Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Of free riders and bad pennies

In the open access debate, 'free riders' keep popping up like the proverbial bad pennies. Free riders are those who profit from open access to research articles, where in the subscription model they had to pay for access. Even UK parliamentarian Ian Gibson, in the last paragraph of his recent foreword to Neil Jacobs' book, sees free riders as problematic.

But are they? Once research results are published (i.e. made public), in any model, whoever sees a possibility to benefit (or profit) from applying the knowledge found in these research results, is free to do so. In fact, a strong commitment to and concomitant spending on research in a country is usually seen as closely associated with a strong economic performance and development of the economy. So why is it that free use of the results themselves, representing 99% of the cost of research, is not problematic but, instead, is rightly seen to stimulate the economy, yet free access to the published results, representing a mere 1% of the cost of research, is regarded as a problem?

Jan Velterop

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