In light of Aaron Swartz’s recent legal trouble involving charges being brought against him for downloading academic papers from the online pay-walled database called JSTOR using MIT’s computer network, a bittorrent user named Greg Maxwell has decided to fight back against publishers who charge for access to academic papers by releasing 18,592 academic papers to the public in a 32.48 gigabyte torrent uploaded to The Pirate Bay.
Maxwell claims that the torrent consists of documents from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society journal. According to Gigaom, the copyrights on these academic papers have been expired for some time; however, the only way to access these documents have been through the pay-walled JSTOR database where individual articles can cost as much as $19. While Maxwell claims to have gained access to the papers many years prior through legal means (likely through a college or library’s database access), he has been fearful of releasing the documents due to legal repercussions from the journal’s publishers. He claims that the legal troubles that Swartz is facing for (allegedly) downloading the JSTOR library has fueled his passion and changed his mind about not releasing them.
Maxwell justifies the release by stating that the authors and universities do not benefit from their work, and the move to a digital distribution method has yet to coincided with a reduction in prices. In the past the high cost (sometimes paid by the authors) has been such to cover the mechanical process of binding and printing the journals. Maxwell further states that to his knowledge, the money those wishing to verify their facts and learn more from these academic works “serves little significant purpose except to perpetuate dead business models.” The pressure and expectation that authors must publish or face irrelevancy further entrenches the publisher’s business models.
Further, GigaOm quoted Maxwell in stating:
“If I can remove even one dollar of ill-gained income from a poisonous industry which acts to suppress scientific and historic understanding, then whatever personal cost I suffer will be justified . . . it will be one less dollar spent in the war against knowledge. One less dollar spent lobbying for laws that make downloading too many scientific papers a crime.”
Personally, I’m torn on the ethics of the issue. On one hand, these academic papers should be made available for free (or at least at cost of production) to anyone that wants them as they are written for the betterment of humanity and pursuit of knowledge (or at least as a thought provoking final paper). On the other hand, releasing the database via a torrent has it’s own issues. As far as non-violent protests go, this is certainly interesting and likely to get the attention of the publishers and academics. Whether it will cause them to reevaluate their business models; however, is rather doubtful (and unfortunate).
Image courtesy Isabelle Palatin.