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About one month ago, Fields Medalist Tim Gowers complained in a blog post about Elsevier’s publication practices, which inspired the mathematics PhD student Tyler Neylon to launch the campaign “The Cost of Knowledge“. The website makes three main accusations against Elsevier:
- They charge exorbitantly high prices for subscriptions to individual journals.
- In the light of these high prices, the only realistic option for many libraries is to agree to buy very large “bundles”, which will include many journals that those libraries do not actually want. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting the fact that some of their journals are essential.
- They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.
So far, 7434 researchers have signed a petition to publicly declare that they will not support any Elsevier journal unless they radically change how they operate. Most of the signers even specified that they “won’t publish, won’t referee, and won’t do editorial work” for Elsevier any more. And Elsevier, one of the largest and most profitable publishing houses of the world, seems to begin to falter.
In preparation for an upcoming workshop on “organization as communication“, I have engaged more deeply with the phenomenon of Anonymous (see also “Anonymous Attacks German Collecting Society GEMA“). Specifically, I am interested in questions such as how to theoretically grasp this online “collective” and how its organizational identity and boundaries are created and (re-)produced.
In this regard, those incidents are of particular interest, where the attribution to Anonymous is contested. In August 2011, for example, a group claiming to be part of the hacktivist collective declared a “war on facebook”, which was soon countered by another Anonymous activist via twitter, stating that “#OpFacebook is being organised by some Anons. This does not necessarily mean that all of #Anonymous agrees with it.” (see Washington Post). In November 2011, when the takedown of facebook was supposed to happen, activists of Anonymous even exposed the originator of the threat to demonstrate that “#OpFacebook” was in fact not supported by Anonymous, as cnet reported:
“One skiddy queer chap named Anthony [last name redacted] from the US in Ohio decided to take it upon himself to have some lulz with creating an imaginary opfacebook and pawning it off as a legit anon op,” the statement said. “Despite us telling this mate several times we did not support his op, he continued to push his agenda for lulz. This op is phony but he continues to say it’s an anon op.”
In other words: Anonymous decided to expel wannabe activists by lifting the veil of anonymity and exposing their identity to the public. In a way, expelling by exposing is the logical boundary practice of an organized informality under the lablel “Anonymous.”
While the dust of the SOPA and PIPA battle in the US has not settled yet, we quickly approach the next showdown around an acronym in the realm of intellectual property regulation. This time the main battleground is Europe, the acronym is ACTA. The “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” had been negotiated secretly for years until in early 2010 a draft of the agreement was leaked (see Michael Geist; for a critical and more up to date overview see the ACTA info portal of La Quadrature du Net (LQDN)). Since this leak, the draft had been substantially reworked and, last week, the treaty was signed by representatives of the European Commission and 22 member states in an official signing ceremony.
However, the political controversy is far from being over. For one, the treaty needs to be approved by the European Parliament, which is now the main target for mobilization of both supporters and opponents. For another, the signing of ACTA has sparked surprisingly strong protests in some EU member states, above all in Poland (see video below). The intensity of the Polish opposition has in turn raised attention in neighboring states, most importantly in Germany, as well.