18 January 2013
Aaron Swartz: Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep
it for themselves. The worlds entire scientific and cultural heritage,
published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized
and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers
featuring the most famous results of the sciences? Youll need to send
enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.
There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought
valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but
instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that
allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work
will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now
will have been lost.
That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the
work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the
folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite
universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South?
Its outrageous and unacceptable.
I agree, many say, but what can we do? The companies hold
the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access,
and its perfectly legal theres nothing we can do to stop
them. But there is something we can, something thats already
being done: we can fight back.
Those with access to these resources students, librarians, scientists
you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of
knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not
indeed, morally, you cannot keep this privilege for yourselves. You
have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with
colleagues, filling download requests for friends.
Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have
been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information
locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.
But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. Its
called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral
equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isnt
immoral its a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed
would refuse to let a friend make a copy.
Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which
they operate require it their shareholders would revolt at anything
less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving
them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.
There is no justice in following unjust laws. Its time to come into
the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our
opposition to this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share
them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add
it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web.
We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.
We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
With enough of us, around the world, well not just send a strong message
opposing the privatization of knowledge well make it a thing
of the past. Will you join us?
July 2008, Eremo, Italy