R. Stephen Berry
I will try to present a brief summary of the symposium from a very personal viewpoint. The first session of the symposium focused on the challenge that we are confronting in terms of scientific and technical data and information (STI) in the public domain, then Session 2 looked at how these are evolving and what are the new pressures. Session 3 examined potential consequences of changes and particularly the diminishing of the public domain, and the symposium ended with a final session on potential responses from the education and research communities in preserving the public domain and promoting open access. This structure gave a sense first of realism, then of foreboding, and finally, the last set of talks provided a sense of optimism and turned the perspective in a very positive direction. There are some points that kept being emphasized that we might keep in mind. First, openness, we now can argue, is a demonstrable good. The meeting began with the sense that there were many reasons to question the value of openness relative to the value of protection. The case for economic health being fostered by openness is a case that we can make, and one that needs to be made much more in the circles where decisions relative to the public domain or especially laws are being considered.
We also heard about the importance of experimentation, the importance of trying different ways of doing things, and particularly of the likely optimum course being one that has many different pathways. We heard over and over the dangers that a Digital Millennium Copyright Act type of approach produces by essentially forcing almost necessarily a single track. In addition, we heard from a number of speakers about the counterproductive character of inhibitory legislation versus the very desirable character of permissive legislation. This is a case that this meeting has argued needs to be made much more forcefully in the legislative community.
I think the point of despair during the meeting was when we heard about worst cases that restrict or could potentially inhibit open access to and use of public domain STI and the potential consequences. These cases illustrate the dangerous course with regard to the continuance of the scientific enterprise as we know it now.
The best cases, even the pretty good cases, by contrast, look quite positive. The final set of presentations from the education and research communities leaves us with a sense that the chances are pretty good that the world is going to turn out all right, provided that the points of view expressed and the evidence presented here is relayed to the people who are making these decisions. The rational decisions seem to be very clearly defined in favor of openness and public domain.
We need to continue to reexamine the institutional relationships that involve scientists, their universities or the government or their laboratories, and the publishers of books and journals. It was clear from some of the talks that, in many ways, universities and scientists can afford to get tough, for example, to decide not to publish in the
journals or with the book publishers that are forcing universities like the University of Maine to drop subscriptions. If a significant fraction of the scientific world is not going to cite my papers if they are published in Journal X, why should I publish in that journal? The scientific community still has to deal with not only the commercial publishers, but also with some of its professional organizations that still retain the same kind of protective positions that we decry in commercial publishers. However, scientists seem to be less willing to criticize when professional organizations maintain those publications and adhere to restrictive practices.
The next stage of this discussion, one that was not discussed here, is one that is the responsibility for all of us. We have to ask ourselves, who can we reach that can make a difference, and how can we put together the persuasive case for the legislators and the lobbyists that we have heard here? We can talk among ourselves, but it is in the rooms where the database legislation is being discussed, where there seems to be a little rising against the European Database Directive, where in the committee rooms the Digital Millennium Copyright Act might be reexamined. At this stage, we have collected a good deal of evidence that we need to put in a form to allow us to talk to people who can really change things.
The net result of this symposium is that this is a step forward. We must thank the organizing committee and Paul Uhlir and Jerry Reichman for putting together a very exciting and productive symposium.