Costa Rican Students Take to the Streets for the Right to Copy

From the TechDirt blog, and written by Glyn Moody.

One of the most important pieces of research to emerge last year was “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies“. A central theme was that much unauthorized copying around the world is driven by attempts to impose Western-level prices everywhere, resulting in media goods that are simply beyond the reach of most people in countries whose economies are still developing.

Here’s an interesting story from Costa Rica, where the same effects are playing out in education:

Thousands of students participated in a march in San José on Tuesday, October 9, 2012, protesting for their right to photocopy textbooks for educational purposes. The unrest was caused by President Chinchilla vetoing Bill 17342 (known as the ‘Photocopying Law’) which seeks to amend Law No 8039 on Procedures for Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, on the grounds that it removes protection of the work and intellectual property in the artistic, literary and technological areas.

As the article on notes, that veto was prompted at least in part by lobbying from publishers who charge unrealistically high prices for their textbooks, which then drives students to use photocopies instead.

It’s interesting that large numbers of Costa Rican students felt strongly enough about this issue to take to the streets — rather as thousands of their contemporaries did in Europe over ACTA earlier this year. That’s evidence that this isn’t simply a case of people wanting to get “something for nothing”, as copyright apologists might try to frame it. Rather, this is about a group who depend on unauthorized copies in order to gain access to knowledge that is vital for their studies, but which is otherwise unaffordable thanks to monopoly pricing.

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To put it into perspective, I wrote a little review column in Access magazine last year about global information rights, including the right to copy in the global South. The first agency I reviewed was CopySouth. Here is the text.

Copy/South Research Group

In North America debates about copyright are important, but in the global South[1] they are vital. Copyright can cripple an educational institution. Not being able to copy means that students might not have access to books at all. Expensive academic journals, priced to fatten publisher’s coffers, are unaffordable for libraries that don’t even have electricity. Copy/South is a group dedicated to making the injustice of Western models of copyright widely known.

Copy/South is fueled by an international group of academics and activists exposing the inequities of copyright law for readers and consumers in the global South (representing 75% of the world’s population). These nations generally inherited copyright laws from their European colonizers which were imposed without consent. The site is critical of the Berne convention (the leading international copyright law of 1886), the 1994 TRIPS agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights) and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) among others, for excessive privileging of rights-holders over consumers of intellectual property.  In addition to excellent primers on international copyright, the site includes a glossary of 50 terms, phrases and organizations called the CopySouth Dossier. Copy/South critiques copyright in relation to issues of poverty, history, international development, North/South relations and social justice. The site contains articles on topics such as the importance of the public domain to developing nations, access to information, the privatization of information, etc… Think about the impact of western copyright laws on the rest of the world.

[1] Some use the term “developing countries” to refer to the countries of the global South, meaning the countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia.


Public Understanding of Science on Open Access

Public Understanding of Science believes that paid for open access will discriminate against authors from the developing world.

The current position of PUS with regard to open access is as follows:

1. PUS is not against open access, the promotion of which we consider, in principle, a good idea. It is clearly not conducive to the distribution of scientific knowledge that publishers like Elsevier can reap 37% annual profit from publishing academic papers on research that has been funded by other sources (see Economist, April 14th 2012). We know that social science publishers like SAGE, the publishers of PUS, are not in this league.

2. In early 2010, PUS took a ‘wait and see’ position to evaluate the situation. We are anxious that open access might interfere with the long term strategy of PUS, which includes two things: a) to broaden its empirical and authorship intake across the world and b) to avoid privileging research with large grants. Scholarship is not the same thing as grantsmanship.

3. Our current position with our publishers is that we are not part of “SAGE open“, their partial open access scheme, where the author decides whether to pay $3000 to purchase open access. We do not want a two-tier system: open access for the rich and subscription access for everybody else. This position was reached after consulting the editorial board, other journal editors in our field and contributors. We consider temporary open access to promote certain papers. We are currently investigating whether this position stills holds with SAGE, who have ceded to requests from a small number of authors applying for open access.

4. We would immediately agree for an open access solution on the opt-in model for PUS if we gained a dedicated fund for the journal either by donations from charitable organisations like Wellcome Trust, or the Ford Foundation. Or we could increase the author contribution for open access from currently $3000 (£1600) to $4000 (£2130) from which we would lift $1000 (£533) into the fund. This would allow us to support 10-15 papers per year from non-funded research or cash-strapped sources.

Full article

The “Academic Spring” – Shallow Rhetoric Aimed at the Wrong Target by Kent Anderson

A new perspective on the economics of publishing. open access and universities in general…borrowed from the Scholarly Kitchen blog.

…ask yourself these questions:

  • Who shrank the library budgets while simultaneously courting researchers and research dollars?
  • Who’s training too many PhDs for the economy to absorb, while generally (through commission or omission) misleading PhD candidates about how viable a PhD will be?
  • Who has moved away from tenure-track positions and intramural funding?
  • Who has become too reliant on blunt and unreliable metrics like impact factor and h-index to rank faculty?
  • Who holds the IP for federally funded research in the United States, and exploits that without returning it to the taxpayer?

Should you boycott Elsevier?

There have been loads of articles on the recent Elsevier boycott. Here are a few to check out:

Whitfield, John. “Elsevier boycott gathers pace.” Nature. Feb. 9 ,2012.
“Rebel academics ponder how to break free of commercial publishers.”

Lin, Thomas. “Mathematicians organize boycott of a publisher.” New York Times. Feb. 13, 2012.
“More than 5,700 researchers have joined a boycott of Elsevier, a leading publisher of science journals, in a growing furor over open access to the fruits of scientific research. ”

Here’s the site to add your name.
“Academics have protested against Elsevier’s business practices for years with little effect.”