[Fsf-friends] NEWS: Canadian campaigner for open knowledge access in India

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Tue, 11 Feb 2003 05:29:09 +0530 (IST)

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Canadian campaigner for open knowledge access in India

By Papri Sri Raman, Indo-Asian News Service

Chennai, Feb 10 (IANS) John Willinsky teaches Shakespeare in Canada but he's
here promoting a world "where knowledge is free".

Willinsky, pacific professor of literature and technology at the University
of British Columbia and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, is now on a
tour of India, campaigning for open access to knowledge.

As the science of information technology advances, "people's access to
knowledge is actually decreasing instead of increasing", he says.

For example, he recalls that the library of the Agriculture University in
Bangalore subscribed to 1,000 journals in 1956. Today it can afford just 600
such academic publications.

"The reason more and more libraries are finding it difficult to provide
printed or online copies of journals is because big publishers have
increased their costs manifold.

There are online journals that cost at least $3 to just access once, and are
made available for just a few hours at a time.

"Only a limited number of academic papers are available online free of cost
for an interested reader to access."

Researchers in developing countries are devoid of a large volume of
literature available on a subject. High costs and copyright rules prevent

"Although new technology has made access possible, fewer academic journals
are available to the reader," Willinsky says.

He has been lobbying this week at the Indian Institute of Science and the
National Centre for Scientific Information in Bangalore and at the Institute
of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai for online publication of academic
journals under a public-funded Canadian project called the Public Knowledge

In Bangalore and Chennai he has also been demonstrating the software he and
his graduate and undergraduate students developed last year for anyone who
wants to put an academic journal online.

For both the reader and the host, the access is free and response is
automated, he told his audience at a lecture organised by the Computer
Society of India and the Madras Library Association this weekend.

Explaining how he got interested in the issue of "open access and an open
source system", Willinsky said copyright laws of big publishing houses like
Reed Elsevier, which publishes more than 60 percent of the academic journals
in America and Europe, bothered him.

In a year, they can hold the copyright to academic articles published in
2,000 academic journals, the professor said.

All universities in the West require faculty members to publish their
research papers, thesis and other academic work in journals.

"Their promotions, recognition and continuation of jobs depend on the number
of publications in a time frame of five to seven years," the professor

This forces scholars to give away their intellectual property rights,
Willinsky told his Indian audience.

Big publishing houses like Elsevier earned annual revenues up to $5.5 billon
a decade ago. The work was obtained free from the scholars.

According to the present rules of the intellectual property rights act,
anything developed by a worker hired for a company belongs to the company
because it conceives the project and provides facilities.

However, the copyright belongs to the creator of the project or thesis and
to the public if it is supported by public funds, especially in

The study for public benefit is sold to the publisher unless it is 70 or 100
years after the death of the academic.

This got Willinsky thinking of how much it costs to publish an academic
journal online.

His first search took him to a publisher who said it could be done free. At
the end of his search list was the Cornell University that said it costs as
much as $2.7 million to publish an academic journal online.

With such varied result, the professor got nine computer students to develop
a software that enabled people to put academic journals online free in a
secure and formatted manner.

The process cost about $65,000 but once the software was developed, it was
made available free of cost.

The Public Knowledge Project is funded by a global security and
sustainability grant for knowledge exchange and technology research
capabilities of developing nations from the MacArthur Foundation.

It explores how technology can be used to improve the professional and
public value of scholarly research.

"By bringing together researchers and librarians, it is investigating the
social, economic, and technical issues entailed in the use of online
infrastructure and public accessibility," said Willinsky.

The project also seeks to integrate emerging standards for digital library
access and document preservation, such as Open Archives and InterPARES, as
well as for topic maps and doctoral dissertations, and helps develop
knowledge management website prototypes.

--Indo-Asian News Service