Nettime colleagues: I was forwarded Timothy Burke's provocative piece through the Progressive Librarians Guild (I've been a member for over ten years). I'm replying with an adaptation of something I wrote following another essay examining Aaron Swartz's death. While Mr. Swartz's death was tragic, his persecution by the US Attorney General's office heavyhanded, and many of the information liberation positions he espoused noble, I was struck by the criticism in Burke's essay leveled at JSTOR.
JSTOR has become a veritable punching bag of the "Free Culture Movement." Noted professor Larry Lessig takes a whack at them in his video lecture appropriately titled "What's wrong with JSTOR": <http://www.uomatters.com/2011/07/larry-lessig-on-whats-wrong-with-jst or.html> In it, he bushwhacks a scholar for explaining her empty office bookshelves by saying that "Everything I needed is on the Internet now." Lessig's meanspirited point was that from the academic's perspective - namely working at an institution with well-endowed electronic journal site licenses - she was both privileged and correct. Alas, for the rest of us poor slobs in the real world her statement isn't true. Evil content aggregators like JSTOR have gobbled up all the good stuff. But wait - Lessig's argument only works within the narrow definition of online access. I'm certainly no fan of JSTOR. I, like all of you, have stumbled across tasty citations to works on Google, only to be zapped with the unwelcome news that I'd have to pay to see it. But JSTOR does provide a service. Their arrangements are not exclusive. You want to go to your local university library and scan an article from 1975? Go ahead, the free JSTOR citation tells you exactly what to look for. Sure, the original research may well have been paid for by public funds, but that does not mean that somehow it should magically appear for free on the Web. There are real costs to doing this work, and unless The State is willing to do it (and I would argue they should), corporations will step in. Public domain does not mean free access, just the potential for it. I'm sure there are other aspects of JSTOR that are problematic (apparently their executives each made over $250,000 in 2009, but I'm not paying their salary). I am hopeful that examinations of the circumstances surrounding the Swartz tragedy can lead to discussing and developing a clearer analysis of the real problems facing our field. For example, I see the insidious expansion of photo aggregators like Corbis and Getty One being much more dangerous than JSTOR. Those folks are truly buying up our culture, and it scares me. Burke raises the complicity of academe in the privatization of knowledge. I ask - what have any of us actually done to make information available to the public? Much of my own work as an activist archivist involves digitization of analog content and sharing it with the world. I shoot posters, which is not easy, and I've built and paid for a custom studio for doing that. I've helped mount thousands of social justice poster images on the Web. But I don't post high-resolution images. I, and the institutions I work with, feel that those images deserve some protection from corporate appropriation without compensation. Thanks you, Creative Commons. By withholding free access to the ultimate goody, the 60 megabyte image file, am I a traitor to the "Free Culture Movement"? I certainly hope not. Yours for democratic knowledge, Lincoln Cushing www.docspopuii.org Documents for the Public # distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission # <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism, # collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets # more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l # archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nett...@kein.org