Questions open access and the broader agenda of internet freedom have been very much in the headlines over the last couple of weeks, which has made for an interesting start to 2012, and makes me guardedly optimistic that the arguments for openness in all its forms will continue to be made and listened to this year.
The US’ woefully misguided Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would effectively prevent linking on the web without absolute guarantees of lack of copyright infringement on the part of the site linked to (amongst other ludicrous clauses), and reads like it was written entirely by the US’ big media conglomerates, has now been killed– but the similar in intent Protect IP Act (PIPA) shambles on, zombie-like. Meanwhile, a luminary of free thinking and positive business practices defends SOPA and attacks Google for alleged piracy whilst failing to acknowledge the vested interests behind such attacks.
More ominously for the open access movement, the US’ Research Works Act (RWA) threatens to prevent funders such as the National Institute for Health making taxpayer funded research openly available. The bill, brought by two congresspeople who have received donations from Elsevier and supported by the ever-friendly and reasonable American Association of Publishers, would shore up scholarly publishers as monopoly providers of published research, destroying the advance of open access and seriously and permanently retarding scientific research. All this, to allow publishers to continue to make profits of 20% or more on their revenue.
However, there has been an outcry about this, and hearteningly it’s not just the usual suspects. A variety of influential bloggers and commentators from the research community have written in opposition to the Act, and the Guardian have today published an excellent article on why the RWA and publishers’ attempts to prevent open access should be opposed. UKCORR, the professional body for UK repository people such as myself, have also taken a position.
Though the threat of the RWA is a real one, I think the continued growth in understanding that publicly funded research should be made publicly available can only be positive. Elsevier and co. may win a short term reprieve for their position as monopolistic exploiters of the fruits of publicly funded research, but over time the overwhelmingly convincing arguments for open access will win out- I hope.