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*shakes fist at academic paywalls*

How many people really want to read this article I desire about crime in Roman Egypt, published 1963 - and are able to do so?  I'm guessing maybe 6, but I think that might even be an overestimate.  And there isn't even a way to pay an exorbitant fee and get access to the bloody thing!   I know it is there, but it might as well be sealed inside a capsule on the bloody Moon.

I was reading a 'success story' article today about someone using Google Adsense to successfully monetise content, and it occurs to me that rather than stick all these bloody paywalls everywhere and make it next to impossible to get through the sodding things, it might be a better thing for everyone involved if they just bunged them up - past a certain date in the past maybe - as freeware on cheap hosting, and ran a really good properly structured set of ad campaigns against them.

Is it over-suspicious to suspect that universities wouldn't like this as it might mean people actually learning stuff and drawing conclusions without their expensive mediation...?  Or is is just OMG, advertising!  That's like... TRADE!  OH THE HORROR!!!  We'll be knighting the grandchildren of mill-owners next and then where will we be?


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
31st Aug, 2012 23:23 (UTC)
Not surprising that there is a 'grey market' in journal articles. Universities would like the paywalls down, in general, as most of them can't afford all the journals they would like. The trend now seems to be against paywalls, with academics (particularly in the sciences) rebelling, but it's moving slowly.
1st Sep, 2012 05:46 (UTC)
Exactly; I've never come across a paywall hosted by a university; it's always a publisher. Universities won't give you stuff either, but that's because of stupid copyright law. E.g., I was recently trying to get hold of a German 1980s PhD thesis on the praying mantis, which I located on the online catalogue of the relevant university. Emailed them to ask them if I could pay for someone to scan it in and email me a PDF. No, because of copyright law, they could only send me the physical object as an inter-library loan...

1st Sep, 2012 08:45 (UTC)
But aren't universities more or less the only customers of academic publishers? I am probably mistaken about the mechanism here, but it seems to me that if you have a bunch of businesses that insist on operating in a way that inconveniences their core customer base, it ought to be possible for that core customer base to get something done about it?

I know they don't host the paywalls, but if universities can't get anything done about changing copyright legislation that was never intended to deal with today's technology, then - who can?
1st Sep, 2012 09:59 (UTC)
Who can? Don't know. Have a bit of a google - there are various campaigns going on at the moment, e.g. scientists boycotting the more egregious publishers, such as Elsevier. But the government assesses us (and gives universities money) on the basis of our publications, so if boycotting a publisher means you don't get your paper into that high-impact journal, you have damaged your career and your university. So people carry on paying journals to publish our publicly-funded work, and then paying them again to let us read it, even though everyone on the academic side of the issue believes this is monstrous...

3rd Sep, 2012 10:00 (UTC)
I had a look at thecostofknowledge.com but I was... slightly underwhelmed. It seemed to be a bit piecemeal. In particular, they argue against the sales of bundled subscriptions which 'force' libraries to take out subs to obscure journals, which kind of seems like part of the problem, not part of the solution. From my selfish point of view, I *want* access to back copies of obscure journals that will never be particularly commercially viable, and that protest seems likely to put them further out of reach, if anything.

And again, this seems like grass-roots researcher/academic protest about something that has just grown up without really being planned, and from my external viewpoint, I am a little surprised that instead of individuals going 'OI, I don't like this particular aspect' there isn't some working group that can produce a proper plan and present it to governments as a recommendation? Maybe that is pie in the sky!
1st Sep, 2012 11:02 (UTC)
Things are different, or changing, in the UK. Oxford have recently stopped sending out physical copies of theses by interlibrary loan, and are instead e-mailing PDFs or, where possible, copying them to an online archive for future unlimited perusal by scholars.
1st Sep, 2012 16:57 (UTC)
Now that IS a good idea!
3rd Sep, 2012 08:35 (UTC)
A few years ago, I was trying to do a bit of Tolkien research, and wanted papers from three universities.

Leeds: no problem; the chap I rang rummaged around, found the book it had been published in, sent it to me, that'd be £X please (some entirely reasonable amount).

Witwatersrand in South Africa: found the book, sent it to me, oh you're overseas?, no don't bother paying, it's too mcuh hassle.

UCSD, no, we've lost the paper and haven't got an electronic copy. Finally, some nice person from the Mythopoeic Society sent me a soft copy :-)
1st Sep, 2012 09:09 (UTC)
I am wondering then, exactly who it is that decided copyright law and publishing should work in quite this way, and why their views are rated so highly!

I am particularly annoyed by the 'physical presence' requirement - if I went to Oxford and sat in a library, I am told I can have passwords that would let me through paywalls. But I cannot have these for remote access, even if I pay for it, and even though the process of sitting in front of a machine reading would be exactly the same. I am really doubting there is a law that says this is how it is supposed to be in so many words. Someone, somewhere, must be doing some interpreting of pre-internet law.
1st Sep, 2012 09:57 (UTC)
My impression is that publishers, the music industry etc successfully lobbied to have draconian international laws re copyright - so that you can't put someone's book on the internet until SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS after they DIED!!!! which seems stupid to me. But given that it is the law, universities etc have to take it seriously, and can't copy someone's 1983 PhD thesis, even if the poor student in question, if he could be tracked down, would doubtless be delighted that someone somewhere is finally interested in reading his thesis.

I agree we need to smash all this. No idea how though.

1st Sep, 2012 10:59 (UTC)
Here, the publishers are benefiting from laws which (in terms of copyright extension) were intended to benefit authors' heirs. Trends in the late nineteenth century led publishers to stop buying copyrights outright from authors and instead start offering them advances and royalties, thereby sharing the risks. The extension of the copyright period to seventy-five years in the academic journal sector, of course, is of little benefit to the authors who weren't paid in the first place.
3rd Sep, 2012 09:50 (UTC)
I'd still like to know how and where and when this was extended to restrict virtual borrowing. Neuromancer's comment above seems to suggest that copyright law restricts digitisation for library use: OK, understand that but clearly that's not the whole story, because digitised copies of a great deal of stuff exist on servers that are technically part of the wider internet, to which access is artificially restricted.

Did I miss the introduction of a paywall law, or is this caselaw?
3rd Sep, 2012 09:54 (UTC)
I've no idea, for as far as I know there is no restriction on digitisation for library use of theses, as long as the consent of the author is secured. I have signed a form myself, and Oxford are certainly keen on making research undertaken as part of higher degree work freely available.
31st Aug, 2012 23:44 (UTC)
I'm always coming up against those damned things, too.

And... Oh, I wish you could access that!
1st Sep, 2012 08:48 (UTC)
Fortunately I found a synopsis in someone's PhD thesis that gives the bones of the argument and a couple of examples (in order to say 'what a silly argument this is and how deluded was this fool in 1963' - but hey, that will do.

I love theses-es! People always seem to be happy to share those about all over the place. Pity there isn't a better way to organise them, they seem to be scattered unindexably all over the place.
31st Aug, 2012 23:54 (UTC)
If you'll tell me the name of the article, I may be able to get at it...no promises, but it's always possible my university has access to wherever it is.
1st Sep, 2012 01:11 (UTC)
1st Sep, 2012 09:03 (UTC)
Thank you! I may take you up on that for some future article, but I've now found a good synopsis of that one that will do for now.
1st Sep, 2012 09:04 (UTC)
Thank you very much! I may take you up on that for some future article, but I've now found a good synopsis of that one that will do for now.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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