guerrilla open access in Kelty, Bodo & Allen 2018
00s, it served as an inspiration
for global free culture and open access movements who were speculating that
distributed infrastructures of knowledge production could be built, as the Internet
was, on top of free software.
For a moment, the hybrid world of ad-financed Internet giants—sharing code,
advocating open standards and interoperability—and users empowered by these
services, convinced almost everyone that a new reading/writing culture was
possible. Not long after the crash of 2008, these disruptors, now wary monopolists,
began to ingest smaller disruptors and close off their platforms. There was still
free software somewhere underneath, but without the ‘original sense of shared,
collective, process’. So, as Kelty suggests, it was hard to imagine that for-profit
academic publishers wouldn't try the same with open access.
Heeding Aaron Swartz’s call to civil disobedience, Guerrilla Open Access has
emerged out of the outrage over digitally-enabled enclosure of knowledge that
has allowed these for-profit academic publishers to appropriate extreme profits
that stand in stark contrast to the cuts, precarity, student debt and asymmetries
of access in education. Shadow libraries stood in for the access denied to public
libraries, drastically reducing global asymmetries in the process.
This radicalization of access has changed how publications
travel across time and space. Digital archiving, cataloging and
sharing is transforming what we once considered as private
libraries. Amateur librarianship is becoming public shadow
librarianship. Hybrid use, as poetically unpacked in Balazs
Bodo's reflection on his own personal library, is now entangling
print and digital in novel ways. And, as he warns, the terrain
of antagonism is shifting. While for-profit publishers are
seemingly conceding to Guerrilla Open Access, they are
opening new territories: platforms centralizing data, metrics
and workflows, subsuming academic autonomy into new
processes of value extraction.
The 2010s brought us hope and then realization how little
digital networks could help revolutionary movements. The
redistribution toward the wealthy, assisted by digitization, has
eroded institutions of solidarity. The embrace of privilege—
marked by misogyny, racism and xenophobia—this has catalyzed
is nowhere more evident than in the climate denialism of the
Trump administration. Guerrilla archiving of US government
climate change datasets, as recounted by Laurie Allen,
indicates that more technological innovation simply won't do
away with the 'post-truth' and that our institutions might be in
need of revision, replacement and repair.
As the contributions to this pamphlet indicate, the terms
of struggle have shifted: not only do
guerrilla open access in Mars & Medak 2019
the charges, the federal
prosecution decided nonetheless to indict Swartz on thirteen
criminal counts, potentially leading to fifty years in prison and a
US$1 million fine. Under growing pressure by the prosecution
Swartz committed suicide on January 11, 2013.
Given his draconian treatment at the hands of the prosecution
and the absence of institutions of science and culture that would
stand up and justify his act on political grounds, much of Swartz’s
defense focused on trying to exculpate his acts, to make them less
infringing or less illegal than the charges brought against him had
claimed, a rational course of action in irrational circumstances.
However, this was unfortunately becoming an uphill battle as the
prosecution’s attention was accidentally drawn to a statement
written by Swartz in 2008 wherein he laid bare the dysfunctionality
of the academic publishing system. In his Guerrilla Open Access
Manifesto, he wrote: “The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly
being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. . . . Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their
colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at
Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite
universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global
South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.” After a no-nonsense
diagnosis followed an even more clear call to action: “We need
to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing
networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access” (Swartz 2008).
Where a system has failed to change unjust laws, Swartz felt, the
responsibility was on those who had access to make injustice a
thing of the past.
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