Ueberschlag Leila on Fri, 23 Sep 2016 05:48:46 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Fwd: MoneyLab latest blog post: "Liberating Academic Papers from Behind their Paywalls"

Please find here the link to the full article (with picture and
link): http://networkcultures.org/moneylab/2016/09/22/liberating-aca

Here is the text:

Liberating Academic Papers from Behind their Paywalls

By Leila Ueberschlag,

   "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."

   Aaron Swartz, Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, 2008.

On January 11th 2013, computer programmer and open access
activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide at the age of 26.
He was charged, by federal prosecutors, with wire fraud
and diverse violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
after downloading millions of academic journal articles via a
server in a cleaning cupboard in M.I.T. He was facing up to
35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of
supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up
to 1 million US dollars.

Another relevant part of this story is that the academic
knowledge resource J-store originally prosecuted Swartz
for theft of their academic journals and intention to
distribute, although he never actually distributed them. They
dropped the case after it was going on too long, but the FBI
continued to push the case through and prosecuted Swartz

Three years after his tragic death, the fight for free access
to knowledge is far from over. Following Swartz's path,
Alexandra Elbakyan, a graduate student from Kazakhstan,
has been making the headlines since 2011, when she founded
Sci-Hub (at the age of 22). In the vein of what AAAAARG
has been doing since 2000, "the website provide mass and
public access to research papers".

More than 50 millions papers hosted

Described as "an explosive new development in how
scientific research is read and distributed", a kind of
"Pirate Bay of the science world", Sci-Hub disrupts the
monopolies that profit from academic publishing. According to
Science Magazine an increasing number of researchers are
turning to Sci-Hub worldwide, as it hosts more than 50
million papers. Between September 2015 and March 2016,
Science Magazine - with the help of Alexandra Elbakyan -
analyzed Sci-Hub's data and found that, over the 6 months
time period, the site served up 28 million documents. More
than 2,6 million download requests came from Iran, 3,4
million from India, and 4,4 million from China. The publisher
with the most requested Sci-Hub articles? "It is Elsevier by
a long shot."

Elsevier, one of the largest academic journal publishers
and based in Amsterdam, filed a lawsuit against Sci-Hub
in 2015, claiming Sci-Hub caused and is causing irreparable
damage to the organization and its publishing partners. Under
the "Scientific, Technical and Medical" section of the Relx
Group annual report, it can be read that Elsevier's
objective is "to help its customers advance science and
improve healthcare by providing world-class content,
analytics and decision tools that enable them to make
critical decisions, enhance productivity and improve
outcomes." A nice objective; but a profitable objective too.
The publisher has seen a year-on-year growth in the millions,
for example "revenues for 2015 were 2,070 million pounds
sterling, compared to 2,048 million in 2014 and 2,126 million
in 2013."

This type of profit from academic research is not uncommon.
According to The New York Times, journal publishers
collectively earned 10 billion US dollars in 2015, "much of
it from research libraries, which pay annual subscription
fees ranging from 2,000 to 35,000 US dollars per title if
they don't buy subscriptions of bundled titles, which cost
millions. The largest companies, like Elsevier, Taylor &
Francis, Springer and Wiley, typically have profit
margins of over 30 percent."

Perpetuating inequalities

The increase in knowledge privatization reduces global access
to information and increases the hurdles faced by countries
with less extensive educational systems. It restricts access
to knowledge and technologies that were once public and the
tools through which to share information with the public are
now exasperating global inequalities such as incomes levels
and standards of living. While the biggest and richest
universities of the world can afford to spend thousands of
dollars per year to subscribe to a broad range of important
journals, smaller organizations have to pick and choose and,
therefore, have access to less knowledge. When it comes to
independent researchers, it is even worse. Individual
articles generally cost around 30 US dollars; when it is
commonly considered that 50 to 200 articles are needed to
write a research paper, the imperitive and potential for
Sci-Hub to distribute 28 million documents at no cost is game

The Cost of Knowledge Movement

Tired of being forced to pay huge costs for information they
submitted and reviewed themselves, 16,200 researchers have
signed "The Cost of Knowledge boycott", which means they
will not submit to or referee Elsevier journals anymore.

Another way for academics to avoid exorbitant costs and to
share their articles is Twitter. Many of them have started
using the hashtag #icanhazpdf to freely share copyrighted
papers. As it is explained in an article published by
Quartz, "Scientists are tweeting a link to the paywalled
article along with their email address in the hashtag -- a
riff on the infamous meme of a fluffy cat's "I Can Has
Cheezburger?" line. Someone else who does have access to the
article downloads a pdf of the paper and emails the file to
the person requesting it. The initial tweet is then deleted
as soon as the requester receives the file."

Other initiatives exist, such as Open Humanities Press
(OHP), an international community of scholars, editors and
readers with a focus on critical and cultural theory, which
has been operating as a independent volunteer initiative
since 2006, promoting open access scholarship in journals,
books and exploring new forms of scholarly communication. Its
aim is to raise awareness of open access publishing in the
humanities and to provide promotional and technical support
to open access journals that have been invited by OHP's
editorial oversight group to join the collective.

You pay for articles you found

Despite the fact that Sci-Hub faces a lawsuit and has had
some their domains taken down, the site continues to operate
under other domains. It has ignored an injunction to stop
distributing copyrighted articles because it is hosted in
Russia, a non-US or EU nation, and is beyond the influence of
US courts. In response to the suit filed against her, Ms.
Elbakyan wrote a letter to the judge and explained her
motivation. She explained how difficult - if not impossible -
it was for her, as a student in Kazakhstan, to access
research papers; thus, her only choice was to pirate them.
She pointed out that journal publishers acquire academic
articles for free and they do not pay for the volunteer peer
reviewers or editors either. They then go on to charge the
same people to read those articles - most of the time funded
through public taxes - as well as the general public.

Research is one of the most valuable and needed contributions
to every society. It drives discovery and innovation.
Knowledge is a common that should not be locked away from the
public, especially when the state has funded that knowedlge
to begin with. Would you believe that Einstein's "Does the
Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?" remains
behind a paywall, despite exceeding the traditional
duration of copyright legislation and being over 100 years
old? It is time to re-evaluate how academic knowledge is
distributed before all research becomes privatized and
published in order for a handful of companies to turn a

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