Access to online materials: yay or nay?

In 2013, at the age of 26, Aaron Swartz took his life whilst battling a two year legal nightmare between himself and US prosecutors. His crime? Swartz had accessed MIT’s computer network, downloading a large number of publicly accessible research documents from a non-profit database that hosts academic journal articles, called JSTOR. If charged, Swartzs’ crimes would be punishable by up to 50+ years in prison and fines of almost $4 million.

His story of technology and its relationship to  civil liberties moved the public, so much so that it has been made into a documentary.

What’s scary about this is the extreme lengths this court case got to. Does it really matter if content such as academic articles are available online, for free!? We live in a society today where education is encouraged, so surely, we should encourage people to read a publication over the internet, print it and further develop and/or distribute the findings without any restrictions. Moreover, this ensures that scientists information can be widely recognised, talked about and cited!

So if this is restricted, this makes it awkward  that all levels of education, academic progress and scientific development rely heavily on the availability of resources, as professors can only teach with what resources they have (Cham, 2012).

Yet a recent study suggests that by 2016, 90% of online media content will be protected by a pay wall (Lepitak, 2013). Perhaps scholars do not want to risk their information and/or research being misused and/or misinterpreted. Moreover, someone has to pay for the costs of publication. Often, it is the responsibility of the author—perhaps through their employer or a research grant—to cover these costs. This can discourage researchers from them granting access of their research.

Personally, I don’t understand why scientists would want their discoveries hidden behind paywalls. Moreover, having easy access to online content promotes the sharing of knowledge, development of established ideas; enhancing future materials.

I believe that demand for unrestricted access for content online will continue to increase, even if the cost of journal subscriptions continue to rise, outpacing inflation by over 250% over the past thirty years (Cham, 2012).



Cham, J. (2012) Open Access Explained. [Online] Available at [Accessed: 8 Decemeber 2014]

Geib, A. (2013) Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Access. Edanz Group. Japan. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 8 December 2014]

Leptikah, S. (2012) 90% of online content to be held behind paywalls in three years media company survey suggests [Online] Available at at: [Accessed: 8 December 2014]

Film Buff Movies (2014) The Internets Own Boy. [Online] Available at  [Accessed: 8 Decemeber 2014]


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