Front Lines of the Open Access Fight: Colombian Student's Prosecution Highlights the Need for Fundamental Policy Reforms | Electronic Frontier Foundation
" ... Scientific progress relies upon the exchange of ideas and research. The Internet is the most powerful network the world has ever seen, with the capability to enable this exchange at an unprecedented speed and scale. But outmoded policies and practices continue to present massive barriers that collectively stifle that potential. Many major online research databases are kept under lock and key by publishers, making them extremely expensive to access. Given the subscription model for these repositories, most people cannot afford to pay the fees to read or cite to existing research, let alone know what research and studies have already been published. Circumventing these barriers can lead to extreme consequences. Aaron Swartz was one of the strongest voices leading the open access movement, and he faced up to 35 years in prison for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), for accessing the JSTOR research database and downloading copies of academic articles. Now Diego Gomez, the Colombian graduate student who faces imprisonment for sharing another researcher's thesis online, is on the front lines of this fight. His story is only one of countless many, but it highlights the problems facing students and academics who are simply trying to access works to further their studies. It might seem as though the payments are being passed along to academics as compensation for their work, or that they are necessary to cover the costs involved in editing and publishing their research. Yet this is often not the case. Publishers normally give none of the subscription fees to the researchers themselves. Academics generally conduct the research, writing, and peer review processes without compensation from the publishers. Then, still without compensation, those academics usually assign the copyright over their article to the journal, on terms so strict that they can prevent even the authors themselves from making copies of their own articles. That makes this problem especially frustrating. The high costs of accessing journals is unrelated to funding the research in the first place. Publishers are middlemen who enact high paywalls, making it expensive for academics to access their peers' research for their own work. But how do they get away with this? It has to do with the culture around academic publishing. Some journals are considered prestigious. For academics, that prestige can mean their research is more highly regarded, which can help advance their career in the field. Unfortunately, this means that their work can only be read by those who can afford to pay for subscriptions, or more commonly, who are affiliated with a university or institution that provides access to them ... In many parts of the world, a major policy goal is to ensure that publicly funded research becomes publicly accessible research. It is founded on the straightforward concept that if the public is already paying for research through their tax dollars, they have a right to see and share what they have paid for. In the US, research that has been funded by government grants from certain major government agencies must be published in open access repositories, likePubMed Central. EFF, along with groups like Creative Commons, SPARC, the Open Knowledge Foundation, and many others, are leading these calls for open access policy reforms ... Academics, scientists, and other professionals tend to benefit little from copyright restrictions. And yet they also need to be able to access other new, cutting edge research to read relevant studies and understand what others are doing in the field. Heightened criminalization of copyright, the lack of strong legal safeguards for publicly beneficial and personal uses, and excessive, long copyright terms all fly in the face of these academic goals. The massive penalties that Gomez faces are a prime example. The demands of the copyright industries in the Colombia-US free trade agreement led to extreme policy language in the agreement, which then led Colombia to enact new, harsher criminal sanctions over 'unauthorized' sharing and uses of copyrighted works ..."
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