I’ve posted several times on the open access movement which aims to end the practice of charging to read academic papers describing research which has usually been publicly funded in the first place.
The latest case for open access is made by Wired magazine. It describes a website called Sci-Hub which is openly flouting current copyright law by hosting free-to-access academic papers. Sci-hub describes itself as the “first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers”. Currently they claim to have 47 million papers in their repository.
Elsevier, one of the largest academic publishers filed a copyright infringement claim against the website. An injunction to stop distributing papers was issued against Sci-Hub, but the website is hosted in Russia, and is therefore trying very hard to ignore this, although it was forced to relocate its domain after its previous site was shut down, as The Register described earlier this year.
Academic publishers have battled against open access for many years now, but the movement is slowly gaining traction. Some publishers have made certain journals free to access in a bid to show willing, but at over $30 an article, publishers like Elsevier aren’t going to switch overnight. Over the years, scientists and universities have boycotted Elsevier in protest at its hefty subscriptions, plus the annual mark-up.
Wired uses the Zika virus as an interesting example of where readily available and free access to research is vital for finding a solution quickly and notes the irony that leading journals have come forward to make new findings freely available – a clear “admission that copyright barriers and paywalls restrict access and slow innovation”.
It’s not that publishers don’t add value. Oft-cited examples are their peer review and editorial processes, and wide circulation they can achieve due to a journal’s standing within the research community. One model is to make papers free, but charge the author instead, but I see little advantage in that. So, as the Wired article suggests, perhaps it is the whole commercial model that is faulty.
I’ve ended most of my posts on this topic with the prediction that change will come and I still think it will, as does the Wired article. The pressure to disrupt the academic research publishing business is certainly not slackening off – Sci-hub is testament to that.
Here’s to the open access movement, and the hope that I won’t have retired by the time it comes to fruition!