Arguments for Open Internet Access

by Mike on November 15, 2015

in News

Starting on October 19th, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) began celebrating Open Access Week to generate awareness and support for the campaign to preserve and regain open access to content. EFF joined several groups including the international alliance of academic and research libraries SPARC, which works so that scholars can communicate more openly for better results all around. We support open access as well, or the belief that when research and other content of importance is made freely available online for sharing, we can all benefit from the spread of knowledge and ideas. This year, the EFF released discussions on a few open access topics of interest. We’ve outlined some of the more salient points below to help spread the word.

What Works is Teamwork

When embarking on a research project, logically, the quality and results of that research are restricted according to the limitations of the participants. Opening up research documentation means that more people can get involved and contribute to the improvement of that research. No matter what the subject or object of that research is, collaboration increases the chances that every aspect will be covered. This also decreases the chances that certain areas, which some camps might prefer to keep under wraps, will remain obscure. What we get is a fuller list of possibilities and options and can arrive at the truest conclusions and move forward to change things for the better.

The way that things work today, much of the research that is done is accessible only to a privileged few. This research cannot be read unless it is paid for, so this means people who work for certain organizations that have large budgets. The team effort is therefore limited by money, and his usually comes with certain agendas. What we really need is for research to remain colorless. Anyone should be able to read and add their perspectives rather than just these individuals who are often constrained by the perspectives of the organizations that they work for.

Moreover, with such a small pool of potential reviewers, most of whom are of the same ilk, the likely development that can stem from research is stunted. With open access, research can be used freely by so many others and become so much more. The world has variety because variety makes things better, and we are robbing ourselves of this bounty when we deny open access. Different backgrounds and experiences should always be a part of every project that can affect our lives. Open access also prevents these researchers from different communities from being doomed to repeat the same studies over and over again because they would be able to see what research has already been done before. This saves everyone a few bucks and preserves their time and effort for other projects or for building on previous research.

We suffer today because most research centers keep their work secret, wanting to either protect it to preserve their potential earnings or prevent excessive opposition. This latter view works the same in the area of lawmaking. Laws should never be formulated and passed in private, but should be a collaborative effort. But lawmakers prefer to work behind closed doors and just do what they think is right to simplify the process. Anyway, the people will just have to accept what has been decided. But innovation is so stifled by this attitude. And we can never get the best results for everyone because, in favor of efficiency and the desires of the few, this system rejects these so many perspectives that would produce true quality. Open access favors the majority, and is a necessary part of any democracy.

Stifling Open Access

Today we face many challenges to open access, including trade privileges that squash altruistic intentions and selfish copyrights that violate human rights. Laws that govern trade and copyright are there to protect the few who want to keep valuable resources to themselves so that they can multiply their wealth. In a capitalist society there is not much we can do to prevent this, but when these laws interfere with individual rights, the behavior that abuses them cannot be condoned.

We have right in front of us today a few selective trade agreements and content rights policies that wildly discriminate against open source materials. Specifically, the TPP serves as an example of how the protection of trade secrets can be manipulated to harass and criminally prosecute individuals – regular joes who are simply seeking information on a topic – who have never acknowledged any obligation to keep certain content confidential. Furthermore, the TPP – and also the TTIP and TISA for that matter – talks excessively about copyright protections but does not say anything about open access rights for research that has been publicly funded.

Technological Protection Measures and Digital Rights Management cause many publishers to restrict access to materials that are actually governed by open access licenses or that are publicly funded and therefore not private property. They use different systems, but one way to prevent access is requiring payment, which can only be for their benefit. In any case, these measures unfairly block access to content that authors had intended to freely share. In addition, even authors who have copyrights can use technology to exceed the limits of the law and overshadow other existing laws that protect what libraries and archives are allowed to do with materials deposited with them. We can clearly see here a giant skew in favor of content owners and private groups.

Open access is not only being refused any advancement for the public’s benefit, but is also being subjected to sneak attacks. The US government and the governments that they are developing these agreements with are not only trying to prevent the growth of open source and open access, but they are also doing their best by omission to create conditions under which these free principles can be repressed and eventually extinguished – and it’s all for the economic advancement of the few.

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