Week 5: Copyright and Open Access

Preface: My blog post this week will be more me hashing out some ideas than stating what I learned. I have been having some complicated thoughts about the nature of copyright and its effects on academia. I started writing one thing and my mind just kind of ran with it and now it all seems like a long ramble, but seeing as this isn’t a formal paper, I decided to just roll with it.

After looking over this week’s content, I have come to the conclusion that in terms of academic writing, copyright is more of a hinderance than a benefit. Academia runs on researchers sharing their ideas, so that each person can build on, contribute to, or refute the work of another. The idea of ownership over an idea becomes fairly fluid, but at the same time major innovative ideas are attributed through citations, which give the creator of an idea their due. While I suppose someone could steal an idea and face no legal consequence without copyright laws, I feel that generally the absence of copyright would do little to hinder academia.

On the other hand, copyright restricts the flow of knowledge due to publishing companies, which we saw in the readings about open access materials. Academic researchers don’t have the means to publish themselves, so they are forced to give their ideas to a company to publish; in this sense, copyright probably protects academics from these companies stealing their ideas as their own (similar to the way that copyright protects academics from their universities stealing their work). But because they are forced to have someone else publish it, near monopolies have been formed that keep that information behind a paywall. Copyright is meant to protect an author’s ideas, but not from the audience they intended to share it with. And with copyright laws in place, it is illegal to mass reproduce the content from the publishers as a way to get around the paywall. Therefore, while copyright is supposed to protect ideas from being stolen, copyright laws unwittingly restrict the ideas from even being shared at a reasonable rate.

I know that copyright isn’t necessarily the cause of these issues, but overall I think copyright and open access are still two of the core issues here. Restricting the flow of information in an environment that is inherently about sharing that information seems counterintuitive. I think open access is moving us in the right direction. Maybe the conversation shouldn’t be about whether we own our ideas or not; the conversation should be about how we can share our ideas. And open access provides an introduction to the way the system could look if we rebuilt it from the ground up. I think that this also ties to some of the points we made in our first week, about how history specifically needs to learn to be more collaborative rather than individualistic. I think if we shift our expectations away from individual work for tenure, and shift them more towards collaborative, accessible work, not only will we benefit from our personal growth, but the work we do will benefit broader society in a more tangible way. Isn’t that always part of the humanities defending itself? If we can make our work accessible, we can shift the way our entire system works and prove the use of our work.

One Reply to “Week 5: Copyright and Open Access”

  1. If the system is overhauled, who will serve as the gatekeepers of academic inquiry? Journals have reputations for a reason, how they referee and verify the research methods of the contents. And, if they are found to be wrong, redactions must be made. In this current age of “mis” information overload, I have real concerns about overhauling this without significant thought toward this end, so that misinformation doesn’t keep being propogated.

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