Disrecognized Space

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Copyright, technology, and Open Access

Copyright, as originally conceived, has been legally altered in a process that subverts those original aims in favour of corporations and at the expense of artists. This process was possible until the advent of the internet. The internet provides a technological threat to rigidly defined legal constraints and borders. Digital reproduction, aided by the internet, actively subverts the concept of copyright. These technological challenges, however, also provide an opportunity to redefine how the work of individuals should be controlled and disseminated. The concept of Open Access scientific journals is one example of this.

Copyright law varies from country to country, but is broadly, and increasingly, based on US law, where it is intended as a balancing act between a monopoly for creators, and intended to “promote the progress of the sciences and useful arts” (Copyright 101). Changes to extend the duration of copyright have, however, firmly pushed the balance in the direction of the monopolists as Berry notes. Legal changes, Berry also notes, lag technological changes and it is technology that creates a constantly shifting border challenging the law.

Digital technology creates what Ku calls a “digital dilemma” since it simultaneously make it trivial to make perfect digital copies of data, but also enables that same technology to be used to enforce restrictions on access to data (274). It also, however, provides for the possibility of making copyright redundant, since it can directly connect artist and audience, eliminating the concepts of “consumer” and “property” (Ku 323).

Previously, access to scientific journals was usually on a user-pays basis, and subscriptions were often prohibitively expensive. The concept that the internet is free, while certainly wrong in totality and open to debate in particulars, has nonetheless led to a movement to make scientific research freely available as a public good. Governments are now making it a condition of providing grants that the research be published under an open access model, while the number of journals adopting this model continues to increase (Free-for-all). Scholars and researchers usually want their papers published and read as widely as possible, but this conflicts with publishers’ desire to restrict access for economic reasons. This situation was sustainable, if not ideal, until the emergence of the internet offering novel publishing mediums (Willinsky). Open access also is one of the fronts of the democratisation of knowledge that the internet enables (Yiotis 160).

Open access, and the best way to implement it, is still a developing field however, and perhaps the greatest challenge (as in many interfaces between economics and society on the internet) is how to fund it. While traditional journals are funded by subscriptions, advertising and reprints, most open access journals charge the author for publication. Fees averaged $660 in 2011, but could be as high as $3,900, while others operate with grants or government subsidies (Van Noorden).

Digital reproduction and networked communications represent technological challenges to copyright. While traditional sources of power, such as publishers, seem to retreat to increasing legal constraints, society is redefining its own concepts of copyright and freedom of knowledge in a complex and changing conflict of ethics, technology and cultural expectations.

Works cited
Berry, John N, III. The Real Purpose of Copyright. Library Journal, 1 Jul. 2000. Web. 23 Jun. 2013.
Copyright 101. Module 1 Copyright Basics & Requesting Information. Brigham Young University, n.d. Web. 24 Jun. 2013.
Free-for-all. 4 May. 2013. The Economist. Web. 24 Jun. 2013.
Ku, Raymond Shih Ray. “The Creative Destruction of Copyright: Napster and the New Economics of Digital Technology.” The University of Chicago Law Review 69.1 (Winter, 2002): 263-324. Print.
Van Noorden, Richard. “Open Access: The True Cost of Science Publishing”. Nature. 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Jun. 2013.
Willinsky, John. “Copyright Contradictions in Scholarly Publishing.” First Monday 7.11 (4. Nov. 2002). Web. 23 Jun. 2013.
Yiotis, Kristin. “The Open Access Initiative: A New Paradigm for Scholarly Communications.” Information Technology and Libraries Dec, 2005: 157-162. Web. 24 Jun. 2013.


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