Is open access an ethical issue

There is much debate these days around open access publication. We are living in

an exciting time of transformation in how professionals document their work and share it

to others. Perhaps 50 years from now it will be clear which new business models provide

platforms for sustainable academic publishing ( we forget that current academic publishing

is a recent invention; in the 19th century academic publishing was the sole domain of scholarly

societies; commercial research publishers only emerged in the 1950s)


A number of funding agencies now require funded authors to publish in open

access publications ( where often a page charge is collected). As a result Leonardo

is now making available an option where authors whose funding agencies require

open access publishing may do so with a page charge.


Recently my UT Dallas colleague  blogger David Parry has insisted

that open access is an ethical issue and that it is immoral for academics to publish in

subscription or fee  based publications, Do you agree ? We look forward to a vigorous debate


Here is a podcast of David Parry’ opinions in the Chronicle of Higher Education :


I need to declare a conflict of interest on this discussion as I am Executive Editor of the Leonardo Publications

at MIT Press.

Our business model is:


a) Leonardo is published through a contract between two US non profit corporations:
MIT Press and Leonardo/ISAST.

b) Income is generated from book sales, subscription sales and individual article

downloads. Access systems include deep dyve where articles are downloaded at 40/$ a month for

40 article downloads per month or $1 per article, print subscriptions  as detailed below, article downloads

are available through a number of systems such as JSTOR, project MUSE and other aggregation systems free to

academics whose libraries subscribe.

Our subscription rates are:


Individual (Print + Electronic: includes print subscription to Leonardo and electronic access to Leonardo and LMJ) : $87.00
Individual (Electronic Only: includes electronic subscription to Leonardo, and electronic access to LMJ) : $78.00
Student/Retired (Print + Electronic: includes print subscription to Leonardo, and electronic access to Leonardo and LMJ) : $56.00
Student/Retired (Electronic Only: includes electronic subscription to Leonardo, and electronic access to LMJ) : $49.00
Institutional (Print + Electronic: for libraries, includes print subscription to Leonardo and electronic access to Leonardo and LMJ) : $698.00
Institutional (Electronic Only: for libraries, includes electronic access to Leonardo, and electronic access to LMJ) : $607.00
JSTOR Access (For an additional annual fee, individual subscribers can access Leonardo back Vols. 1-40) : $25.00


c) Income from sales ; provides a small subsidy that has sustained the Leonardo/ISAST non profit which allows a

number of other activities to be carried out to provide services to the community of practice served by

Leonardo/ISAST, however over 45 years the non profit has functioned at a significant loss :


d) Leonardo has never operated at an overall profit in 45 years . Operations have been subsidized since 1966 by

government and foundation grants, individual donations and loans. I n addition authors, peer

reviewers, editors, members of editorial boards and committees  serve without salary or financial compensation.

Through its volunteer labour the community of practice served by Leonardo sustains the overall activities.


e) Leonardo is seeing as with many publications an evolution in its earned income. Print subscriptions are

steadily dropping ( if you project the trend we will be publishing 100 print copies in 10 years) and income from

on line access is rising. It is not clear yet whether in ten years the publication will still be financially viable.

Here are references on the new US policy on open access

This semester my graduate seminar at UT Dallas is on Experimental Publishing and Knowledge Curation

where we are vigorously debating the issues. The students in the seminar are publishing a weekly pop

up newspaper: EXPUCU the current issue is : Poetry: Speak It, Blog It, Curate It .


I look forward to your comments on this debate.
roger malina





  1. A wise friend once offered this as a universal ethical rule: “If it helps someone else, and costs you nothing, you have to do it.”

    MIT has led the way in realizing this opportunity to freely share digital content with the Open Courseware initiative. I hope Leonardo will act in the same spirit.

    One way to transition the revenue model may be to offer paid subscribers a “first look” access to content, and/or access to forums for interaction with authors prior to full public release.

  2. here is an interesting related topic
    Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research:

    Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee (Version 2.0)


    It is with great pleasure we announce that the 2012 AOIR Ethics guidelines
    document was approved by the general membership of the Association of
    Internet Researchers and is finally available online.

    You can find the 2012 document at,
    along with a link to the (work-in-progress) wiki, where we?re starting to
    build a compendium of resources that we hope will continue to grow.

    This 2012 document does not replace the 2002 guidelines, but lives
    alongside and builds from it. We hope both documents continue to provide a
    useful resource for researchers, students, academic institutions, and
    regulatory bodies.

    The 2012 document reflects nearly four years of collaborative effort of the
    ethics working committee. As with the first document, we believe it
    represents the diversity of the general membership, but is by no means the
    final word. The ethics working committee will continue to explore and
    debate how new experiences, issues and insights affiliated with Internet
    research evoke ethical challenges and demand ethically justifiable

    We want to say thanks to the many AOIR members who contributed in a variety
    of ways to the document, especially our fellow members of the 2002-2012
    ethics working committee.

    Thanks to our fellow contributors:

    Maria Bakardjeiva, (Canada),

    Andrea Baker (USA),

    David Brake (UK),

    Charles Ess (Norway)

    Radhika Gajjala (USA)

    Camilla Gronholm (Finland)

    Jeremy Hunsinger (Canada)

    Mark D. Johns (USA)

    Steve Jones (USA)

    Stine Lomborg (Denmark)

    Heidi McKee (USA)

    Jim Porter (USA)

    Soraj Hongladaram (Thailand)

    Janet Salmons (USA)

    Susannah Stern (USA)

    Eva Svedmark (Sweden)

    Leslie Tkach (Japan)

    Leslie Regan Shade (Canada)

    Michele White (USA)

    Michael Zimmer (USA)

    Thanks for distributing this new resource widely among your networks and
    colleagues. If you have any questions or want to contribute to the wiki,
    don’t hesitate to contact us,

    Best Regards,

    Annette Markham and Elizabeth Buchanan

    Annette N. Markham, Ph.D.
    Guest Professor, Department of Informatics, Ume? University, Sweden
    Guest & Affiliate Professor, School of Communication, Loyola University,
    Twitter: annettemarkham