Glyn Moody’s Techdirt Profile

glynmoody

About Glyn MoodyTechdirt Insider




Posted on Techdirt - 28 April 2017 @ 9:35am

Want To Promote Breastfeeding? That's A Trade Barrier, Says US Trade Rep

from the milk-of-human-kindness dept

As most people know, babies who are breastfed from birth enjoy a wide range of benefits. Here's what the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), a global organization with nearly $5 billion of funding, has to say on the topic of breastfeeding:

It has profound impact on a child's survival, health, nutrition and development. Breast milk provides all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals an infant needs for growth for the first six months, and no other liquids or food are needed. In addition, breast milk carries antibodies from the mother that help combat disease.

Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of chronic conditions later in life, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, childhood asthma and childhood leukaemias. Studies have shown that breastfed infants do better on intelligence and behaviour tests into adulthood than formula-fed babies.

Formula milk, by contrast, can actively harm babies:

Formula is not an acceptable substitute for breastmilk because formula, at its best, only replaces most of the nutritional components of breast milk: it is just a food, whereas breast milk is a complex living nutritional fluid containing anti-bodies, enzymes, long chain fatty acids and hormones, many of which simply cannot be included in formula. Furthermore, in the first few months, it is hard for the baby's gut to absorb anything other than breastmilk. Even one feeding of formula or other foods can cause injuries to the gut, taking weeks for the baby to recover.

The case for breastfeeding, and against formula milk, seems pretty clear. But a new publication from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the "2017 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers" (pdf), begs to differ. As a post on the Public Citizen site explains, the USTR calls out several countries for promoting breastfeeding over formula as a "technical barrier to trade" that might harm the profits of US industries. These are some of the polices that the USTR wants eliminated:

Hong Kong: The Report criticizes a Hong Kong draft code, designed to "protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children." USTR labels the policy as a technical barrier to trade due to its potential to reduce sales of "food products for infants and young children."

Indonesia: USTR labels a draft regulation in Indonesia that would prohibit the "advertising or promotion of milk products for children up to two years of age" as a technical barrier to trade.

Malaysia: USTR questions Malaysia's proposed revisions to "its existing Code of Ethics for the Marketing of Infant Foods and Related Products" that would restrict corporate marketing practices aimed at toddlers and young children.

Thailand: The report critiques Thailand for introducing a new regulation that would impose penalties on corporations that violate domestic laws restricting the "promotional, and marketing activities for modified milk for infants, follow-up formula for infants and young children, and supplemental foods for infants."

Although "technical barriers to trade" sound like a minor issue, they lie at the heart of modern trade deals. Traditional tariffs are now relatively low in many parts of the world, which means that the hard part of trade negotiations is often these "non-tariff barriers" (NTBs). Indeed, it was in large part a failure to agree on the removal of NTBs that caused the TAFTA/TTIP talks to grind to a halt, and then end up in limbo when the Trump administration took them over.

The USTR's attack on policies that promote breastfeeding over formula milk may seem extreme. But they are typical of the way the USTR views the world primarily through the optic of boosting the profits of US companies, with no thought to the harms this may inflict on people in other nations as a result. No wonder that trade deals are viewed so negatively in many parts of the world.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

36 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 27 April 2017 @ 9:24am

Australia's Copyright Agency Keeps $11 Million Meant For Authors, Uses It To Fight Introduction Of Fair Use

from the not-very-fair dept

Even though stories of copyright collecting societies failing to distribute the monies that they collect to artists abound -- we wrote about one just a few weeks ago -- this doesn't seem to discourage others from continuing to bend the rules somewhat. Here, for example, is a story from Australia, where there is a major battle to switch to a US-style fair use approach to copyright. Naturally, the affected industries there hate the idea of allowing the public a little more leeway in the use of copyright materials. So Australia's copyright collection agency decided to build up a war-chest to lobby against such changes. The Sydney Morning Herald explains where the money for that fighting fund is coming from:

Australia's government-mandated copyright collection agency has been diverting payments intended for journalists and authors to a [$11 million] "future fund" to fight changes to the law.

Specifically, the monies come from payments made by educational establishments in order to use orphan works. That's a major change of the agency's policy that was not disclosed to the Australian government's Productivity Commission that oversees this area:

[The Copyright Agency] has been criticised in a Productivity Commission review that is before the government over the transparency of its accounts and its practice of retaining, rather than returning, millions of dollars collected from schools and universities on behalf of the owners of "orphan works" who can't be traced.

An examination of accounts shows that in a change not disclosed to the commission or to its members in annual reports, since 2013 it has been channelling that income into a fund set up to campaign against changes to the copyright law.

Between 2013 and 2016 the fund amassed [$11 million].

