Fighting copyright – You're doing it wrong

Full disclosure: I used to work for JSTOR, a non-profit company that archives and provides online access to academic journals.

Recently one of the co-founders of Reddit was indicted for some sort of computer crime that involved downloading millions of academic articles from the JSTOR archive. Trespassing or breaking into a closet or some other property crime may have been involved, and "data theft" was the big one that all the internets are talking about now.

After this indictment occurred, a person going by the name Greg Maxwell released a torrent of approximately 32 Gigs worth of the JSTOR archive. With the release was a manifesto of sorts, indicating discontent with the academic publishing industry and lots of general rage.

"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."

That's complete nonsense. JSTOR can be accessed from libraries and universities all over the place. Chances are if you have a library card you can legally and freely search the JSTOR archive and download non-DRM encumbered pdfs of any article.

I think the copyright problem is a different problem and lies with the publishers, not with JSTOR. They're a non-profit organization doing the hard work of digitizing, organizing, archiving and adding features like reference linking to these journals as well as making them available to the public. That access should cost money, but it should be paid for by organizations like libraries and governments to make this knowledge available.

If these people are pissed off about not having access to academic journals, they need to take that up with the governments that cut funding from libraries and stop attacking JSTOR with these kind of releases.

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4 Responses to Fighting copyright – You're doing it wrong

  1. René Ruiz says:

    The government has no money to pay for anything anymore. At best, the government could allocate NSF/NIH/etc. grant monies to bankroll JSTOR. But that's a lousy funding model imo, as it's subject to Congressional whim.

    Alternatively, I humbly suggest JSTOR could be structured more like C-SPAN: paid for by the content providers/publishers/academic institutions as a public service (C-SPAN is funded via cable network affiliate fees). After all, the publishers are the ones making the money, and big colleges like MIT have huge budgets and endowments. In fact, if you're a student, chances are you already have access to JSTOR via your institution's license. So it's not outlandish to suggest that universities pony up a little more for some form general public access. Consider that MIT already makes many course materials available online at no charge.

    But I don't know jack about the publishing biz, so maybe my idea is totally bunk.

    • cobweb says:

      Oh I completely agree, it should be a public service. But then, I think libraries should be too, and those seem to keep closing down. And don't get me started on the space program.

  2. ben says:

    There is no doubt that scanning the archive is labor intensive, but that doesn't mean it gives jstor the copyright on a public domain work. The courts have held that a photo of public domain art is not protected, seems to be legally analagous.

    • Frank says:

      JSTOR doesn't claim copyright on any of their archive. Copyright stays with the publisher. Whether that's right or wrong, attacking JSTOR is the wrong way to go about correcting that.

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