The McGill Daily » The future of academic publishing
“'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.' These were the words of Aaron Swartz, founder of Demand Progress, a grassroots organization concerned with civil liberties and government reform, and a relentless activist for the Open Access movement. Swartz was recently put on trial for illegally downloading over 4 million JSTOR articles through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) network, a crime for which he could have been sentenced to 35 years in prison had he not committed suicide before the verdict had been finalized. The tragic loss of Aaron Swartz raises many sensitive issues regarding internet law, but most of all it stresses the importance of the open access cause. So, what is the Open Access movement, and what is it trying to achieve? ... While no single and unified Open Access organization exists, it is generally accepted by Suber and other scholars that supporters of the Open Access movement expect publicly-funded research to be royalty-free and publicly available on the internet. Nonprofits such as Public Library of Science, Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, and Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association all strive to promote open practices within modern academia. Open Access, however, is up against a rigid academic system...Multi-billion-dollar companies such as Reed Elsevier, Thomson Corporation, and Kluwer Academic Publishers now own a significant portion of the top 7,000 journals currently in circulation. Subscriptions to these journals average thousands of dollars, while access to a single journal article can cost a non-subscriber up to $50 to access. In the eyes of Swartz, as well as many Open Access supporters, the soaring prices are hard to justify. Indeed, this paradox of pricing has been at the core of the Open Access argument. In 2009, the University of Illinois outlined that 'between 1986 and 2004, journal expenditures of North American research libraries increased by a staggering 273 per cent…[outstripping] inflation by a factor of almost four.' This has led universities to cancel journal subscriptions; in 2006 alone, the University of Illinois cancelled subscriptions to over 200 Elsevier journals, citing rising subscription costs as the issue. It seems as though individual users are not the only ones feeling the tight grip of big-business publishing. However, the opposition to academic journals is not only based on rising costs. In general, scholarly journals also tend to be extremely restrictive when it comes to their content. 'There are certain journals that are considered top-tier, and they have control over the dissemination of ‘acceptable scholarly knowledge,’' said Professor Shaheen Shariff, of the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill, in an interview with The Daily. The idea that research should be free and open to the public has been an ideological driving force for the movement. Swartz’s 'Guerilla Open Access Manifesto,” for instance, implies the moral danger of not resisting “the privatization of knowledge.' The monopoly on information is increasingly an issue for the scientific community; an issue to which making journals open access seems to be the only solution..."