In other words, schools and universities have effectively been paying to lobby against changes to Australian copyright laws that would be very much in the interest of themselves, the public, and writers, who could use copyright materials more freely under a fair use system. According to the Sydney Morning Herald article, the top three executives at Australia's Copyright Agency are all paid around $200,000 a year to come up with these kinds of ideas. It would be interesting to know whether Australian authors consider that $600,000 well spent.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

19 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 24 April 2017 @ 6:23pm

China's Public Prosecutors Complain About Leak Of Anti-Corruption TV Series They Bankrolled To Raise Awareness

from the in-the-name-of-the-people dept

As further evidence of how things are changing in China when it comes to attitudes to piracy, here's a news item from Caixin about the leak of the hottest TV series there at the moment:

A glossy Chinese television drama, inspired by the country's ongoing anti-graft campaign, has become the latest victim of rampant piracy, fueled by slack laws, weak enforcement and the absence of punitive fines.

A story about China's public prosecutors who dredge up a series of scandals as they investigate shady land deals, organized crime and [state-owned enterprise] reforms, In the Name of the People became an instant hit when it debuted on March 28 and has become one of the most-watched TV programs in Chinese history.

What makes an otherwise humdrum story about popular TV episodes turning up on video-sharing sites rather unusual is who is doing the complaining:

China's state prosecutors' office, which bankrolled the $12 million production, and other producers said they had reported the copyright infringement to police, and urged platforms including cloud services, e-commerce shops and video hosting sites to remove all unauthorized versions, in a joint statement last Thursday.

China's state prosecutors are not normally in the business of bankrolling TV productions. Presumably, they took that unusual step on this occasion because it was important to increase public support for Xi Jinping's long-running fight against corruption's "tigers" and "flies" using a medium that would reach a much wider audience than dull government speeches or press articles exhorting them to do the same.

One of the best ways to ensure the widest possible audience for that message would be to allow the TV series to appear on sites for people to download freely. So asking the companies running them to remove copies in order to "protect" the official broadcasts seems perverse. If anything, it shows that respect for copyright in China has now gone so far as to be harmful to more serious matters like tackling the country's corruption.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

9 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2017 @ 7:39pm

After Bill Gates Backs Open Access, Steve Ballmer Discovers The Joys Of Open Data

from the who's-up-for-some-open-source,now? dept

A few months ago, we noted that the Gates Foundation has emerged as one of the leaders in requiring the research that it funds to be released as open access and open data -- an interesting application of the money that Bill Gates made from closed-source software. Now it seems that his successor as Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, has had a similar epiphany about openness. Back in 2001, Ballmer famously called GNU/Linux "a cancer". Although he later softened his views on software somewhat, that was largely because he optimistically claimed that the threat to Microsoft from free software was "in the rearview mirror". Not really: today, the Linux-based Android has almost two orders of magnitude more market share than Windows Phone. However, there's one area of openness that Ballmer seems to have embraced whole-heartedly for his new project USAFacts, which launched this week -- open data:

USAFacts is a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government's finances, and government's impact on society. We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative and have no political agenda or commercial motive. We provide this information as a free public service and are committed to maintaining and expanding it in the future.

We rely exclusively on publicly available government data sources. We don’t make judgments or prescribe specific policies. Whether government money is spent wisely or not, whether our quality of life is improving or getting worse -- that's for you to decide. We hope to spur serious, reasoned, and informed debate on the purpose and functions of government. Such debate is vital to our democracy. We hope that USAFacts will make a modest contribution toward building consensus and finding solutions.

In addition to allowing a wide range of public data sets to be queried using a site-specific search engine, USAFacts also offers synoptic views:

an annual report, a summary report, and a "10-K" modeled on the document public companies submit annually to the SEC for transparency and accountability to their investors.

In an age where "fake news," AKA lies, are common currency, and where the Trump administration is making government more, not less, opaque, Ballmer's philanthropic, fact-based endeavor is particularly welcome. It's also nice to see him following Gates and implicitly acknowledging that open is more powerful than closed.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

17 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 20 April 2017 @ 6:10pm

Corporate Sovereignty Used To Bully Ukraine, Colombia And Italy For Protecting Public Health And The Environment

from the profits-before-people dept

Corporate sovereignty provisions in investment treaties have become much better known than they were when Techdirt first wrote about them in 2012. Despite that growing awareness, and widespread outrage at the idea that corporations can request secret supra-national tribunals to make awards of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars paid from public funds, companies continue to use the system to bully governments into changing their policies. For example, here is the US pharmaceutical company Gilead successfully deploying corporate sovereignty against the Ukrainian government, as originally reported by Investment Arbitration Reporter:

The dispute with Gilead, which Ukraine's Ministry of Justice had characterized as an $800 million dispute, relates to the drug sofosbuvir (sold by Gilead as Sovaldi). Sovaldi, a highly effective treatment for chronic hepatitis C, has been available in Ukraine -- a country reportedly home to over 2 million people infected with hepatitis C -- since 2015, but the company has lately been locked in a struggle over the ability of generic companies to market cheaper versions of the drug in Ukraine.

