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For more than two decades, my primary has been to advance the cause of open access to research. But all my work is nonprofit and I receive no direct financial gain from its success. — Peter Suber
What I do and try to do
- I work full-time to foster open access (OA) to research. I monitor OA, analyze it, advocate it, implement it, consult and strategize about it, and take public positions about it in my speaking and writing. I also use it as an author and reader.
- I try to say only what I believe and can defend. My positions and arguments evolve according to what I learn, and I try to learn from as many sources as I can. I try not to let my positions and arguments shift according to my financial interests. But I realize that if I don't succeed at this, I might not notice.
- I don't consider potential conflicts (like salaries or grants) to be good reasons to stop speaking my mind, especially when I've deliberately taken jobs and grants that encourage me to speak my mind about OA. On the contrary, potential conflicts are reasons for disclosure, not silence. Hence, I don't make it a principle to avoid comment on the organizations that employ or fund me, or that employed or funded me in the past. Some of them are major players in areas of my research, writing, speaking, and activism. My goal in this doc is to reveal my ties in order to help you decide how to weigh my arguments.
- For more detail on what I do, see my home page.
How I'm paid
- I have a salary from Harvard University to advise on OA and related topics. Until the end of 2021, I ran the Office for Scholarly Communication, based in Harvard Library. Here are some details on my job shift.
- I publicly defended some Harvard OA practices before I had any financial support from Harvard. I continued to do so after 2009, when I got a paid fellowship from Harvard, and after 2013 when I took a salaried job at Harvard.
- I don't defend all of Harvard's practices in any area, including the area of my work (open access, scholarly communication, digital scholarship, academic publishing, copyright). I feel no pressure to do so and, on the contrary, have the support and encouragement of colleagues to work for change.
- I've talked directly with a few potential donors interested in giving to Harvard or my unit within Harvard. If it matters, I limit myself to describing what we do and why I think it's important. I never make the ask. When they give (and some have) my salary does not go up. When don't give (and some haven't) my salary does not go down.
- Some of my books earn royalties and some don't.
- The anthology I co-edited with Steven J. Bartlett, Self-Reference: Reflections on Reflexivity, Martinus Nijhoff (now Springer), 1987, pays meager royalties. The anthology is not OA, but my two contributions to it are OA.
- Paradox of Self-Amendment (Peter Lang, 1990) never paid royalties. Lang wanted me to pay a subvention, but I refused and it published the book anyway. When the book went out of print in 1997, I made the full text OA.
- The Case of the Speluncean Explorers: Nine New Opinions (Routledge, 1998) is still in print and still earning royalties. It's my only book (and I believe, my only publication) that is not yet OA. I've asked Routledge to make it open, but it has refused.
- Open Access (MIT Press, 2012) still pays royalties. MIT made it OA one year after publication, under a CC-BY-NC license, and still sells a paperback edition. I asked for immediate OA, and a CC-BY license, but accepted this compromise with the press. In April 2019, MIT Press changed the license from CC-BY-NC to CC-BY, in accordance with my original request.
- While OA and print sales are compatible, and sometimes the former stimulate the latter, in my case the OA edition reduced sales and reduced my royalties.
- I received a $2,000 advance for this book. I didn't ask for an advance, and didn't know I'd receive one until I'd already written and submitted the manuscript. I haven't received an advance for any other book.
- At least three schools once gave away copies of the paperback edition of this book to all new members of their faculty; one was the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (not my decision). In the Harvard case, I learned the number of copies bought and given away for this purpose, calculated the royalties on those copies, and donated that amount to Creative Commons. When I was hired as the director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, I stopped the practice of giving copies of my book to new faculty.
- I was once criticized for accepting an advance for this book, and for not choosing a different publisher that would have allowed immediate OA — essentially, criticized for a conflict of interest. I responded. I won't recap the to-and-fro here, but I link to it so that you can judge for yourself.
- Knowledge Unbound (MIT Press, 2016) may or may not pay royalties. So far it hasn't. At my request, MIT made the book OA from birth, under a CC-BY license.
- As this history shows, I'd rather make my books OA under open licenses, and put my royalties at risk, than maximize royalties.
- Of course scholarly articles earn no royalties. Hence, I see no conflicts in my scholarly articles on OA, philosophy, or law.
- In fact it was the realization as a young scholar that scholarly articles earned no royalties that awakened me to the beautiful opportunity to make them OA.
Other things I do
- I'm the director of the Harvard Open Access Project (HOAP), based at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. When HOAP was grant-funded (2011-2018), some of the funds covered some of my salary. Today HOAP is an active but unfunded project.
- I consult pro bono on OA. Because the "clients" don't pay for this work, I don't see it as a conflict of interest. Moreover, in every case I'm asked for my own views and recommendations, not for those congenial to the person or group I'm talking to.
- Sometimes this pro bono consulting results in improved OA policies, practices, or understanding. (That's the goal.) Sometimes I don't entirely endorse the results, but at least I tried.
- Sometimes my pro bono consulting has been grant-supported and sometimes not. Several of my past grants included specific provisions to pay for my time so that I could give time freely to OA initiatives in need of help. I had such grants between 2001 and 2018, but no longer have them. Since 2018, Harvard Library has paid for my pro bono consulting time.
