The JSTOR database released a statement today about an alleged attempt by an activist to do a file-dump of licensed articles on a file-sharing site. According to an article on Wired the activist, Aaron Swartz, allegedly downloaded over four million articles and evaded MIT’s efforts to block him. There is some controversy over the fact that the Department of Justice is using a violation of terms of service and equating it to computer hacking. There has also been a renewed discussion over what the role of publishers and such restrictive licensing really is in this day and age. As usual, there have been a few bloggers who are on top of things, so here’s the round-up.
Barbara Fisher explains how the terms of service make us all pirates:
In the past, libraries didn’t stop you at the door and demand that you agree to a pledge that you won’t in any way profit from your visit or use what you learned when visiting the library for some public purpose. We actually thought – silly us! – that libraries were meant to help you build new things and go public with ideas.
Libraries don’t set policy for the use of materials, now, publishers and vendors do. JSTOR isn’t quite as strict as some databases. SciFinder Scholar instructs users to contact the company, er, society and pony up for a different service if they are doing research for a consulting job, and users agree that “I will delete stored records when I no longer need them for the relevant research project, or after the completion of my degree program, whichever occurs first.” (Have you purged those citations from EndNote yet? You haven’t? Dude.) And then there are those curious restrictions within restrictions; you are not allowed to place a link to a Harvard Business Review article that your library licenses for campus use in a syllabus, for example. The library pays for campus use – but not that kind of campus use. For that, you pay extra.
Tim Burke looks at why we still use academic journals anyways:
To sum it up, as I have before at this blog: academic institutions (and grant-giving agencies outside of academia) subsidize scholarly research through sabbaticals, through supporting laboratories and libraries, through travel funds and so on. When scholars report and disseminate their research in short-form articles or papers, they traditionally have done so by giving away the written report to outside publishers. (Or worse yet, the researchers have had to pay someone to disseminate or publish their findings, a cost which is also borne by the universities or by granting agencies.) Then scholars gave away something else to the publishers: the work of peer review, done on an entirely voluntary basis, which was the primary value-added that made the publications desirable in the first place. These publishers then sold back the published results to universities, often at very high profit-seeking mark-ups.
What do scholars get out of disseminating or publishing their research? Primarily they gain reputation, which may indirectly produce financial rewards. Only very rarely does an academic receive direct financial gain from the act of publication itself. How do you gain reputation? Through the widest possible circulation of the research publication.
I’ll add more links as I get them.