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12 March 2013

With Cultural Anthropology going open access as per news yesterday, the world is one step closer to democratizing knowledge.

That sentence was so loaded that I might skip breakfast.

Let’s not get into the murky, unintelligible crap that defines knowledge, or what we use to measure democratization or open access. Suffice it to say that we’re only making this stuff more accessible to our parents and friends from high school; the poor will benefit from these changes as soon as hell freezes over. Which is why I’m more interested in the principle of Wikipedia Zero because, as hipster as it may be to support the niche movement nobody has heard of, I’m much more interested in people in the third world having access to global discourse than the rarefied air of academia. Wikipedia comes closer than academic articles in the effort to bring actionable, tangible knowledge to the masses.

That being said, I had an idea that might be kinda cool to try out that might help (or destroy) the open access initiative.

There are terms that you agree to when you use a computer program. They might be called Terms of Service, or an End User License Agreement, or some such legalese. The point is, you agree that you’re not going to do anything to violate copyright or other law, like (facetiously I hope) produce nuclear weapons with the software (see the end of section g).

In the Free & Open Source Software community, there are terms which dictate how you can use code. That’s intellectual property, isn’t it? In the same way that academic knowledge is kind of like intellectual property, even. So why not publish academic articles with a requirement that any future research conducted on the basis (in whole or in part) of your article must be open access.

I’m not so concerned about enforcement because, honestly, there’s no real enforcement except by overzealous district attorneys. There would be more of a social understanding among academicians that you can’t cite a source which explicitly dictates that future academic progress on the work must be consistent with its open access terms, and no one would dare omit a citation and risk being accused of a more serious infringement (plagiarism or misuse).

I wonder if there’s some legal hurdle that rules this out. I’m assuming there must be, but I’m not sure how it would interact with laws that provide for patents and other publicly accessible knowledge that have terms of use with that knowledge.

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