Now I Get It: Academic Publishing Is an Extortion Racket

In case you’re still not really sure what Aaron Swartz did to be targeted by the government until he killed himself, this Chronicle of Higher Education piece is super clear and does a really good job of explaining all that.

Basically: He downloaded articles from JSTOR because he—like many—believed that public-funded information—which most research is!—should be available to the public. And right now it’s not. It’s available to organizations able to pay huge fees for access.

PULLQUOTE 1: “To put it bluntly, the current state of academic publishing is the result of a series of strong-arm tactics enabling publishers to pry copyrights from authors, and then charge exorbitant fees to university libraries for access to that work. The publishers have inverted their role as disseminators of knowledge and become bottlers of knowledge, releasing it exclusively to the highest bidders. Swartz simply decided it was time to take action.”

PULLQUOTE 2: “Until academics get their acts together and start using new modes of publication, we need to recognize that actions like Aaron Swartz’s civil disobedience are legitimate. They are attempts to liberate knowledge that rightly belongs to all of us but that has been acquired by academic publishers through tens of thousands of contracts of adhesion and then bottled up and released for exorbitant fees in what functionally amounts to an extortion racket.”


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