I continue to be baffled by the commentary surrounding the recent download of millions of articles from JSTOR and now the upload of about 18,000 to Pirate Bay…
Why JSTOR? Why pick on that
publishing access model? Do people realize what the publishing model is in the sciences? Most scientific journals charge authors $2-3000 to publish an article… and then they charge institutions hundreds of thousand of dollars for a subscription. Even PLOS, a pioneer of ‘open access’ publishing in the sciences still charges publications fees.
So I guess there seems to be two questions in my mind that I have yet to see decent answers to from the ‘free culture’ camp.
1. If we go down the ‘information should be free’ (as in free beer) route, who pays the salaries of all of the people who are working to make these materials findable? And who pays for all the electricity to keep the disks spinning? N.B., the Pirate Bay feed of the JSTOR articles has been down for most of this morning. Perhaps they should consider charging a fee for either publication or access so that they can hire some proper system administrators to keep this from happening ;)
2. If you are going to pick on a cost model, why pick the humanities at all? Where costs are relatively low compared to the sciences…
Update on 1 Aug, 2011
A recent article from the Chronicle might go some way to explaining the question of why JSTOR…pointing to a presentation in April by Larry Lessig in which he brought up JSTOR’s charging model for the public.
The closing quotation at the end of the article is a further example of my continued bafflement. They quote a friend of Swartz:
“What Aaron’s case begs us to remember is that universities are supposed to be public, not-for-profit institutions,” Mr. Summers says. “They owe a standing moral debt to the public.”
This sort of statement can get me really worked up and at its simplest shows a misunderstanding of a) universities b) morals c) public and d) debt, but I will save that for another day. In short, what I still fail to see is an understanding of how much work it takes to making something actually accessible. A torrent file containing a big lump of text or pdfs is NOT accessible for soooo many reasons. This may be making something free (as in free beer) but it is not free (as in free speech).
I am so very interested in seeing more cultural heritage material freely available. It is what I have spent the last 15 years doing. I also make all of my scholarly publications freely available and have turned down offers to publish from places that either charge too much and/or won’t let me retain rights. This is a great model for freely scholarly content going forward, but it takes lots and lots of money to ‘free’ historical information. Someone has to pay for this work.