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Tell the IRS that mountains of DVDs are a stupid way to distribute public records

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez, "I just finished ripping 30 DVDs from the IRS. This is the monthly feed of nonprofit tax returns. I now have 7,442,564 of these returns spinning on the net. I've had it. This year, the IRS upped the cost of this feed to $2910. I've already spent $16,137 on this brain dead format. For 2 years, I've been writing to the IRS to suggest better ways. Dropbox anybody? An FTP server?"

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Tim Wu on the Aaron Swartz documentary

In the New Yorker, Tim Wu reviews The Internet's Own Boy, a documentary about the life and death of Aaron Swartz. Wu, the scholar and lawyer who coined the term "Net Neutrality," does a good job of framing Aaron's life in the context of his activism. The film has just premiered to good reviews at Sundance.

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Elsevier censors self-publication by papers' co-authors


Joly writes, "Sauropod specialist Mike Taylor notes growing concern among scientists about the heavy-handed takedown practices of academic publishing company Elsevier, including serving DMCA notices on contributing authors who also self-publish their papers. (Thanks, Joly!)

NASA publishes first Curiosity research papers behind a paywall; Michael Eisen sets them free

Want to read the first research published from NASA's Mars Curiosity expedition? That'll be $20, per paper, for a one-day pass. Or, at least, that's how much it would cost you to read those reports through Science, the journal that published them. Last Thursday, Michael Eisen, a biologist who founded the open-access journal Public Library of Science, put up a blog post in which he released free pdfs for all five of NASA's Curiosity papers. Meanwhile, Mother Jones has a profile on Eisen, which goes more in-depth into his campaign to make taxpayer-funded research more easily available to the taxpayers, themselves. Maggie 4

First 100 pages of Aaron Swartz's Secret Service files


After a long wrangle, and no thanks to MIT, the Secret Service has begun to honor the court order that requires it to release Aaron Swartz's files. The first 100 pages -- albeit heavily redacted -- were just released. Kevin Poulsen, the Wired reporter who filed the Freedom of Information Act request that liberated the files, has posted some preliminary analysis of them. The Feds were particularly interested in the "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto," a document Aaron helped to write in 2008. The manifesto -- and subsequent statements by Aaron -- make the case that access to scientific and scholarly knowledge is a human right. The full Aaron Swartz files run 14,500 pages, according to the Secret Service's own estimate.

I was interested to note that much of the analysis of Swartz's materials was undertaken by SAIC, the mystery-shrouded, massive private military/government contractor that is often described as the largest privately held company in the world.

Update: Jake Appelbaum corrects me: "I've been reading what is released of one of the files for Aaron. I think that SAIC in these documents means 'Special Agent In Charge' and isn't actually the motherfuckers at SAIC. Reading this report makes my fucking blood boil, (b)(6), (b)(7)(c)"

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Editorial board of Journal of Library Administration resigns en masse in honor of Aaron Swartz

The entire editorial board of the Journal of Library Administration resigned en masse. Board member Chris Bourg wrote publicly about the decision, and an open letter elaborates on it, stating that their difference of opinion with publisher Taylor & Francis Group about open access, galvanized by Aaron Swartz's suicide, moved them to quit.

“The Board believes that the licensing terms in the Taylor & Francis author agreement are too restrictive and out-of-step with the expectations of authors in the LIS community.”

“A large and growing number of current and potential authors to JLA have pushed back on the licensing terms included in the Taylor & Francis author agreement. Several authors have refused to publish with the journal under the current licensing terms.”

“Authors find the author agreement unclear and too restrictive and have repeatedly requested some form of Creative Commons license in its place.”

“After much discussion, the only alternative presented by Taylor & Francis tied a less restrictive license to a $2995 per article fee to be paid by the author. As you know, this is not a viable licensing option for authors from the LIS community who are generally not conducting research under large grants.”

Pretty amazing that Taylor & Francis thought that they could convince authors -- who weren't paid in the first place -- to cough up $3000 for the right to use their own work in other contexts. Talk about being out of step with business realities of publishing!

