Free access….

This week’s readings were from Chapter 3 of Gary Hall’s book Digitize This! The Politics of New Media and Why We Need Open Access Now and Chapter 3 of John Willinsky’s book The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship.  Both authors write about how copyright laws have skewed in favor of copyright holders (often big corporations) interests and against the public interest and fair use.  Both discuss and advocate for free online access to scholarly works.  Hall advocates for his site CSeARCH which does provide for free access to research in the cultural studies field.  Research can be submitted, edited, added to, linked to other relevant material and is available at any time to anyone with internet access.  Willinsky focuses more on how scholarly journal publishers obtain copyrights from authors in exchange for peer review and publication and then charge fairly high fees for access to these journals which, of course, limits access to only those who can pay.  Both make the point that research shows that research and articles make available through open access increase the numbers of readers  and citations of the works.

I understand the frustration of being unable to access information in scholarly journals.  Several times I have times I’ve found articles I wanted to use either for school or personal use but when faced with having to cough up 20 bucks I always refused. (Even when I used the school’s access to the databases – not every journal is available).  I can buy a hard cover book for $20 and I can look through it before I buy it, so I’m not going to pay that much for a 10-20 page article I can’t even preview!  Any student/interested person who doesn’t somehow have free access is pretty much out of luck.  It would be prohibitively expensive for most people to buy enough articles for proper research much less for access to the online databases.

However, this raises two issues for me:

  • One of the benefits of the scholarly journals is peer review but are the open access site submissions reviewed in any way? This takes us back to the beginning of the semester and our discussion about how to differentiate between good and back information online.
  • Free and open access is an admirable and I am all for making more information available to a greater audience but there are costs involved for the publishers even for online material. So why should the publishers be expected to provide access for free?

I don’t have offer any solutions, I’m just wondering….