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Open In Order To…Fulfill Our Vision for Universal Access to Research and Education

Copyright, Open Access

It’s Open Access Week, the yearly global event to raise broad awareness about the opportunities and benefits for open access to scientific and scholarly research. Open Access Week—now in its 10th year—also mobilises action for progressive policy changes so that researchers and the public get immediate online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and reuse those results.

This year’s theme is “Open In Order To…”—an invitation to answer the question of what concrete benefits can be realized by making scholarly outputs openly available.

Today we’re wrapping up another inspiring Open Access Week. We’ve talked about a variety of issues, including the continued adoption of open access policies that require CC licensing in order to maximize reuse potential, the moral imperative to reform copyright so students aren’t prosecuted for sharing knowledge, the massive potential for preprints to accelerate research and scientific discovery, and the importance of improving access to the laws, regulations, and standards that uphold democratic societies.

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In April 2016, I wrote the following in WIRED:

I get inspired when I think about what we’d be capable of if we agree to work together without restriction. This is humanity at its most powerful.

Since I wrote that piece, CC’s international community has surged ahead as a worldwide network of advocates through our Global Network Strategy. We’ve launched the CC Certificates Beta, which will teach hundreds of librarians, educators, and more how to become expert advocates and practitioners for open licensing. We joined the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative at the White House, released a crucial new tool for authors to reclaim their rights, and collaborated with other leading organizations in the open movement, such as Wikimedia, Mozilla, Fundación Karisma, Communia Association, Authors Alliance, and SPARC (the organizers of OA Week).

At the center of our work, we always ask: How can we help global communities come together in service of collective goals? How do we unlock creativity and knowledge as public resources that everyone can use to advance the common good? How do we embed collaboration, inclusion, and equity into our approach?

If it wasn’t so well-established, the traditional model of academic publishing would be considered scandalous. Billions in research funding is provided by governments, foundations, and institutions to advance the public welfare, researchers and editors submit their work for free to journals, and still much of it is still locked behind paywalls. Much of the entrenched academic publishing system continues to withhold crucial access from the general public through embargos, paywalls, and excessive “processing fees” for open access licenses.

The moral case for open access is strong—scholarly publishing is going to have to change, and some of the most needed updates are already on the way—but I’m hopeful that publishers and the structures of academia that entrench their influence will pick up the pace. Some forward looking publishers are seeking new models, while a few holdouts are hanging on to lap up the last drops before the tap is turned off. Those who adapt and move with this rising tide can be tomorrow’s leaders. Those who don’t? Well, no one really misses Kodak.

Before I met with former VP Joe Biden’s team at the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, we asked community members to tell us what open access for cancer research would mean to them. I expected to hear from doctors and patients. What shocked me was how many parents, husbands, wives, and children I heard from, who are desperately seeking knowledge to help their loved ones who are sick. We shared some of their stories on Medium last year, and they remain a moving reminder as to why I do this work, why I lead Creative Commons in this question of access, the basis of which is a fundamental human right to know.

There is simply no moral case that justifies withholding access to knowledge that could advance discovery or alleviate suffering, especially when the public paid for it in the first place. The World Health Organization recognized the power of openness to create faster vaccines when it called for research sharing as Zika affected mothers and their newborn babies. But why not for all research done in the public interest? Nearly everyone has utilized the power of the internet to research an issue close to them—to learn more about their health or the health of a loved one, to prepare for a job interview, to receive and share news, or simply to learn something cool. There is amazing research happening all over the world—unlocking it is more than simply an issue of access, it is one of equality and human rights.

Movements have to be guided by their values, and while all too often, it becomes “us-versus-them”, sometimes it’s clear that change will require disruption, and the end of old empires. Creative Commons and other open access groups champion the “free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.” I’ll work with anyone who steps forward to achieve this goal, but like the looming end of big oil, it’s only a matter of time until change arrives. The question is how long we will allow these old models to continue before we force new systems to come into the mainstream? Perhaps our greatest living physicist, Stephen Hawking, released his PhD thesis under open access just last Sunday, saying, “Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.”

At the Mozilla Festival this weekend, I’m going to be speaking with my colleagues and friends Katherine Maher from Wikimedia and Mark Surman from Mozilla about specific areas where we can work better together in service of our common goals. But we can’t do it without you — our power is collective. We need you to join the movement, whether with us and with our allies to collaborate for impact.

I’m amazed at what this big, open movement has already achieved together. This year, the CC Global Network has been instrumental in supporting Diego Gómez, the Colombian student facing up to 8 years of jail time for sharing a single paper online, we have been a strong voice for copyright reform in the European Union, and we have taken on sweeping issues like NAFTA and an expansion of the public domain. The work of open access needs to keep in clear view the ultimate goals of science and scholarship — a fundamental search for knowledge — that is now supercharged for sharing and collaboration to solve the world’s toughest scientific and social problems. I can’t wait to realize these goals together with you.

Posted 27 October 2017