White House promises open access to all federally funded research

Jim Dezazzo sez, John Holdren, Obama's science advisor, issued a directive on Friday to all research funding agencies to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months of publication. It also requires that scientists receiving taxpayer dollars to improve upon the management and sharing of scientific data. This is huge! By my rough calculation, that means that approximately 20 US agencies will now make the science they fund available to the public. This is all in response to a We The People petition I signed over the summer (along with 65k other people)." Cory

PACER capers: the sordid story of America's for-pay lawbooks

Timothy B Lee has a gripping and thorough account of the work to tear down the PACER paywall, which requires that Americans pay $0.10 per page to access court files, which are necessary to understanding and interpreting the law. Aaron Swartz was investigated by the FBI for his part in extracting millions of these public domain documents from behind their paywall and making them public, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The whole story includes some pretty shocking truth about the privacy trainwreck within PACER, which has not fulfilled its duty to redact personal information from public files; and PACER's illegal profit-making rate-hikes that go far beyond recouping the cost of running the service.

Swartz started his downloading in early September. On September 29, court administrators noticed the Sacramento library racked up a $1.5 million bill. The feds shut down the library's account.

"Apparently PACER access at the main library I was crawling from has been shut down, presumably because of the crawl," Swartz told Schultze and Malamud in an e-mail that day.

The courts issued a vague statement about suspending the program "pending an evaluation." A few weeks later, a court official revealed law enforcement had been called to investigate the suspected security breach. Malamud told us that after Swartz fessed up, Malamud grilled him to understand whether any laws had been broken. Malamud believes the fact that neither PACER nor the library had terms of service prohibiting offsite downloading made it likely Swartz's actions were within the law.

Malamud thought they would be in an even stronger position if they could demonstrate the value of the data Swartz extracted, so he began an intensive privacy audit. For most of October, Malamud worked around the clock searching for documents containing Social Security numbers and other sensitive information. Out of the 2.7 million documents Swartz downloaded—about 700GB of data in all—Malamud discovered about 1,600 with privacy issues. He then sent a report to court administrators disclosing the poorly redacted documents he had found and encouraging the courts to examine the rest of the documents in PACER to ferret out similar privacy problems.

The inside story of Aaron Swartz’s campaign to liberate court filings [Timothy B. Lee/Ars Technica]

Why can't Americans look up their own case-law for free?

Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation sez:

Here's a recent talk given by Princeton's Steve Schultze where he argued for the right of all Americans to access federal court records online at no charge. He made these remarks not only because it is fundamental to a democracy that the people know what their government is doing, but because his friend Aaron Swartz was improperly persecuted by the government for his efforts to ensure that all Americans can exercise this right.

As Steve explains, all federal court records are available online -- behind a paywall, on court-run PACER -- that unlawfully overcharges the public for access and subverts the reason and rationale for its existence. Court records should be free for the public to access. He is looking for Congress to act by considering this legislation, which provides for free and open access to court records. He is looking for bill sponsors, and asks that you call your elected representatives.

Steve gave this talk as part of a series of 3-minute lightning talks on transparency hosted on Capitol Hill on Monday by the Advisory Committee on Transparency, a project of the Sunlight Foundation that brings together organizations from across the political spectrum that believe in a more open government. If you like this video, please share it. Call your member of Congress. And visit openpacer.org.

Open Public Access to Court Records, For Aaron #FreePACER #OpenPacer (Thanks, Nicko!)

Time's running out for comments on UK Parliamentary consultation on open science publishing

David sez, "Last September, the UK parliament earmarked £10 Million pounds from the science budget to support open access scientific publishing. Earlier this week, the UK parliament announced that they are seeking feedback on this policy, including 'how the Government should address the concerns raised by the scientific and publishing communities about the policy'. The deadline is this weekend (Jan 18) so it seems important to get the word out. (Formatting specifications for comments)"

Lords science committee launch open access inquiry with evidence session with Dame Janet Finch

Canadians: write to Parliament about keeping generic pharma available to poor countries

