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An Open Letter to President-elect Biden

Copyright, Open Access, Open Data, Open Education, Open Science

Dear Mr. President-elect,

First, I’d like to offer my sincere congratulations to you and to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. This has been such a difficult year for so many around the world, and in this time of extreme polarization it is encouraging to hear you both talk about bringing people together to meet our common challenges. For many years I was a Member of the European Parliament, and I know how incredibly important it is to build bridges and work collaboratively with people we don’t always agree with.

I’m writing today as the leader of Creative Commons, a global nonprofit organization focused in part on making valuable scientific research and educational resources freely and openly available to the public. We work with universities, companies, governments, and institutions around the world to develop solutions for providing unencumbered access to knowledge.

In your 2016 speech to the American Association for Cancer Research, you quoted an article written by our then-CEO, Ryan Merkley, about the unnecessary barriers to publicly funded research. You noted that “taxpayers fund $5 billion in cancer research every year, but once it’s published, nearly all of [it] sits behind walls.” You correctly suggested that better treatments might be developed more quickly if cancer researchers, as well as the general public, had access to the rich trove of publicly funded research and data that is locked up behind prohibitive paywalls.

The COVID-19 health crisis has underscored the urgent need for scientific research and data to be shared freely and openly with others. Several of the most significant funders of scientific research, including the National Institutes of Health, the Gates Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust have long-standing open access policies. But many others do not, and as a result, many of the diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, medical equipment, and software solutions currently being developed in the fight against the pandemic will not reach and benefit as many people as quickly and effectively as they should.

Additionally, as you are very well aware, the pandemic has massively disrupted the lives of over a billion students around the world. For many, access to educational materials is a daily struggle even in normal times. Because of a myriad of barriers, such as the prohibitive cost of learning resources, or the legal maze of convoluted copyright rules and exceptions, many students are denied their fundamental human right to education.

This year’s shift to online learning has introduced many new complexities for both students and educators. While some educators can post their existing learning materials online for their students, for others, the move to online requires access to, and the legal rights to perpetually use and adapt materials developed by others. This has brought into focus the essential need for both broad access to Open Educational Resources (OER) and broad copyright limitations and exceptions (L&E) for educators and students to freely and legally use copyright works so all students everywhere can learn.

At Creative Commons, we believe that open access to knowledge is critical—especially during times of crisis. For nearly 20 years, we have collaborated closely with entities including the US government to make the world more equitable by overcoming obstacles to the sharing of knowledge. In these unprecedented times, our mission is more important than ever, and I look forward to working with you and your administration in developing solutions that unlock knowledge and make it possible for anyone, anywhere to access and build upon it.

Catherine Stihler
CEO, Creative Commons

Posted 02 December 2020