- My pro bono consulting for OA is often confidential. Because some OA colleagues find this odd, I'll explain. (1) Many institutions do not want to reveal that they are considering an OA policy until they have a draft they're ready to defend. (2) Even after an institution adopts a policy, it should be the one to decide whether to reveal my role in advising on substance, language, procedure, or strategy. (3) Some people who consult with me do not officially represent their institutions, and seek strategic advice on how to persuade colleagues to make an unofficial policy initiative into an official one.
- When I consult with for-profit companies, I often charge for my time. I never charge nonprofits.
- I started working as a paid consultant in 2003, after I gave up my salary as a philosophy professor to work full-time on OA. When I got more consulting requests than I had time to accept, I raised my price until they fell to a manageable level. Today I only take a handful of these jobs a year. Each is usually a one-hour phone call. For the past few years, these consultations have been with investors who want to know whether the stock prices of large, publicly-traded academic publishers will go up or down. I never express an opinion on those future stock prices, and the investors never ask me. I talk about what's happening with OA and academic publishing, and the investors draw their own conclusions. I don't even know what conclusions they draw!
- When I charge for my time, I do the job as an overload, on non-work time.
- When I advise for-profit publishers on their OA options, and how they could support OA, I do not charge.
- I serve on advisory boards for many organizations, and list them on my home page. These roles reflect a willingness to advise, and not always a willingness to endorse. Sometimes I also endorse and sometimes I don't; sometimes I endorse more, sometimes less.
- When I serve on an advisory board, I don't raise money for the organization, though I sometimes support its grant applications.
- I have never been paid to serve on boards or similar groups.
- Sometimes I make decisions, usually with others, on how Harvard should spend its money, for example, on publishers, tool builders, and service providers. This work is covered by my ordinary salary, and I'm never paid by vendors.
- I am a non-practicing lawyer. The "non-practicing" part means that I don't have clients. Hence I'm never in a position to advocate for a client, and never need to disentangle that kind of private-interest advocacy from my general work, which I consider public-interest advocacy.
- I used to do a lot of public speaking in support of OA. Today, for medical reasons, I do much less, at least when it requires travel. When I do speak, sometimes I accept honoraria and sometimes I waive them. But even when I accept them, I'm never paid to take any position but my own. On the contrary, when I'm invited to speak, the organizers want to hear my take on things.
- I tweet now and then. I formerly blogged a lot and now blog a little. Nobody pays me for this. And nobody with control over my income has ever tried to influence the positions I take. (Who has tried? Just the crowd of networked peers with opinions, the people I joined social media in order to meet, connect with, speak to, and learn from.)
- In the past I've had salaries or stipends for my OA work from Public Knowledge, Yale Law School, the Harvard Law School Library, and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. I no longer have any of these salaries or stipends.
- In the past I've had grants for my OA work from the Open Society Foundations (2001-2009), the Wellcome Trust (2007-2009), the Arcadia Fund (2011-2016), and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (2016-2018). For my philosophy work, I've had a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (circa 1985). I no longer have any of these grants.
- When my newsletter on OA (2001-2013) moved to SPARC (2003), SPARC paid me by the issue. Between 2006-2010 the newsletter carried occasional paid ads from Data Conversion Laboratory. Neither SPARC nor DCL ever suggested what I should or shouldn't say in the newsletter.
- For 21 years I was a professor of philosophy at Earlham College. When I stepped down in 2003 to work full-time on OA, I was a tenured senior professor, and am now a professor emeritus. I haven't received money from Earlham since 2003.
Paid or unpaid?
- Sometimes it's hard for me to tell the difference between OA work for which I'm paid and OA work for which I'm not paid.
- All my paid work is OA work, but not all my OA work is paid work. Analogy: I support political causes and candidates without pay, and sometimes even pay to support them. My support for OA is political in the broadest sense. Sometimes I work for OA without pay, and sometimes even pay to support OA.
- I feel lucky to be paid to support what I'd support without pay, and sometimes even pay to support. For more than two decades I've deliberately looked for grants, fellowships, and paying jobs to make this happen. But if I had to say whether a given phone call, Zoom call, email, blog post, memo, consultation, F2F meeting, public talk, interview, or article was inside or outside the scope of my paid work, I'd often be at a loss. Fortunately, this has never mattered to those who paid me, and I feel lucky about that too.
- I work full-time on OA but receive no direct financial gain from its success. For example, I own no stock or stock options in any OA-related company. I don't receive salaries, fellowships, or grants from for-profit companies. I receive no commissions on my OA work, unless you count royalties on my books. Even in the rare cases when I consult for pay, I charge a flat fee which does not go up or down retroactively based on what I said during the consultation and whether it helped anyone make money.
- I do benefit indirectly because the success of OA and the success my own contributions increase the odds that I'll get new grants to work on it, and increase the odds that there will be paying jobs (like my current job) to work on it. However, even in these cases, neither my grants nor my salary are tied to the progress of OA. Once a funder has accepted my grant application, the amount doesn't go up or down in proportion to the effectiveness of my work. Once I have a salary, the amount is subject to rule-governed annual increases, and doesn't increase beyond those bounds in order to stimulate or reward good work.
I was prompted to create this page by similar pages from Mike Eisen, Lawrence Lessig, and David Weinberger. I hope this practice spreads.