Open Access publication must become the standard for all academic publications, says Paul de Laat. As a lecturer in Philosophy of the Information Society at the University of Groningen he is conducting research on the changing attitudes towards software-related intellectual property rights. The main advantage of Open Access is that publications become much more widely known. ‘Since my articles have become freely available, I’ve been cited more quickly and much more often’.
‘Open Access in an academic context means that articles are free to access and that the author gives permission for them to be distributed’, says De Laat. ‘To everyone’, he adds. ‘That means without barriers and straight after publication, not a month or a year later’. The original idea behind the internet – easy and open access to everything – still needs to be realized. The bulk of academic articles are still not accessible. ‘They are still locked away and only accessible at a price. That has to change’.
The most important reason for opening up access to academic articles, according to De Laat, is the much broader reach that the articles will have. ‘Everyone, from India to Tokyo, can download a publication in order to keep up to date on the latest developments and to contribute where possible. Here in the West academics often already have that opportunity. Most universities have subscriptions to the most important journals. Open Access is especially important for non-Westerners, and that in turn is important for the development of academics’.
De Laat hopes that the ideal of freely available publications will inspire academics. ‘I recently spoke to a colleague who told me that he posts all of his publications on his own website so that his colleagues can find them easily. This is a good start, but what is important to me about the Open Access publication model is that it will lead to new colleagues. Colleagues you weren’t even aware of’. And that is what makes a change in publication model necessary. The publications must be offered through media with good reputations that strictly adhere to peer review systems.
The first steps have been taken. For example, Springer Media has signed a contract with all universities enabling university staff to publish in Springer journals via Open Access without having to pay. This is an experiment to see how many people actually want to make use of this option. Generally you do have to pay to publish. De Laat: ‘What universities can do is give their academics a budget. When they are appointed they can reserve an amount for Open Access publications’.
De Laat realizes that there are also drawbacks. ‘Most people first go to the most prestigious journals to try and publish there. They are mainly working on their own careers, rather than making the results of their research as widely accessible as possible’. But he does think that publishing in prestigious journals can be combined with Open Access, even though it might take a while before these journals shift their approach to the Open Access system. ‘Ideally, a new and prestigious platform will emerge with the Open Access structure’.
The wider the reach of an article, the more it will be cited. ‘The copyright is not transferred to the publisher. In practice this means that you give others permission to download your work and to distribute it further. Another option is that the author permits the text to be modified. A publication or part of a publication can then be used, without permission, in brochures or schoolbooks, and can be translated, on condition that the name of the original author is stated’. De Laat acknowledges the risk that portions of text will be quoted out of context. ‘But on the other hand, there are contexts in which publications like that will spark off very interesting discussions, enabling people to contribute to the debate’.
Dr Paul de Laat (1948) is lecturer in Philosophy of the Information Society at the University of Groningen. He has a degree in theoretical physics and a PhD in sociology, based on research into matrix structures in R&D. His current research concentrates on the phenomenon of Open Source Software (and intellectual property rights in general) and on the role of trust in cyberspace. He publishes in journals such as Ethics and Information Technology, Research Policy and The Information Society.
Contact Paul de Laat
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