According to details of the settlement released by Ukraine's Ministries of Justice and Health, the settlement sees Gilead refrain from pursuing its damages claims against the country, and will see the company offer Sovaldi (and a combination therapy called Harvoni) at a reduced price.

Also, following the settlement, a generic competitor of Gilead has seen its own competing drug de-registered by authorities.

By de-registering the generic competitor to Gilead, the Ukrainian government is allowing the US company's to maintain its monopoly on the drug. In Colombia, the Swiss drug company Novartis also used the threat of a corporate sovereignty lawsuit, in this case to put pressure on the government there to stop it from issuing a compulsory license for a key anti-cancer drug, which would allow low-cost generics to be produced:

Leaked letters (PDF) to the Ministry of Trade and Industry show how Novartis threatened to resort to international investment arbitration for an alleged violation of the Swiss-Colombian bilateral investment treaty (BIT), which was signed by both countries in 2006. This undemocratic procedural mechanism, better known as Investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS), forms part of many trade agreements and allows an investor from one country to bring a case directly against the country in which they have invested before a private international arbitration tribunal, without going through local courts first. This threat has undoubtedly influenced the decision of the Colombian health authorities to stop short of pursuing a compulsory license, focusing only on a price reduction.

It's not just drug companies that try to use ISDS litigation to force governments to reverse their policies. Here's an oil and gas exploration company that is unhappy with a decision by the Italian parliament to ban new exploration and production activity within 12 nautical miles of the coast because of concerns for the environment and the high risk of earthquakes:

Rockhopper Exploration is fighting for compensation from Italy after it banned offshore drilling, leaving the company unable to develop one of its oil and gas fields.

The Aim-listed explorer said that it had begun international arbitration against the country for "very significant monetary damages" over the loss of future profits from its Ombrina Mare field.

Since Rockhopper is an oil exploration company, it must have carried out detailed studies on the geology of the field before deciding to drill for oil and gas. Either its geologists were negligent in not spotting that there was a risk of earthquakes which made the area unsuitable for exploitation, or the company knew about the dangers, and decided to continue with its plans anyway. In any case, it's ridiculous that Rockhopper thinks the Italian government owes it money for "lost future profits" that clearly never existed anywhere other than in the company's fantasies.

This is a general problem with corporate sovereignty claims: they often invoke some mythical "future profits" as if those were indisputable and guaranteed. But business is based on rewarding calculated risk-taking, and that includes the risk that hoped-for profits never materialize. ISDS is an attempt to remove the risk of investment from companies, and place it squarely on the public's shoulders, without any quid pro quo.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

17 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 17 April 2017 @ 5:50pm

China's Precision Censorship Machine Allows Some Controversial Keywords, But Blocks Combinations Of Them

from the politically-problematic-images-also-a-no-no dept

China's censorship of the Internet is both impressively thorough, and yet surprisingly subtle at times. For example, we've already written about ways in which the boundary between censored and non-censored is often vague, which paradoxically encourages people to be even more cautious than they would be with well-defined limits. But hidden among all the uncertainty, are there perhaps some fixed rules about when posts will definitely get censored?

A team of researchers at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab decided to find out by investigating one of the topics considered most controversial by the Chinese authorities, the so-called "709 Crackdown." This refers to a major government clampdown that began on July 9 in 2015, when more than 250 Chinese rights lawyers, law firm staff, activists, and their relatives were detained by public security agents across China. Internet users are understandably keen to discuss this important event, and many of those conversations take place on the main blog site in China, Weibo, and using the messaging service WeChat, which is even more popular. But as the researchers discovered, those online conversations were subject to subtle but consistent interference:

as our experiments show, a good portion of that discussion fails to reach Chinese users of WeChat and Weibo. Our research shows that certain combinations of keywords, when sent together in a text message, are censored. When sent alone, they are not. So, for example, if one were to text Mainland China or Wang Quanzhang's Wife or Harassment on Relatives [all written in Chinese characters] individually, the messages would get through. Sent together, however, the message would be censored.

Moreover, for the first time the researchers discovered censorship not just of text, but of images too:

In addition to a large number of censored keyword combinations our tests unearthed, we also discovered 58 images related to the 709 Crackdown that were censored on WeChat Moments for accounts registered with a mainland China phone number. (For accounts registered with a non-mainland China phone number, on the other hand, the images and keyword combinations go through fine).

