Copyright and Open Access 2014

This post is a guest post by Michelle Brook and Tom Olijhoek from the Open Knowledge Foundation Open Access Working Group.

This week has been proclaimed Copyright week by the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and today, Wednesday Jan 15, is Open Access Day 2014.

It is almost exactly 1 year ago that Aaron Swartz ( died in the middle of his struggle for open knowledge and it would be a good thing to make this week and in particular Open Access Day, a recurring event in his honor.

The open access movement has gained momentum in the past year and too much has happened to list
every thing. Instead lets focus on a few key events and developments.

In 2013 the White House has issued a directive stating that all publicly funded research should be made
publicly available in repositories. The reaction of the scientific publishers has been to allow this, but
under the condition that there is an embargo time of 6 months or 1 year. Many have thought that
this would be a necessary transition measure, but recently they have been proven very wrong in this
assumption because a powerful lobby of publishers is now even demanding for embargo times of up to 3

In our opinion any embargo time for making publications open access is the wrong thing to do: it is
not in the interest of science, not in the interest of society, it seems designed only to protect the rights of the publishers in order to maintain their profits. Any paper, especially in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths disciplines, refers to work done at least 1-2 years previously. Combined with the inherent fast pace of science, any embargo period – especially prolonged embargo periods – will make sharing of the information less useful and less efficient by prolonging this time span further. Instead we should strive for Zero-embargo publication and push for SHORTER review and handling times, which can sometimes be as long as 6 months!

We should remember Open Access is not only about having information freely available to view. People
should also be able to reuse the information freely with no restrictions other than the requirement to
attribute. Instead of traditional copyright rules and property rights open access publishers increasingly
use a set of licenses developed by Creative Commons. These licenses provide a basic choice of rules
for the usage of the work, in combination with the stringent demand for attribution of the work to the
original author(s). In this way copyright remains (forever) with the author while allowing for unrestricted
(or in other cases somewhat restricted) use of the information.

The original copyright rules that evolved around 1700 (Statute of Anne) were developed to protect
the right of the owner of a work for a limited time (2x 14 years) in exchange for having the work in
the public domain after this time period. So in a sense these rules were aimed at allowing to share the
information. Because information did not travel that fast in those days, this ‘embargo period’ was then
considered enough. When through technical advancements information started to move more quickly
the copyright period was gradually extended to 70 years and more (Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act 1988
). However, in the process the copyright ownership had shifted from individual copyright to
corporate copyright owned by publishing businesses. The ultimate goal of the copyright laws no longer
reflected the ultimate goal of sharing information after a short period of time, but instead have a new
role of defending business interests for as long as possible.

Today, thanks to the invention of the Internet, we see the making of a sharing economy. Many sharing
communities exist already, but the community of sharing scientists is slow in coming. Although the
internet was developed by scientists to exchange information the public has been much more quick
in seeing and using the possibilities for sharing ideas, goods and information. Sharing of scientific
information is still in its infancy, not in the least because of the ongoing efforts of traditional publishers to shield information for as long as this is profitable, but open science communities have started to form all over the world. This can be seen by the rapid growth of the Open Knowledge Foundation, with over 40 local open knowledge communities worldwide, many more than only two years ago. And it is also
illustrated by the steady growth of older open access publishers like PLoS, BioMedCentral, as well as the
very successful introductions of new journals like eLife and PeerJ.

Political and scientific support is also growing. The next European research program Horizon2020 aims
at 100 % open access for all publicly funded research. And a scientific society like the Max Planck society
has just organized its tenth anniversary Berlin conference on open access in Berlin.

However not only political and scientific support is important. We want to have citizens, students,
entrepreneurs, and everyone else who needs (specific) information to push for global open access to all
academic literature. And we need your help to do this.

  • You can contact the Open Knowledge Foundation by registering on the website
  • You can subscribe to any of the mailing lists of the OKF for instance the open access list and take
    part in discussions
  • You can share your stories on difficulties or success with accessing information on the website
  • You can download the OpenAccessButton and start registering where you hit paywalls when
    trying to access information

Tom Olijhoek and Michelle Brooks from the
Open Access Working Group/ OKF