We entered January with a bad taste still in our mouth: the previous month, the academic publisher Reed Elsevier sent thousands of copyright takedown notices to researchers, universities, and scholarly startups that were all hosting the researchers' own works. In doing so, the lumbering giant alienated a significant swath of its readership—who also happen to be its content providers.
In the middle of the year, we heard about Colombian master's student Diego Gomez, who had uploaded a relevant paper to share with his fellow amphibian researchers. Before long, he was facing up to eight years in prison—simply for sharing an academic article. Colombia doesn't have a flexible fair use exception in its copyright law, which can be especially strict in case's like Diego's, where the paper he's accused of sharing hadn't previously been published openly online. The next stage of his trial is forthcoming.
The lesson of these two developments is clear: that the open access movement cannot divorce itself from broader copyright reform. The current system allows for restrictions and paywalls that prevent the majority of the world from accessing humanity's collective knowledge—an issue that galvanized our late friend Aaron Swartz, as shown in this year's excellent documentary The Internet's Own Boy.
On the legislative front, the House introduced a large science funding bill known as FIRST: the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act. A provision in this bill was, as introduced, awful for public access. When it came to research funded by bodies like NASA, NSF, and NIST, the bill allowed for embargo periods of up to three years—something unheard of in the world of open access. Luckily, Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and (Pioneer Award-winner) Zoe Lofgren stepped in and properly amended the bill to make the embargo last only one year. (Unfortunately, but perhaps expectedly, the bill stalled.)
In California, public access bill AB 609 went through some serious changes, making it very different from the legislation that flew through the Assembly last year. Legislation that initially made all state-funded research openly available after a year ended up applying only to research funded by the State Department of Public Health. This bill was ultimately signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, making California the first state to pass open access legislation. But AB 609 wasn't quite the progress we were looking for: a vast majority of Public Health's funding comes the Centers for Disease Control, which are already on their way to implementing their own open access policy.
While we were disappointed AB 609 wasn't stronger, we still have lots to look forward to. Agencies have been formulating open access policies in response to the White House's public access memorandum from 2013, which we urged the administration to fully implement. And our favorite open access bill, FASTR, is building support in the next Congress.
The open access movement is seeing steady successes, and that only encourages us to keep pushing for strong policies next year. After all, in the words of Diego Gomez, "access to knowledge is a global right."
This article is part of our Year In Review series; read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2014. Like what you're reading? EFF is a member-supported nonprofit, powered by donations from individuals around the world. Join us today and defend free speech, privacy, and innovation.