Huge Trove of Academic Docs Posted Online in Response to Activist Arrest
Just two days after activist hacker Aaron Swartz was charged with hacking for downloading too many academic articles, a giant collection of articles from the same service has been posted to the notorious file sharing search engine, The Pirate Bay.
The documents are allegedly 18,952 scientific articles from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society that were downloaded at some point from the scholarly archive service JSTOR. JSTOR is the same service that Swartz is accused of stealing from for downloading 4 million articles via a guest account at MIT.
But according to the note accompanying the huge download, these are not the files that Swartz is accused of downloading (and returning). Instead, the manifesto says the documents came from another source, and the manifesto is signed by a person identifying himself as Greg Maxwell. The manifesto says the documents date back before 1923, making them public domain — though that contention might not be the case, given the difference between U.S. and U.K. copyright laws.
According to the manifesto, Maxwell says he had wanted to make them available earlier but was worried about the legal implications. In light of Swartz’s arrest, Maxwell decided his caution was misplaced.
[The documents] should be available to everyone at no cost, but most have previously only been made available at high prices through paywall gatekeepers like JSTOR.
Limited access to the documents here is typically sold for $19 USD per article, though some of the older ones are available as cheaply as $8. Purchasing access to this collection one article at a time would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.[...]
I’ve had these files for a long time, but I’ve been afraid that if I published them I would be subject to unjust legal harassment by those who profit from controlling access to these works.
I now feel that I’ve been making the wrong decision.
Maxwell says he got the documents “through rather boring and lawful means,” but has been sitting on them for several years.
JSTOR says it’s in the process of verifying that the documents came from their service, but says the manifesto’s quotes of prices are incorrect, since JSTOR doesn’t sell these articles a la carte. And even if the documents were out-of-copyright, JSTOR says users are not free to post them online, because JSTOR’s terms of service prohibit that — though the company doesn’t claim copyright on them.
JSTOR says that’s their policy because they spend a lot of money to scan, markup and index material, and that their service is available to many people — though not all — through university and public libraries.
“In reaction to this individual’s message accompanying the files it is important to understand that there
are costs associated with digitizing, preserving, and providing access to content,” a statement from the company said. “We have worked, and continue to work, extremely hard to provide access to scholarship to more and more people around the world every day in ways that are sustainable and that assure the public that the content will also be preserved and available into the future.”
JSTOR says there are more than 7,000 participating libraries in 153 countries – all of which can provide walk-in access to JSTOR to anyone – and some provide online access to users (such as the Boston public library which provides access to anyone living in Massachusetts.
But that’s still a far cry from those documents living on the web and being licensed under a “Creative Commons By,” as activists such as Larry Lessig have been pushing for, with notable successes.
Now as Swartz has brought more attention to the open access movement, pushing for academic studies to be published under licenses that allow for free access and re-use, Maxwell decided to act.
The documents are part of the shared heritage of all mankind, and are rightfully in the public domain, but they are not available freely. Instead the articles are available at $19 each–for one month’s viewing, by one person, on one computer. It’s a steal. From you.[..]
I had considered releasing this collection anonymously, but others pointed out that the obviously overzealous prosecutors of Aaron Swartz would probably accuse him of it and add it to their growing list of ridiculous charges. This didn’t sit well with my conscience, and I generally believe that anything worth doing is worth attaching your name to.
Wired has not been able to finish the download to verify the contents of the archive, nor have we verified the author’s statement.
Photo: Journals in a library. (diylibrarian)
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