A few weeks ago James Heilman shared a message with us on the theme of ‘Requesting WHO to Consider the Use of an Open License’. The responses indicate two main concerns – (1) affordability and (2) concerns about how content may be re-used. I would like to unpack these concerns further…
‘The idea is fine, but when I raised this years ago, shortly after the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2001), I was told WHO found itself in a quandary, since its sales of publications in some countries funds the free distribution of publications in others, through a “revolving sales fund”, which also pays for most of the staff in the WHO publications distribution service. It is more complicated than that, but that’s the general idea.’ Chris Zielinski, Zambia
Q1. What evidence is there that making WHO publications open access would make any difference to print sales?
Q2. How much does WHO get from sales of its publications at present?
Q3. Is it not an anachronism that WHO continues to have a commercial mindest for its book publishing activities?
Q4. How much will WHO stand to lose from print sales if it were to make its publications open access? (Indeed, it is possible that print sales could *increase* as a result of this move)
Q5. Assuming that the amount is relatively small (a few millions of dollars per year?), would this not be an opportunity for a funding agency such as the Gates Foundation to step up to the plate and underpin the costs of WHO moving to open access?
Indeed, specifically for the Gates Foundation, this is an opportunity for them to respond to the “13th Grand Global health Challenge”, as described by global health leaders in The Lancet in 2006 (the year when HIFA was launched):
‘The Gates Foundation identified fourteen challenges but a fifteenth challenge stares us plainly in the face: The 15th challenge is to ensure that everyone in the world can have access to clean, clear, knowledge – a basic human right, and a public health need as important as access to clean, clear, water, and much more easily achievable.’
Tikki Pang (WHO), Muir Gray (NHS, UK), and Tim Evans (WHO): ‘A 15th grand challenge for global public health.’ The Lancet 2006; 367:284-286.
This is also aligned with the Gates Foundation’s recent announcement on open access, and with their support to organisations such as Hesperian Health Guides towards an open access model (a development that I believe has further enhanced Hesperian’s reputation and impact).
CONCERNS ABOUT HOW CONTENT MAY BE RE-USED
‘WHO is not planning to license the materials on its web site under the terms of a Creative Commons IGO licence for the time being because of concerns about how its information may be reused which may be contrary to its principles e.g. implying endorsement or to promote products/services, or how the authority and integrity of its information may be undermined by inappropriate adaptation its work. These are mainly the normative works.’ Najeeb Al-Shorbaji, Switzerland
Q1: Is there any evidence that works produced under an open access license are likely to be misused any more than works produced under a traditional licence?
Q2: There are perhaps some types of WHO publication where open access would have a greater positive benefit than others (eg practical manuals for health workers?). Would it make sense for WHO to test the waters by making a subset of its publications open access?
As Najeeb says: “We would welcome sharing with us some evidence-based research on how licensing works under the Creative Commons attribution licence has made an impact in the area of scientific, technical and medical publishing.”
Meanwhile, I think it is significant that another UN agency – UNESCO – has already decided to go open access. Perhaps we can learn from their experience?
Best wishes, Neil
Lets build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare knowledge – Join HIFA: www.hifa2015.org
HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All) and co-director of the Global Healthcare Information Network.