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Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Sept 08, 1998

Posted to WWWDEV 08 September 98

Something to mull over as you sip your first post Labour Day coffee...

The article cited below was of interest to me, especially since Wired also mentioned the potential for computer-graded essays. There was no link posted in the email quoted below, so I did a quick search, located it (, and clicked on the link...

To be faced with a userid and password request. I left them blank, as usual, and was faced with a page quoting me subscription rates.

Well, ok, I knew the Chronicle of Higher Education charges for subscriptions; it had been so long since they published anything I wanted to read that I forgot about it. But two thoughts came to my mind:

1. A chunk of the article was quoted in the email submitted to this list. Probably - since it was only a couple of paragraphs - it would fall under 'fair use' in any case. But I wonder: what if she had quoted the entire article? (a) Would it be a violation of copyright? A list server is like a *conversation*, not a publication. (b) If it was a violation of copyright, who would be responsible? Rik, for allowing it to be distributed on his list, or Joan, for doing the distributing.

2. Of course, we wouldn't be caught up in this copyright wrangle if the Chronicle of Higher Education weren't trying to ding us for a few bucks to begin with. And I have to ask: is it in the interests of the educational community generally to support for-pay services when so many free alternatives are available? I argue not.

Some of you may have seen my post to DEOS in this matter - if so, please forgive me, and you can stop reading here. For everybody else:

From: Self
Subject: Re: New virtual university articles
Date sent: Thu, 20 Aug 1998 09:31:36 -0500


Eric Sandelands wrote Virtual University Journal has these new peer reviewed papers online at: Some papers are available with free access, others to subscribers only.

In fact, both papers subsequently listed required subscriber access. We'll leave aside questions about what he meant when he said "free" in the note above and move to some deeper questions.

Virtual University Journal charges subscriptions of £40 Sterling per annum for the electronic version only. It begs the question: how much do they pay their authors? How much do they pay their peer reviewers? Probably nothing.

A time has come, therefore, to issue a cautionary note to the on-line educational community at large.

The traditional mechanism for educational publication involved print-based peer- reviewed journals which paid their authors nothing and which at the same time charged substantial subscription fees to individuals and institutions.

There is a danger of replicating the same system on the internet. By paying subscription fees for services which can be, and should be, offered for free by the many institutions participating in research, we would be needlessly raising the cost or, and decreasing access to, papers and publications.

The pay-for-subscription approach to publishing depends for its success on the fostering of an implicit appeal to snobbery, the idea that the best papers are only those for which we must pay a subscription fee. But there is no reason to believe this supposition, especially now, when no online journal has established itself as authoritative.

Academic publishing on the internet need not emulate its more expensive print- based predecessor. The justifications for subscription fees (the cost of printing, the cost of mailing) no longer exist. Even the most popular academic journals would add only a small load to any internet server. The true costs - the cost of research and writing, the cost of peer review - are hidden, borne by the very institutions which now must pay to read the results.

Therefore I urge academics to resist the temptation to pay subscription fees to online academic journals. I urge academics to forge a new publishing paradigm for the digital age, one which fosters the free exchange of writing and research. The savings to us all would be substantial.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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