domingo, 7 de diciembre de 2014

We've already paid for science: we should enjoy it for free

I still remember the first time that I read “Free Culture”. It was 2008 and my IP Law Professor back then recommended me the book as if it were The Bible of the Free Culture, the Open Knowledge and the Copyleft movements. As if its author, Larry Lessig, were the guru of the subject, being founder of the Creative Commons and Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, among others. And that’s why I expended the last days reflecting again on some passages from the book "Free Culture" as well as on part of the lecture he gave at Harvard Law School dedicated to Aaron Swartz and titled “Aaron’s Laws: Law and Justice in a Digital Age”.

In connection with all this knowledge, I allowed myself to make some considerations about the current situation with researches, publishers, and Universities. And by doing that it is really easy to came to the conclusion that something is not working right with the current established system that shows a corrupted flow going from the researches, up to the Government itself and its regulations. At least, it is the case of Spain and some other European countries.

When we talk about Universities and its publications, we usually talk about science. And today, I want to stand for the Open Science. Because, when it comes to researchers at the University in Spain, we are talking about teachers, professors or employees of any nature, the authors that are already paid, funded or somehow supported by the Government.

It can be via their payroll, if they are public servants, scholarships or any other means of funding. In any case, all that money usually comes from taxes or public funded organizations. Taxes and money that, in one way or another we, the people, have already paid.

Therefore, any piece of work originating from those taxes must come back to the people in a by all means available way. Must be in the public domain from the very beginning: because it was conceived already to be part of the open knowledge: to be free, as in freedom.

To be more specific about the current situation in Spain, it goes like this:

·         In order for anybody to be a University teacher/professor, your research need to be published.

·         Your career development is based on points given to you by the Government thanks to those publications.

·         To receive points based on those publications, they must be published by certain recognized publishers or in relevant reviews.

·         To be published in those reviews, you previously need to get peer-reviewed which one of the reasons why the publishers and the Government defend the existence of these recognized reviews: to give credibility to scientific publications.

·         Once these authors or creators get peer-reviewed, and in order to publish the research, those publishers ask the creators to give up any economic copyrights they have, not allowing them to share their publications, amend them or republish them in any possible way.

·         Once the authors have given up all their economic rights, publishers make available the content to the public only in exchange for a fee, it being of any nature: monthly fee for Universities, expensive paper books or paper reviews, etc.

The system is currently corrupted, not allowing neither of the interested parties to get anything out of it: authors or creators cannot see their works openly shared within the scientific community as it should be; and the society is not seeing itself rewarded for the investment made in science, done basically, as I said before, through their taxes.

If we allow the current system to continue, we are sanctioning a situation that is always avoided in other fields, like financial and tax law, this situation being double taxing. The works, publications, results or any other piece of research originating from our researchers from the Universities or University personnel of any kind, are first funded via taxes and then paid again when trying to access the content itself. We have a double copyrighted system.

And why do we have this double copyrighted? Because the regulations have failed at stopping both the publishers and the royalty collection agencies in taking control of something that doesn't belong to them: they cannot have the monopoly that they currently have over copyright only to get control and revenue out of the published works.

They are abusing and bullying authors with all the regulative support from the Government. It is clear that publishers should have recognized economic rights to exploit their business model or investment, it being reviews or jurisprudence databases for example, like it could be the case of JSTOR or Westlaw, but not basing their revenues on the monopoly of copyright.

As I already said, the system is corrupted right from the beginning because these researches and professors cannot advance in their careers, cannot get proper recognition out of their works if they are not published in the selected publishers that will grant them the points to get a “promotion” from assistant professor to professor, for example. And the system is corrupt starting from the Government, from the regulations. And that is why these authors are currently forced to give up theirs copyrights in order to get published.

This evil circle closes itself when they are the same who get points also the ones to peer-review other colleagues’ works and decide whether they will be published or not. How about if they could publish always with open licenses like Creative Commons and let the science itself decide whether that piece of research was good or not?

As Lessig brilliantly says during his lecture on Aaron’s Law, this is not about ending copyright. This is about ending dumb copyright: we need to get the copyrights back to the authors and get the knowledge back to the people.

Recommended readings:

The Public Domain Manifesto: 

Guerilla Open Access Manifesto: 

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