Unlike most online publications, academic journals have almost always been exclusively behind a pawall. Sometimes that paywall was propped up by universities and research institutions, making the content free to students and researchers (or bundled in your tuition plan, depending how you look at it). But they have been able to weather the “free ride” storm better than most print publications.That may be changing as a number of notable academics are calling for an “Academic Spring.” Their gripes are many, but center on the current trend of publishers charging for user-generated content. As The Economist states:
Academics, who live in a culture which values the free and easy movement of information (and who edit and referee papers for nothing) have long been uncomfortable bedfellows with commercial publishing companies, which want to maximise profits by charging for access to that information, and who control many (although not all) of the most prestigious scientific journals.
I suspect the ethics of charging for user-generated content is only going to become a bigger debate, especially with Facebook’s recent IPO and YouTube’s flirtation with charging for subscription channels.In what seems a poorly-planned defensive move, scientific journals now want to get paid for anytime an article is included in a patent application. While we usually applaud creative revenue streams, this one really does go against the idea of fair use — that is, to disseminate ideas to the public. More importantly, if it becomes financially prohibitive for anyone to note the ideas in your publication, you will likely cease to be a publication of note. With an mean average of two readers per article (that’s a lifetime score!), academic publications should see citations and references as good word-of-mouth marketing, not a copyright infringement or potential revenue stream.