Several years ago I came into possession, through rather boring and lawful means, of a large collection of JSTOR documents.
These particular documents are the historic back archives of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, a prestigious scientific journal with a history extending back to the 1600s.
The portion of the collection included in this archive, ones published prior to 1923 and therefore obviously in the public domain, total some 18,592 papers and 33 gigabytes of data.
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.
This archive contains 18,592 scientific publications totaling 33GiB, all from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and which 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.
Also included is the basic factual metadata allowing you to locate works by title, author, or publication date, and a
checksum file to allow you to check for corruption.
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.
On July 19th 2011, Aaron Swartz was criminally charged by the US Attorney General’s office for, effectively, downloading too many academic papers
Academic publishing is an odd systemâ€”the authors are not paid for their writing, nor are the peer reviewers (they’re just more unpaid academics), and in some fields even the journal editors are unpaid. Sometimes the authors must even pay the publishers.
And yet scientific publications are some of the most outrageously expensive pieces of literature you can buy. In the past, the high access fees supported the costly mechanical reproduction of niche paper journals, but online distribution has mostly made this function obsolete.
As far as I can tell, the money paid for access today serves little significant purpose except to perpetuate dead business models. The “publish or perish” pressure in academia gives the authors an impossibly weak negotiating position, and the existing system has enormous inertia.