Why Academic Papers Behind Paywalls Hurt us All, and Why Paywalls are Immoral
The suicide of Aaron Swartz, the activist committed to making scholarly research accessible to everyone, has renewed debate about the ethics of academic publishing. Under the current system, academic research is housed inscholarly databases, which charge as much as $50 per article to those without a university affiliation.
The only people who profit from this system are academic publishers. Scholars receive no money from the sale of their articles, and are marginalized by a public who cannot afford to read their work. Ordinary people are denied access to information and prohibited from engaging in scholarly debate.
Academic paywalls are often presented as a moral or financial issue. How can one justify profiting off unpaid labour while denying the public access to research frequently funded through taxpayer dollars? But paywalls also have broader political consequences. Whether or not an article is accessible affects more than just the author or reader. It affects anyone who could potentially benefit from scholarly insight, information or expertise – that is, everyone.
The impact of the paywall is most significant in places where censorship and propaganda reign. When information is power, the paywall privileges the powerful. Dictatorships are the paywall’s unwitting beneficiary.
Read the rest, and ask yourself- who really gains when your work and mine and all the rest is sequestered for the use of the moneyed. Go ahead, ask yourself why those who produce the research receive very little to nothing for their labors whilst people and organizations which do nothing – NOTHING – but store it make huge profits from it. And yes, JSTOR, I’m glaring at you, you extortionists. How dare you profit from the intellectual property of others? How on earth did you convince Universities to buy into your scam? What kind of kickback did you pay? With thanks to Thomas Bolin for pointing out the essay.