UPDATE 06/30/2015: The hearing has been postponed and will proceed in October. Thanks to everyone who helped us raise awareness today.
"Access to knowledge is a global right."
These are the words of student Diego Gomez, who begins his trial in Colombia today, and faces eight years in prison for posting a scientific paper online to share with his colleagues. Diego's plight highlights three important issues:
(1) stringent copyright regimes around the world are being abused to stifle access to knowledge;
(2) those regimes are in part a result of U.S. efforts to use trade deals to spread bad innovation policy; and
(3) open access is a policy that's critical to education, innovation, and global progress.
We need you to stand by Diego. Help us inform the world about the injustices that turned this student into a criminal, and show your support for advancing open access policies worldwide.
Copyright Creates Barriers to Knowledge
Extreme criminal copyright rules chill users' rights, especially when it comes to access to culture and knowledge. When users face the threat of being jailed or hit with debilitating fines over allegations of copyright infringement, everyday activities like sharing academic resources can be intimidating. It doesn't help that Colombia, like most of the world, lacks robust fair use protections.
Most countries only have a weak or outdated list of exceptions and limitations to copyright, which is far less permissive than the United States' fair use system. Colombia's list of exceptions was issued more than 20 years ago and barely apply to the digital age, raising the question of whether any even applies to Diego's case. Copyright law needs to be designed in a way that encourages the spread and access to knowledge and culture, and it must be reformed in every country where it fails to do so.
The U.S. Needs to Stop Spreading Bad Policy Around the World
We need to question why Colombia has such severe copyright laws in the first place. It directly results from the country's trade agreement with the United States. Colombia reformed its criminal laws in 2006 and expanded criminal penalties for copyright infringement in order to fulfill the trade deal's restrictive copyright standards. While the country already had criminalized copyright infringement, the trade agreement compelled lawmakers to heighten possible prison sentences and monetary fines.
Open Access Is Within Our Reach
Open access to research—especially research funded by taxpayers through government agencies—may in fact be a reality very soon. We've seen immense efforts by research and funding bodies around the world.
In the United States, the White House issued a memorandum mandating federal agencies to create public access policies, many of which have been released over the last several months. Some mirror the NIH's policy of mandating research be openly available within 12 months of publication and will build upon the robust PubMed Central repository. While these steps are promising, an administrative mandate is not law. We've supported FASTR, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research bill, which would set the administration's memorandum into law. The Senate version of this bill is being heard in the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee at the end of July.
If you're in the U.S., take action today and tell your senator to support FASTR.
If you're outside the U.S., sign our petition in support of open access and contact your representatives to make this initiative a priority.