Interview with Peter Suber

Peter Suber is the man behind the Free Online Scholarship newsletter, now called the SPARC Open Access Newsletter and published by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. For years he’s been directing scholars to “open access”–publically available, no charge–scholarly sources, and working to develop more such sources. In this interview, Suber discusses his involvement with the Public Library of Science and the general idea of “open access” scholarship.

Basically, open access is to scientific research what free software is to programming. The difference is that a great deal of scientific research is publically-funded, whether through universities or through federal grants, and as such belongs to the public. Also, as Suber says:

There is an important difference, however: open access is compatible with ordinary copyright. We don’t need the public domain and we don’t need alternative licenses like GPL, although these would also work to support open access. Copyright even in its current unbalanced, reprehensible, post-DMCA form is compatible with open access. All we need is the consent of the copyright holder to waive some of the rights given by the statute, and to permit the unrestricted reading, downloading, copying, sharing, storing, printing, searching, linking, and crawling of their work.

Scholarly authors are inclined to give this consent because they write for impact and not for money. In this they are nearly unique among creators of intellectual property. So the fact that musicians and filmmakers don’t readily consent to open access is predictable and irrelevant. Scholarly authors don’t receive royalties from their articles and never have. They are paid by their employers, not by readers. This gives them the freedom to advance their careers by advancing knowledge, even if this pursuit leads them in directions that would be marketing disasters – -for example, contradicting mainstream ideas or cultivating a specialization that interests only a smattering of other researchers worldwide.

Essentially, Suber has, for the relatively limited world of scholarly writing, picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Richard Stallman and the Free Software movement, developing an approach well-suited to scientific research.

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