Who may swim in the ocean of knowledge?

I've written an op-ed on The Wire, a prominent nonprofit publication in India about access to knowledge. Access to scientific knowledge has been colonized by a few publishers who have improperly laid claim to the ocean of knowledge. This situation is morally untenable and contrary to law. It must change because education is a fundamental right.

The parallels between companies such as Reed Elsevier and the exploiters of old such as the East India Company are remarkable. Scientists are the new indigo farmers. Journals are the railroads built, not to benefit the population of scholars, but to ship raw materials back to England and high-priced goods back to the universities. Paywalls and DRM are the new salt taxes.

The decolonization of knowledge is a great opportunity for our times and I believe India is poised to lead that revolution.

In India, the principle that copyright does not apply for materials used in the course of instruction was recently affirmed by the Delhi high court in the Delhi University copy shop case. The Rameshwari Photocopy Shop is located on the premises of Delhi University, and was selling students course packs with copies of journal articles. At the behest of three large publishers, the shop was raided by armed police and charged with high crimes for violating copyright. After an intervention by an association of students and an association of academics pointed to the “for the purposes of instruction” exception to the copyright, the court said no wrongs had been committed. The right to education triumphed over the baseless claims of the publishers.

Despite this principle of law, students in India are being forced to go to Sci-Hub in Russia to find the materials they need to educate themselves, and forcing them to do so is a wrong being committed against the students. Students should be able to access these materials with the full blessing and support of their institutions and professors instead of being forced to fend for themselves in the wilds of the Internet. I believe this situation should be changed.

Who May Swim in the Ocean of Knowledge? [Carl Malamud/The Wire]