A New Year’s Resolution: Access to Knowledge?
On the evening of November 9th, 1989, the Cold War came to a dramatic end with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Four years ago another wall began to crumble, a wall that arguably has as much impact on the world as the wall that divided East and West Germany. The wall in question is the network of paywalls that cuts off tens of thousands of students and researchers around the world, at institutions that can’t afford expensive journal subscriptions, from accessing scientific research.
On September 5th, 2011, Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan, created Sci-Hub, a website that bypasses journal paywalls, illegally providing access to nearly every scientific paper ever published immediately to anyone who wants it. . . .
This one’s a bit weird, that is that I’m picking it up for this blog. I’m a writer of fiction, so let’s tag this one “science fiction” although it’s actually about real-time research right here and now. It’s about a worry I have about copyright, that the length a work remains in copyright after an author’s death is far too long. And the problem is that it’s automatic, it’s not a case of an author’s heir having the option of extending protection for his or her work, but that the protection is in force even if the heir, a grandchild or niece or nephew or even conceivably a great-grandchild, etc., may not even know a work exists.
So now you’d like to republish the thing, and you’re even willing to pay a royalty, but who do you ask to get permission? And how do you find out? Or, most likely, if you’re not willing to reprint it illegally, do you just give up, allowing the work to remain in obscurity until even the memory of it is dead?
For me, as an author, I’d rather be pirated than forgotten — that’s my opinion — but I just write fiction, plus some poetry, so who really cares? But what about published knowledge in general, what about scientists on the brink of an important discovery who need to research other work in their field, perhaps skimming thousands and thousands of pages, some in journals no longer published? No longer in libraries? Or if available, at a cost that can’t be afforded, and that’s just to read it? It turns out academic publishing has its own rules, too, and these may be even more restrictive to the point of preventing research — not encouraging new work and new publication like copyright law was originally intended to do.
Which leads us to today’s email trove, and “Meet the Robin Hood of Science” by Simon Oxenham on BIGTHINK.COM about what the scientists themselves are doing, which in these waning days of an at least politically weird year seems to add some hope — at least for me! For more, press here.