Dave Ng writes, "Tomorrow, the Government of Canada will go through the second reading of Bill C-398. This is essentially important discussion over the fate of a law that would allow a measured approached for the production of life saving generic medicines within Canada. These generics are life saving in the sense that with this law in place, meds that are needed but currently far too costly in developing world economies (due to patent protection) can reach those who dignity, and frankly their lives, are at stake. I've written about this before, but have updated this piece to reflect the current policy situation. I strongly feel all Canadians should read about this Bill. My post starts:

Dear Canadians:

On Wednesday, a very important piece of policy will be discussed in parliament. It's called Bill C-398 and it deserves our attention. It seems that it has been challenging for some to see its merits, and so, I'd like to take moment to clarify what it's all about. It turns out that it's not just important -- the narrative is compelling as well: it has a rich history of political intrigue; it is a story where viruses factor in prominently; it has a plot that involves armies of angry grandmothers; and above it all, learning about Bill C-398 can literally save lives.

If you agree with the sentiment of the piece, he strongly urges you to sign this quick petition, which in turn is sent to the folks in Parliament who need to hear your voice.

A moment of your time: about Bill C-398 and how Canadians can contribute to global health (Thanks, Dave!)

Petition to "require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research."

Here's a worthy petition on the WhiteHouse.Gov site:

Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.

We believe in the power of the Internet to foster innovation, research, and education. Requiring the published results of taxpayer-funded research to be posted on the Internet in human and machine readable form would provide access to patients and caregivers, students and their teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other taxpayers who paid for the research. Expanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our investment in scientific research.

The highly successful Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health proves that this can be done without disrupting the research process, and we urge President Obama to act now to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.

Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.

Associate editor of Elsevier's Genomics resigns, vows to devote energies to open access

Winston Hide, is an associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology at the Harvard School of Public Health. He was also -- until recently -- the associate editor of the prestigious (and expensive!) Elsevier journal Genomics. In a column in The Guardian, he explains why he resigned from Genomics: people are dying because scientists in poor companies can't afford proprietary journals. He will devote his efforts to open access alternatives to Genomics from now on.

My work on biomedical research in developing countries has shown me that lack of access to current publications has a severe impact.

The vast majority of biomedical scientists in Africa attempt to perform globally competitive research without up-to-date access to the wealth of biomedical literature taken for granted at western institutions. In Africa, your university may have subscriptions to only a handful of scientific journals.

In reality, the modus operandi is "please can you send me a pdf". Alternatively some researchers spend part of their research grant to buy a subscription to the journal they need.

The majority of the science in Elsevier's journals is conducted at public expense, or with a large public subsidy. The peer reviewing process is also undertaken by publicly subsidized scientists whom Elsevier does not pay. The institutions that these scientists work for have to pay very large amounts of money in order to receive the journals their work contributes to.

I can no longer work for a system that puts profit over access to research (via Copyfight)

Massive public domain catalog dump from Harvard

David Weinberger writes, "Harvard University has today put into the public domain (CC0) full bibliographic information about virtually all the 12M works in its 73 libraries. This is (I believe) the largest and most comprehensive such contribution. The metadata, in the standard MARC21 format, is available for bulk download from Harvard. The University also provided the data to the Digital Public Library of America’s prototype platform for programmatic access via an API. The aim is to make rich data about this cultural heritage openly available to the Web ecosystem so that developers can innovate, and so that other sites can draw upon it. This is part of Harvard’s new Open Metadata policy which is VERY COOL." Cory

Harvard Library to faculty: we're going broke unless you go open access

Henry sez, "Harvard Library's Faculty Advisory Council is telling faculty that it's financially 'untenable' for the university to keep on paying extortionate access fees for academic journals. It's suggesting that faculty make their research publicly available, switch to publishing in open access journals and consider resigning from the boards of journals that don't allow open access."

Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles.

The Library has never received anything close to full reimbursement for these expenditures from overhead collected by the University on grant and research funds.

The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership, reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.

Faculty Advisory Council Memorandum on Journal Pricing (Thanks, Henry!)

(Image: HBS Library, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from wagnertc's photostream)