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In the academic world, the conflict between research institutions and publishers about the latter’s reluctance to embrace open access strategies has been looming for years. While the Internet makes distribution of research much cheaper and easier, subscription fees for the most important journals kept rising. Already in 2009, the MIT Faculty had unanimously adopted a university-wide Open Access rule (“Universities as Copyright Regulators: Power and Example“). In 2012, we can finally observe open battles on the issue.
After earlier this year more than 10.000 researchers had joined the boycott of Elsevier (see also “Elsevier Withdraws Support for Research Works Act, Continues Fight Against Open Access“), last week Harvard University issued an official “Memorandum on Journal Pricing“. After criticizing the “untenable situation” that “many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive”, the memorandum suggests the following 9 points to faculty and students (F) and the Library (L): Read the rest of this entry »
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 the realm of transnational copyright regulation several struggles are fought in parallel: Stylized and simplified, these are Free/Open Source Software movement vs. the proprietary software industry, the free culture movement around Creative Commons vs. the established music and film industry, and, of course, there is the industry-spanning battle against “pirates”, sometimes even literally and in court (see Wikipedia on “The Pirate Bay trial”). For a long time the publishing industry in general and the field of scientific publishing in particular seemed to be the only copyright field without open and severe conflict. While the former prevents both piracy and growth of the e-book market with strict digital rights management (see “The Kindle Controversy: No Right to be a Reader?”), in the latter Open Access initiatives for free and open availability of scientific publications – for example by the European Research Council (PDF-statement) or by the “Alliance of German Science Organisations” (English Version of its founding document), which includes the Max Planck Society and the German Research Foundation (DFG) – did not raise substantial public opposition.
At least for Germany, this description is yesterday’s news. A series of articles in German newspapers during the last weeks criticizing “expropriation” of authors by a sinister coalition of “Open Access” zealots and Google culminated in a petition called “Heidelberger Appell” (English Version). This petition was not only signed by numerous renowned researchers, publishers and authors but also inspired an immediate thunderstorm of reactions including a joint statement by the “Alliance of German Science Organisations” (for an extensive list of reactions in German see infobib.de; a concise overview of the genesis of the whole uproar is provided by Matthias Spielkamp at perlentaucher, quite readable in Google Englisch – now available in English at signandsight.com).
Without reproducing these extensive discussions here, I would like to mention just three reasons why I think the “Heidelberger Appell” misses the point: Read the rest of this entry »
A few days ago, the MIT faculty unanimously adopted a university-wide OA mandate, which establishes as a default rule the obligation for MIT researchers to hand over a pre-print version of their scientific works for publishing it in an open access repository (see Open Access News). In a note on this decision, the chairman of the drafting committee Hal Abelson explains the context of this decision:
“Our resolution was closely modeled on similar ones passed last February by Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and by the Harvard Law School, also passed by unanimous vote. Stanford’s School of Education did the same, as did Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government just last Monday.”
So, MIT’s step towards open access is an illustration of both an example of elite universities’ regulatory power and of the power of their example. When MIT announced its Open Courseware program it was soon followed by hundreds of unversities all over the world, many of which joined the Open Courseware Consortium. But most of these universities followed the MIT example not only generally in making course materials openly availble but they also adopted MIT’s relatively restrictive Creative Commons license policy, namely an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.
Today, people at Creative Commons’ subdivision “CCLearn” struggle with MIT’s historical license decision and try to convince educational institutions to adopt more open licenses such as Attribution-Share alike or mere Attribution to foster exchange and remix of open course materials. As I see it, there is a good deal of regulatory path dependence emerging in the domain of Open Access as well…