Copyright Week: Open Access

Copyright logo set on a yellow pixelated background

The week of January 13-18 is being used by a number of legal advocacy organizations in the United States as a week of action to speak out about potential changes to copyright law. The dates were chosen so that the week’s conclusion on Saturday the 18th coincides with the anniversary of the SOPA/PIPA blackout in which many organizations and companies, large and small, worked together to protest this misguided legislative proposal.

On each day this week, organizations will focus on a different aspect of copyright. Today we are focusing on Open Access. Different entities define Open Access differently, but among its core principles is that the results of publicly funded research should be made publicly available, for free, online and in usable form. Open Access doesn’t necessarily mean that everything in the world should have to be available for free–and the OTW supports the ability of fans to decide who should see their work and how their work can be used. But the OTW also believes that platforms should exist on which scholarly material is available and easily usable and quotable at no cost.

The OTW has walked the walk of this philosophy for five years with its publication Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC). Its editors and volunteers offer their services for free, as do all the OTW’s staff, and they are committed to ensuring that the journal’s content can be accessed by all. As TWC editor Karen Hellekson has written, the academics who have tried to move away from paywalled sites for academic research and print publications have found many barriers in their way.

“When I fill out forms, surveys, and index submission forms related to TWC and its practices, it becomes clear how strongly the print model affects every aspect of what is considered the norm for publishing. I skip entire sections: I don’t know the number of subscriptions because we don’t use a subscription model. I can’t estimate readership because many of the user accounts are obviously spam accounts, and plenty of readers never create a user ID. We don’t offer different levels of access to different people. We don’t have office expenses because we don’t have an office, instead using freeware OJS to shepherd copy through the publication process. I can’t estimate readership for an essay because our copyright permits the author, or anyone else, to repost, which bleeds off readers and thus they aren’t counted by the software. We have no income from reprint or author fees because we don’t charge those fees. All the questions meant to assess readership and subscriptions are, with an open access model, nearly impossible to estimate. Ironically, the traditional journal-publishing world seeks to maximize impact by minimizing access, even though study after study has shown that people are far more likely to read and cite publications available in full online.”

This week marks a year since the death of Aaron Swartz, an activist committed to the principles of Open Access. At the time, the OTW’s Fanhackers editor, Nele Noppe, wrote a post about why fans should be concerned about this issue, and how the about-to-launch Fanhackers project represented the OTW’s commitment to this issue on behalf of fans and academics.

“[W]e’re launching a new project to expand our efforts toward making research truly useful and relevant beyond the borders and acafannish audience of TWC. We’ll experiment with concrete ways to make research on fans more accessible and usable, encourage researchers to publish their work in an open way (no easy task when the closed print model carries prestige, which in turn can be used toward promotion and tenure), and give any support we can to other projects that share those goals.

In 2008, Aaron Swartz articulated the feelings of many when he wrote in his “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” that keeping academic research behind pay walls is “a private theft of public culture” that should be resisted by all means necessary, especially by the researchers who can actually access all those locked papers. We call on all academics whose research is relevant for fans to make sure that their results can actually reach the people who need information.”

For more about this week of action, visit the Copyright Week site, where links are being collected to various posts, whitepapers etc., and users and organizations are encouraged to endorse the principles. Participating organizations include Public Knowledge, Creative Commons, library associations, Ownership Rights Initiative, iFixit, and Wikimedia among others.