Today is a big day for the Internet. Nearly everyone reading this site will be aware of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), two appallingly ill-conceived pieces of legislation under consideration in the US but with profound ramifications for the whole world. Written at the behest of big copyright holders by people with no understanding of how the Internet works either mechanically or culturally, they would be absolutely disastrous if passed.
In response to this, many high-profile web-sites are demonstrating the results such laws would have by going dark for the day. They include Reddit and, most importantly, Wikipedia. (Also, the entire Cheezburger network and many, many others.) We can only hope that this distributed demonstration results not just in SOPA and PIPA being rejected, but in an emphatic smackdown that makes it impossible for similarly dumb legislation to get mind-space in the future.
But there is another threat also making its way through the US Congress — less publicised but also hugely important.
That threat is the Research Works Act (RWA), by which scholarly publishers like Elsevier (with its 36% profits as a proportion of revenue) hope to claw back total ownership of federally funded research. The way academic research works is an absolute scandal to start with, but the behaviour of publishers now — charging both authors and readers, and trying to get laws passed supporting their outdated and corrupt business model — is absolutely disgraceful.
A couple of days ago I had an article about this published in the Guardian, one of the the UK’s more respected newspapers. I was pleased to see that yesterday it was the most viewed article in their science section, and today it’s still hanging around in second. I recommend that you read it: if it doesn’t make your blood boil, something is wrong with your metabolism. The title should give you some idea: Academic publishers have become the enemies of science.
Please: any of you who are in California or New York — the states that the RWA’s co-sponsors Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) supposedly represent — write to your representatives. There is no justification for legislation that siphons federal funds away from scientific research into the pockets of Dutch shareholders.
… and finally
I forgot to mention that I was back at the Forest Folk Club last Sunday evening, where I sung two more songs before the main set: While My Guitar Gently Weeps (including the “lost” third verse!) and The Girl From Ipanema. To anyone who thinks I’ve now lost all grasp on what “folk music” means, I can only recommend that you watch this Arlo Guthrie video, which NickS pointed me to. I found it rather moving.