economic situation it may not be politically feasible to increase the Federal tax to fund such an endeavour.

An alternative would be fund the SPIE DL through analytics and advertising. However, this is not a viable solution, because companies like Dan's fund their supposedly "free" services by intruding in their user's privacy and selling this data for a considerable profit. Do I want my competitor to be able to buy my online activity log? Certainly not, and this is why I do not use free search engines or Scholar in my work for hire. I use paid subscription services from SPIE, AIP, IEEE, ACM, Thomson Reuters and others, which guarantee my privacy.

Actually, quite a few Web 2.0 companies are more diabolic than violating privacy. In fact, their researchers no longer publish their work, keeping it secret. This is a return to the Dark Ages, which Beaumarchais aimed at preventing… When did you publish your last paper?

Now to the last paragraph in Dan's comment. If G. is so generous to publish my research video in exchange for analyzing my viewers, why is there a limit of 15 minutes? Certainly people's attention span is decreasing with time, but in computer science we learned many decades ago that artificial limits are bad. 64 KB RAM, 2 GB disk space, and now 15 minutes YouTube? I am diabolically tempted to believe that after 15 minutes G. has collected sufficient analytics on my viewers that they no longer need to provide additional air time…

And now something completely different.

Since I have been writing about author's right and copyright, the latter applies roughly to the former British empire and Japan, i.e., the common law countries, while the author's right applies to the rest of the world, i.e., the civil law (Roman law) countries. The Convention of Berne reconciles the two, but they are different.

For online content, which law applies? The convention is that the law of the country of the domain name primary registrar is determining. In the case of this blog, Swiss civil law and therefore author's right applies. In particular, this requires that you properly cite all content you use from this blog. It also requires me to cite the SPIE DL authoritative version of the fuchsia paper and not the free technical report.

It might be a good exercise to review John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Beaumarchais to appreciate the concept of moral rights in author's right. As for the monetary rights, this blog is not work for hire, so contributions for purchasing equipment and electricity are always appreciated.

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