The blog post, ‘The Scientists encouraging online piracy with a secret codeword’ featured on the BBC this week has raised a number of pertinent points about access to research, and the restrictions imposed under current publishing models. The post discusses how researchers are harnessing social media to locate and illegally distribute copyrighted materials, which may be part of paid subscriptions. As the article states, this approach plays upon the well-known ‘I can haz’ meme, placing the issues of open access firmly within modern social culture. Similarly, the post below was recently spotted on the popular FML website, again highlighting that the issues surrounding open access are becoming embedded in popular culture, and are becoming a source of casual amusement.
However, in spite of the cute cat references the distribution, or pirating of articles in this way poses many legal and moral questions. In contrast, initiatives such as the Open Access Button help users to locate free, and legal, copies of papers via repositories, authors websites and ultimately by contacting the author of each paper. The OA Button is run by student volunteers and is not an ideal solution to such a large problem, but it does emphasise and promote the need to make papers and research available as open access in a fair way, rather than subversively bypassing publishers.
We may hope that the introduction of HEFCE’s open access policy for the next REF in April 2016 may increase the number of articles which are available via open access. Unfortunately this seems to be far more of the ‘stick’ approach, rather than the ‘carrot’ – and many people may not fully understand the positive implications that open access can have when it becomes a mandatory requirement for UK HE institutions.
The publicity that the BBC’s blog has achieved has helped to show that open access remains a key concern among researchers and that they are willing to adopt potentially unethical methods in order to access pay-walled materials.
By making your research available via the SRI Open Access Repository you ensure that your research can be accessed by anyone in a free and legal way.
The Scientists encouraging online piracy with a secret codeword, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-34572462 [accessed 21/10/2015]
FML http://www.fmylife.com/ [accessed 11/10/2015]
‘About Us’, Open Access Button, https://openaccessbutton.org/about#how [accessed 21/10/2015]
HEFCE policy http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/year/2014/201407/ [accessed 21/10/2015]