A reading of the "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto" (s03e02)

🔈This is the transcript of the Open Update. Find the original audio on Anchor.fm.

Welcome to the Open Update. I'm your host Chris Hartgerink and this week, we don’t have a regular episode for you.

The last recording we did, ended up glitchy and unusable, and then we had health issues that prevented us from recording anything at all. We got off to a great start, with plans full of buffer time, but apparently with two hosts come new logistics problems. We are figuring it out, and thank you for being patient with us in this!

Instead of a regular episode, I will today read you the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. It is almost fifteen years old, and inspires to this day. It is no longer as applicable as it was in 2008, but maybe hearing it in 2023 will inspire new ideas in you. We selected it as a reading for this podcast, because it centers power in its discussion of access.

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You'll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's outrageous and unacceptable.

"I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it's perfectly legal — there's nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can, something that's already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It's called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn't immoral — it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It's time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we'll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we'll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Full text of “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto”

The sign off in this Guerilla Open Access Manifesto says Aaron Swartz, July, 2008. Amo. It has since then been contested whether Aaron Swartz wrote this on his own or with a group of people. This episode is not a regular episode where we just talk about the power imbalances, but if you do not know about the story of Aaron Swartz, we can highly recommend the documentary, "The Internet's own Boy", which is freely available online.

The Guerilla Open Access Manifesto is part of a longer history, and we wanted to make sure to bring that into this podcast as.  Because it's openly licensed, we are free to read it here for you without any risk of copyright lawsuits, and so we thought let's do that.

Thank you for being so patient with us as we are figuring out the kinks of this podcast in this new season with a co-host and everything around it.

We hope you stay safe. We look forward to being here again in a few weeks with you, hopefully for a more regular episode where we talk about the power imbalances of open research. In the meantime, don't forget to subscribe on your podcast provider of choice.

We'll be back in a few weeks.

A reading of the "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto" (s03e02)
Liberate Science GmbH February 27, 2023
ResearchEquals Supporting Memberships