This week marks the eighth annual Open Access Week, which champions scholarly work being made part of the "knowledge commons" for the benefit of all.
Many scholarly articles, though they may be publicly funded, remain restricted as a result of paywalls or copyright restrictions.
These barriers, critics charge, thwart the advancement and sharing of knowledge—and that hurts everyone, not just those in academic fields.
As the Open Access Week website states:
Open Access to information – the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need – has the power to transform the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted. It has direct and widespread implications for academia, medicine, science, industry, and for society as a whole.
Open Access (OA) has the potential to maximize research investments, increase the exposure and use of published research, facilitate the ability to conduct research across available literature, and enhance the overall advancement of scholarship.
Among the supporters of OA is digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Maira Sutton, Global Policy Analyst at EFF, participated in a reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session Thursday and stressed how
[t]here's no way of knowing the untapped potential of billions of people unless they have access to the same information and research that privileged people do. In fact, having many people with diverse background and experiences think about our cutting edge scientific and academic problems means these topics are approached in new ways and that's sure to lead to some big advances in our understanding.
Responding to the same theme, Nick Shockey, Director of Programs and Engagement at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, added on the AMA that
we have to address the fact that the vast majority of the world's population is completely locked out of the scientific and scholarly research literature by high prices. When you consider that there are more than 15 entire academic disciplines in which the average ISI-indexed journal is more than $1,000 per institutional subscription per year (see http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/04/publishing/steps-down-the-evolutionary-road-periodicals-price-survey-2014/), it's easy to see how access quickly becomes limited to only the wealthiest institutions in the world. This doesn't just mean developing countries—it also means less wealthy institutions, such as community colleges, are locked out as well.
Also among the supporters of OA was the late cyber-rights activist Aaron Swartz. In his "Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto," he concludes:
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?