Department of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM
A fellow researcher at the same university sees a reference to the article. He goes to the library to get it, only to meet the response: "Not subscribed to here. Can't afford that journal. Our subscription/licence budget is already overspent."
Meanwhile, an undergraduate sees the article cited on the Web and clicks on it. The publisher's website demands a password: "Access denied: only subscribing institutions have access to this journal." (The undergraduate loses patience, gets bored, and clicks on Napster to grab an MP3 file of his favourite bootleg CD.)
Years later, the same PhD is now being considered for tenure. His publications are good, but they're not cited enough, haven't made enough of a "research impact". Tenure denied.
So it's back to applying for research grants. But his research findings just haven't had enough impact: not enough researchers have read, built upon and cited them. Funding denied.
In desperation, he decides to write a book. Publishers say it's interesting work, but decline to publish it. "Wouldn't sell enough copies. Not enough universities have enough money to pay for it. Their purchasing budgets are tied up in their inflating annual journal costs..."
He tries to put his articles on the Web, free for all, to increase their impact. The journal that originally published them threatens to sue him and his server-provider for violation of copyright. He asks his publisher: "Who is this copyright intended to protect?" The publisher replies: "You!"
Something is clearly very wrong here. Researchers give away their work; all they ever wanted in exchange was that all potential users should be able to access it. The web has now created this possibility of free universal access. Unlike recording artists, however, who want to earn royalties from the sale of their work, and so do not want users to be able to download it from the web for free (yet they can, and do), researchers do want users to download their work for free (yet they can't).
So what are researchers to do? Their growing frustration has lately inspired a wide range of literature-liberation scenarios, from the far-fetched Utopian ("Give up submitting your work to non-giveaway journals") to the frankly crackpot ("Give up peer review [refereeing] and journals altogether") to the outright cop-out ("Settle for the public freeing of access to your findings 6 to 12 months after you have published them").
When print was the only medium of dissemination, there was no alternative to toll-gated access. The web era has provided a method of liberating the refereed research literature online without giving up journals or peer review, and without violating copyright. This "Self-Archiving Initiative" is swift and certain, tried and true, well within reach and long overdue.
To free this literature virtually overnight, all its authors need do is to self-archive their own portion of it online in their institution's "e-print" archive. Free archive-creating software (http://www.eprints.org) is now available to make all such institutional e-print archives "interoperable" (www.openarchives.org), hence "harvestable" into one global virtual archive (http://cite-base.ecs.soton.ac.uk/cgi-bin/search) -- free for everyone, everywhere, forever. For the details, see http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Tp/resolution.htm.