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DEMOCRATIZING KNOWLEDGE: THE OPEN ACCESS MOVEMENT AND ITS LEGAL IMPLICATIONS

INTRODUCTION

“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. – Universal Declaration of Human Rights”[1]

Information is power in the modern digital age. But what takes place where institutional, societal, or economic barriers prevent people from accessing information? The open access movement, which aims to eliminate these obstacles and make knowledge accessible to everyone, steps in at this point. The open-access movement is fundamentally an effort to promote greater openness, equality, and social justice. It is a call to action for academics, researchers, and organizations to freely share their work without being constrained by conventional publishing paradigms. According to a 2018 investigation by Duke University, “59 of the 100 most highly cited articles ever published are protected by a paywall, and the average price for an outside researcher to access one of these articles is $33.41/₹2,285 (2018).”[2] The open-access movement seeks to empower underrepresented groups in society, advance science, and foster innovation across all academic disciplines by doing this.

UNDERSTANDING OPEN ACCESS: WHAT IT IS AND WHY IT MATTERS

The Open-Access movement is a developing trend in scholarly communication that aspires to make research articles freely available to anybody who wants to read and use them. This movement, which is mostly focused on print-based academic journals, has gained strength as internet accessibility has increased.

 “Peer-reviewed research literature is the main goal of the open-access movement.” The OA movement aims to increase access to research for everyone, regardless of their location or financial means, in response to the social inequality issues brought on by limiting access to it. Scholars and researchers can now share their work with a larger audience through open-access journals, repositories; and preprint servers, enhancing the exposure and impact of their study. Peter Suber a famous advocate for this movement defined OA as “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions”.[3]

For OA to exist, copyright rules do not need to be changed. Holders of copyrights allow users to gain free access to their publications and provide people extra rights that eliminate permission barriers.

HISTORY OF OPEN-ACCESS MOVEMENT:

Before the term “open access” was explicitly coined, free online access to journal articles existed for at least a decade. The Letterist International, who put everything in their publication Potlatch in the public domain in the 1950s, is credited with starting the contemporary open access movement. Since the 1970s, computer scientists have been self-archiving in anonymous ftp archives, since the 1990s, physicists have been doing the same in arXiv. As internet usage increased and online publishing became the norm in the 1990s, the open-access movement took root. In 1994, the Subversive Proposal to Widen the Practice was posted. “The Budapest Open Access Initiative in February 2002, the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing in June 2003, and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities in June 2004 were the first three official statements to use the term “open-access” in their respective contexts.” These three meetings were considered landmark movements in OA’s history. The Budapest Open Access Initiative urged academics, funding organizations, and researchers to encourage open-access publication and make their work freely accessible online. Since the initiative’s 2002 debut, universities, research institutes, and funding organizations all across the world have embraced it.[4]

The battle for open access now includes two complementing fronts: the gold road, which entails pressuring publishers to embrace open access policies. The self-archiving of papers in digital databases is referred to as the green road in open access.

Piracy sites and open-access movement: Piracy websites and the campaign for open access are two distinct ideas. The open access movement seeks to promote open and free access to scholarly research as well as literary works, whereas piracy websites provide access to protected content without authorization. However, many scholars contend that pirate libraries assist in addressing the issue of inadequate open access, open data, and copyright exclusions. However, open-access publications aren’t exempt from piracy; individuals continue accessing open-access literature through piracy websites. The huge, copyright-violating, openly accessible web shadow libraries of scientific publications, including research papers, monographs, and books, are the result of the Guerrilla Open Access (GOA) movement.[5] Sci-hub is an example of a piracy site that provides access to lots of research work which were actually under paywalls.

One Nation, One Subscription (ONOS): To increase access to scholarly works, the Indian Ministry of Education has proposed the “One Nation, One Subscription[6] approach. It aims to make academic publications and scientific research papers more easily accessible to all Indian residents, no matter where they reside or their financial situation. The strategy is anticipated to lessen the burden on small institutions and bring about systemic change in access to academic papers, resulting in the creation of a strong research ecosystem that fosters both more applied and commercial research as well as research for its own sake. The Indian government will negotiate with journal publishers for an ONOS model, under which all institutions in the nation will have access to every journal for a single, centrally negotiated fee.

HURDLES TO THE RACE

The open-access movement has gained traction in recent decades as a means of improving the availability and accessibility of scholarly information. While it has tonnes of benefits, it also has certain drawbacks. –

Equity: While the open access movement seeks to democratize access to academic research, it also has the potential to worsen existing imbalances. Researchers in developing countries or at smaller universities may lack the financial capacity to have their work accepted in OA journals or pay article processing charges, limiting their visibility and influence.

Copyright and licensing: Because open-access publishing requires authors to distribute their work more widely, copyright and licensing issues arise. Some authors may be unwilling to give up their intellectual property rights, while others may be unaware of the ramifications of different licensing alternatives.

Infrastructure: The transition to open access necessitates considerable changes in the scientific publishing infrastructure. This encompasses both technology mechanisms and cultural standards, such as how tenure and promotion decisions are decided. Transitioning to an open-access publishing paradigm will cost time and resources.

Digitalizing paper prints: Most educational libraries are struggling with switching journals’ economic models from paper to electronic. Older paper-printed works must be digitized immediately, but the necessary expertise, resources, tools, and facilities are lacking.

Quality control: The spread of low-quality or even predatory publications might result from open-access publishing. Peer review is an important quality control method in conventional publication, ensuring that research satisfies specific standards of rigor and accuracy. However, with the open access paradigm, some publishers may prioritize quantity over quality, failing to filter submissions appropriately.

Cost issues: The economy is one of the most challenging components of open access. Publishers and authors must bear the costs of publishing, such as peer review, editing, typesetting, and distribution. The traditional subscription model covers these expenditures, but the open access model necessitates alternate funding sources, which can be difficult to acquire in the long run.

Overall, the open access movement has numerous advantages, yet it also faces significant challenges that have to be resolved to ensure its long-term success and viability.

SOLUTIONS AND CONCLUSION

The execution and distribution of research have been revolutionized by the OA movement. Researchers now have a bigger audience, more potential collaborators, and more citations for their work, which improves both their reputation and that of their university. Additionally, open access has increased access to research results for those who would not otherwise have it since journal memberships are so expensive. The movement’s difficulties can be lessened by creating a strong technological infrastructure, collaborating with researchers and institutions, increasing awareness among stakeholders, creating new government policies that require or incentive open-access publications, etc. OA is essential for a wide range of target audiences, and it is as important to keep advancing and defending the original thought that led to conceptualization.

Author(s) Name: Nandan.G.K (Kerala University)

References:

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 Resolution III, art 27

[2] ‘Paywall and information costs’ (Dukes University)

<https://sites.duke.edu/library101_instructors/2018/09/05/paywalls-and-information-costs/> accessed 14 May 2023

[3]Peter suber, ‘Open Access’ <https://openaccesseks.mitpress.mit.edu/> accessed 17 May 2023

[4] ‘Open Access 101’ <https://blogs.harvard.edu/openaccess101/what-is-open-access/what-is-open-access/>  accessed 21 May 2023

[5] S.R. Lihitkar, ‘Open access movement, opportunities and hurdles’ (SSRN E-Journal, 19 April 2023) <https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4419186> accessed 21 May 2023

[6] Roshni, ‘One nation One subscription by education ministry to allow open access to research papers from April 1’ (India Today)  < https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/news/story/one-nation-one-subscription-initiative-by-education-ministry-to-allow-open-access-to-research-papers-from-april-1-2299301-2022-11-19 > accessed 21 May 2023