Wil on October 29th, 2012
In last week’s post, Astrid and I attempted to convey our impressions of the Open Access forum we attended earlier this month. Open Access represents a significant shift in thinking about how we conduct and value research, and how we communicate our findings within academic communities as well as to the public, in general. It will force us to rethink the relationships we have had with traditional partners such as publishers and other content providers in response to economic factors that are not always in our favour. While the general consensus was that Open Access would be beneficial to the University, we must nevertheless adopt a considered approach to its implementation.
By Jonathan Gray [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
It is hard to predict how Open Access will affect copyright legislation in Australia, or vice versa, and it remains to be seen whether the upcoming Australian Law Reform Commission will make allowances for the potential effects that Open Access will inevitably have on the tertiary education sector and publishing industries.
While Open Access is proving to be a thorny issue even at this early stage, there are already those who believe that information should be available at a more fundamental level – that the data underlying the findings of publicly funded studies should also be freely accessible. Furthermore, advocates of the Open Data movement argue that because data such as environmental readings or genetic data exist as factual information, it cannot be protected by copyright and hence should be available to be used without restriction. They also believe that releasing scientific data into the public domain, even data which did not produce publishable results, would enable governments and institutions spend research funding more efficiently by reducing the replication of studies, and instead focus on areas where little or no data exists.
This view, however, has not gone unchallenged. Corporate entities as well as individuals would have access to research data, but unlike you or I, companies would have the resources to analyse and repurpose this data for commercial gain. There have also been privacy concerns, especially if the research data collected has the potential to identify individuals. Storing and maintaining the vast collection of research data does not come cheap, either. Disseminating data, just as producing it, carries a cost, and in the age of Open Data, it is not a trivial question to ask who will bear this cost.
Steward Brand coined the often- quoted phrase “Information Wants to Be Free,” and indeed it does as it becomes easier to produce, process and communicate it with our peers. However, in the case of the Open Access and Open Data movements, it would be wise to consider the other, less famous half of that quote: “Information also wants to be expensive,” because inevitably there will be someone, somewhere in the world, either now or in the future that will find this data vastly useful.
The Open Access and Open Data movements will no doubt challenge our traditionally held beliefs about copyright and intellectual property, however the discussions that we foster now will undoubtedly help us prepare us for these changes, and perhaps more importantly, allow us to shape and inform the policies we adopt.