Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
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
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
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
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?
July 2008, Eremo, Italy
F.d Förste bibliotekare och chef för f.d Avdelningen
för humaniora vid Göteborgs universitetsbibliotek
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