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“Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends....But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It's called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn't immoral — it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.”—Aaron Swartz
Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.
There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.
That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.
“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.
Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.
Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.
But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.
Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.
There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?
July 2008, Eremo, Italy
“Sometimes I find the term "genius" frightening, especially as it is commonly synonymous with "crazy" hahahaha. It is strange how our greatest minds of varying eras have quirky personalities, well not strange, but quite interesting really.....”—Te Rauroha Pokaitara (Random thought for the day, tribute to Aaron Swartz, and all the other sharp minds, both current and historic).
Open Access and Aaron Swartz
(in honor of Aaron Swartz, I made my papers available in PDF on Dropbox. Not perfect, but it’s a start: Most of my papers are available here )
Aaron Swartz committed suicide two days ago. From what I gather, he had a history of depression that reached a breaking point when he was faced with over fifty years (!) in prison for accessing some journals from JSTOR using MIT’s network. I think everyone involved except the federal government can agree that the punishment did not remotely fit the crime, and indeed JSTOR themselves did not wish any sort of prosecution. Regardless, perhaps Aaron Swartz viewed his sentence as too daunting, I won’t pretend to know.
What I DO know, however, is that the policy that prohibited Aaron from accessing those articles in the first place is kind of silly. The issue here is that publishers of some of the more prestigious journals— which for my (former) field are Nature, Science, Advanced Materials, and Nano Letters— have a vested interest in not having open access to their journal papers since they charge libraries and individuals without library/institutional access for the ability to download journal articles. The more onerous issue is that taxpayers, who are almost always paying for the science being published, cannot freely access the results of their taxes.
The publishing process is not free, and fully open access journals are not necessarily the answer. In biological science, those funded by the National Institute of Health are required to publish their work online in PubMed, which is open to all. In the journals themselves, however, open access is rare. Typically, open access means that the authors front the cost to publish the article, rather than the library or the individual reader. This effectively just shifts the burden to the author, which I think is not necessarily a scaleable solution.
Personally, I find the hybrid model, wherein you can publish your paper in the journal and then, for anyone to read you can publish in what’s called a “preprint” server. Arxiv.org (pronounced “archive”) is the most famous of these. There are admittedly some issues associated with ArXiV after publishing in a journal, such as distribution rights that you may not have.
Aaron Swartz was frustrated by the situation, and though he broke the law it is hard to not understand his position. To that end, authors have started tweeting links to their papers as a form of “PDF tribute” (see here on CNET, or twitter for #pdftribute) this morning.
While I no longer am in academic research, I still am in research and thus read many papers. I am affected by open access a lot these days. I should, and will, make PDFs of my papers available at some point very soon with annotations. All dedicated to those who wish for broader public access to scientific research (like Jonathan Eisen, for example)