Disappointing: Elsevier Buys Open Access Academic Pre-Publisher SSRN
from the this-is-bad-news dept
The vast, vast majority of time when we point to new academic research, we end up linking to the research hosted on SSRN, which stands for the Social Science Research Network. SSRN has been around for a long, long time, and it’s basically the go-to place to post research in the legal and economics worlds — the two research areas we most frequently write about. At this moment, I have about 10 SSRN tabs open on interesting papers that I hope to write about at some point. Technically SSRN is what’s known as a “preprint server,” where academics can share papers before peer review is completed and the final papers end up in a locked up, paywalled journal. The kind of paywall run by a giant company like Elsevier.
So it’s been quite distressing to many this morning to find out that Elsevier has now purchased SSRN. Everyone involved, of course, insists that “nothing will change” and that Elsevier will leave SSRN working as before, but perhaps with some more resources behind it (and, sure, SSRN could use some updates and upgrades). But Elsevier has such a long history of incredibly bad behavior that it’s right to be concerned. Elsevier is not just a copyright maximalist (just last week at a hearing I attended involving the Copyright Office, Elsevier advocated for much more powerful takedown powers in copyright). It’s not just suing those who make it easier to access academic info. It’s not just charging insane amounts for journals. It also has a history of creating fake peer reviewed journals to help pharmaceutical companies make their drugs look better.
So, quite obviously, there is reason to be concerned that Elsevier may make some “changes” to SSRN that make it a lot less valuable for the sharing of academic research and papers in the near future.
Some are already suggesting it’s time to build a new service (either as a nonprofit or a trust) to take over what SSRN was doing in the past. Or, alternatively, there’s talk of getting other preprint servers, like the famed arXiv to start handling social sciences research as well. Another alternative might be just to see if the Internet Archive is willing to take on this kind of project itself.
Once again, though, it shows just how messed up copyright has become. Copyright is not the reason any of these papers gets written, and now copyright is seen as a weapon against the sharing of knowledge. When copyright was first put in place in the US, we were told it was to encourage the sharing of such educational resources. That may have been a lie at the time (it was designed as a tool for publishers), but if we’re going to have a copyright system that claims to be about promoting science, at the very least, we should be able to live in a world where it really is easy to share academic research without fear that a copyright claim is going to destroy everything.