JSTOR start to make content available to independent scholars

An email has reached me this evening, drawing attention to a change of policy from JSTOR, announced yesterday.

On September 6, 2011, we announced that we are making journal content in JSTOR published prior to 1923 in the United States and prior to 1870 elsewhere freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world.  This “Early Journal Content” includes discourse and scholarship in the arts and humanities, economics and politics, and in mathematics and other sciences.  It includes nearly 500,000 articles from more than 200 journals. This represents 6% of the content on JSTOR.

While JSTOR currently provides access to scholarly content to people through a growing network of more than 7,000 institutions in 153 countries, we also know there are independent scholars and other people that we are still not reaching in this way.  Making the Early Journal Content freely available is a first step in a larger effort to provide more access options to the content on JSTOR for these individuals.  

The Early Journal Content will be released on a rolling basis beginning today.

Emphasis mine.  At the Oxford Patristics Conference, indeed, there was considerable unhappiness by those independent scholars I met about the lack of access to resources like JSTOR. 

The FAQ’s give some more details.  The following questions explain what is happening, I think:

Why did you decide to make this content freely available?
Our mission involves expanding access to scholarly content as broadly as possible, in ways that are sustainable and consistent with the interests of our publishers who own the rights to the content.  We believe that making Early Journal Content freely available is another step in this process of providing access to knowledge to more people; that we are in a position both to continue preserving this content and making it available to the general public; and this is a set of content for which we are able to make this decision.

Did you do this in reaction to the Swartz and Maxwell situations?

Making the Early Journal Content freely available is something we have planned to do for some time.  It is not a direct reaction to the Swartz and Maxwell situation, but recent events did have an impact on our planning.  We considered carefully whether to accelerate or delay going ahead with our plans, largely out of concern that people might draw incorrect conclusions about our motivations. We also have taken into account that many people care deeply about these issues.  In the end, we decided to press ahead with our plans to make the Early Journal Content available, which we believe is in the best interest of the individuals we are trying to serve and our library and publisher partners.

Yes, well, perhaps.

For those who don’t recall, Gregory Maxwell uploaded 32Gb of JSTOR scientific articles, all published before 1923, to BitTorrent.  He did so as a protest against the obstruction of access to what were public domain materials, in reaction to the arrest of Aaron Swartz in July 2011 for downloading 5 million articles from JSTOR.  Maxwell’s action made JSTOR’s position impossible.

I suspect that JSTOR was blamed for actions forced on it by the publishing industry, who ‘own’ the copyrights to this material, under the over-extensive copyright laws created by … the publishing industry.  And I suspect JSTOR and the publishers had a rather frank discussion.

Perhaps I am over-imaginative, but I suspect that Maxwell gave JSTOR precisely the ammunition it needed to reason with the industry sharks.  “Now look what you made happen!” JSTOR could say, “Now someone has called the bluff.  Are you going to sue him, then?  For uploading out-of-copyright stuff?  For making state-funded scholarship available?  With the world’s journalists watching, and hostile?  Do you want the whole copyright law reviewed, with you plainly morally in the wrong, and perhaps legally in the wrong too?”  I imagine that, faced with that reality, the publishers decided to play safe.

Reading the FAQ, it looks as if even then the European publishers — vermin in human form, many of them — tried to block it, confident of their total control of EU access.  Why else would we get the nonsense of journals only before 1870?  As ever, the non-US reader loses out.

But it is to be welcomed.  JSTOR should indeed be addressing the problem of access by independent scholars.  There is, in truth, still no means for us to access JSTOR.  That is morally wrong.  But this announcement is a small step in the right direction.

Thank you, JSTOR. 

11 thoughts on “JSTOR start to make content available to independent scholars

  1. These are things that any library could have chosen to make available for free, since JSTOR no longer has a copyright on them. They’ve essentially done nothing at all.

  2. @Berenike: me too. What else can we do? (except keep paying the taxes that fund the whole show, while we aren’t allowed to use the result).

    @Ryan: I agree to a large extent. But I suspect that this is all about politics, and politics with the publishing industry. JSTOR has acknowledged that the rest of us exist, for the first time, and included us in its mission statement. That is progress of a sort. But of course we need far more than this.

  3. I am an independent scholar, and published author in my field but am now retired and not currently on the staff of a university or taking a university course. As a result I have no online access to JSTOR except to pay for individual articles. I went to JSTOR this morning and while some articles are now available, the majority in my search were flagged up with a citation star. This means I still cannot access them unless I am a member of an institution affiliated to JSTOR. I still don’t understand why it is not possible to take out an individual subscription to JSTOR.

  4. It is very curious that individuals cannot pay for a subscription. But when you see what journal publishers demand for a single article, perhaps we should be grateful. The charge to do so would not be anything reasonable, but would be as high as greed and folly could make it, and unfettered by any consideration of whether such a charge would ever be paid. At least, that is the policy followed by the journals, and they would have the say on this.

    Of course the other consideration is that you and I have already paid for access; and paid again for access to be made available to universities; and paid again for the staff who edit the journals; all of this via our taxes. It would indeed be quite an insult to demand we pay yet again.

  5. Many of the post-1923 US items and many of the post-1870 non-US items are also public domain, although in each individual case it involves a bit of research to figure out whether copyright has expired. Those that interest me keep on going up on my own site, and thus become freely and publicly available: both from sources like JSTOR and from printed works.

  6. You’re quite right; there is a vast tranche of post-1923 and 1870 material that is out of copyright. Indeed I was reading a John Buchan novel today, and realised that he died in 1940, and so all his work is public domain, even in the most restrictive states.

  7. Hi Rodger.

    Not a member of university.

    I am a little unclear. Is it possible for ( anyone ) to download these articles or is only for members of a particular university?

    And if not – how do I go about downloading?

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