Neither of these observations is earth-shattering in itself, but they do add usefully to our knowledge of the intricate clockwork of China's mighty censorship machine.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

4 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 14 April 2017 @ 3:24am

Thai Government Forbids Any Online Contact With Three Overseas Critics Of The Monarchy

from the yeah,-that'll-work dept

As long-time Techdirt readers will know, Thailand does love it some lèse-majesté punishments. The country's lèse-majesté law -- literally "injured majesty" -- is used to protect Thailand's monarch from any kind of insult, however slight. It's been applied time and again over the years -- we first wrote about it back in 2007. In the past, the Thai government has done all the obvious things like demanding that local ISPs block sites, snooping on its citizens to find out who might be disrespecting the king, and threatening to throw even foreigners in prison for a very long time. But its latest move on the lèse-majesté front is rather a bold one: it has forbidden its citizens from having any online contact with three critics of the Thai monarchy and government. As the Guardian reports:

A letter from the [Thai] digital economy and society ministry warned citizens that engaging on the internet with the Thai academics Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavalpongpun as well as the journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall could violate the law.

All three live in outside Thailand but have large online followings in the country for their commentary about the failings of both the junta and the monarchy.

The ministry statement said citizens should not follow, contact or share content from the trio on the internet or social media. The letter added that people who disseminate their information, directly or indirectly, could be violating the country’s Computer Crime Act.

The three people concerned are only able to voice their criticisms of the monarchy and government because they live outside the country -- it would obviously be far too risky to do the same inside it. So this latest move is effectively an attempt to forbid Thai citizens from accessing "forbidden" material that lies beyond the Thai government's direct control, and which has proved impossible to block using technical means. It will doubtless be just as futile.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

13 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 13 April 2017 @ 7:20pm

Initiative for Open Citations Takes Alternative Approach To Freeing Up Knowledge

from the structured,-separable,-and-open dept

We've just written about widespread frustration at the slow pace of the shift to open access publishing of academic papers, and about how some major funding organizations are trying to address that. Open access aims to make entire publications publicly available, and that is meeting considerable resistance from traditional publishers who derive their healthy profits from charging for subscriptions. Rather than continue to tackle publishers head-on, an interesting new project seeks instead to liberate only a particular part of each article, albeit an important one. The new Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC) seeks to promote the unrestricted availability of the list of citations that form a key part of most academic articles:

Citations are the links that knit together our scientific and cultural knowledge. They are primary data that provide both provenance and an explanation for how we know facts. They allow us to attribute and credit scientific contributions, and they enable the evaluation of research and its impacts. In sum, citations are the most important vehicle for the discovery, dissemination, and evaluation of all scholarly knowledge.

As the number of scholarly publications is estimated to double every nine years, citations -- and the computational systems that track them -- enable researchers and the public to keep abreast of significant developments in any given field. For this to be possible, it is essential to have unrestricted access to bibliographic and citation data in machine-readable form.

The present scholarly communication system inadequately exposes the knowledge networks that already exist within our literature. Citation data are not usually freely available to access, they are often subject to inconsistent, hard-to-parse licenses, and they are usually not machine-readable.

The I4OC aims to address those problems by encouraging all publishers, whether open access or otherwise, to provide the data on citations found in their journals in a form that is structured, separable, and open. "Structured" here means that it is held in a common data form that is machine readable. "Separable" refers to the fact that even for non-open access materials, the citation data is nonetheless freely available. And "open" means that it is released as raw facts, and thus without a license, or uses a CC0 public domain dedication that makes it quite clear that the citation data can be used for any purpose without needing permission.

As the I4OC home page explains, a key benefit from this new approach is increased discoverability of published articles, since even if they are not freely available, their citation data will be out in the open. Another is citation data can be analyzed in new and complex ways thanks to its machine-readable nature. Finally, it may be possible to create new services and even new businesses based around the new data resource.

All of that is highly welcome, but the fact that a separate initiative was required to make it happen underlines that fact that too much of humanity's knowledge remains locked up behind paywalls, where its full potential is hard to realize. The correct solution to that is not making one element available, but liberating the full texts as open access. And that means real open access, not the subverted kind that Richard Poynder analyzed in his compelling and troubling post "Copyright: the immoveable barrier that open access advocates underestimated".

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+s

1 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 12 April 2017 @ 3:11am

Portugal Pushes Law To Partially Ban DRM, Allow Circumvention

from the straight-to-the-Priority-Watch-list-naughty-step-for-you dept

You might think that copyright on its own has enough problems. And yet DRM, originally designed to protect digital copyright material from unauthorized copying, has managed to make things much worse. It not only punishes with extra inconvenience those who acquire legal copies -- but not those who manage to find illegal versions without DRM -- it also allows the DMCA to be used to disable competitors' products, to create repair monopolies, and even to undermine the very concept of ownership. You can see why the copyright industry really loves DRM, and fights to preserve its sanctity. And you can also see why the following news from Portugal, where the parliament has just approved a bill allowing DRM circumvention and even bans in certain situations, is such a big deal. As TorrentFreak reports:

The bill, which received general approval last December, tackles the main issues head-on by granting copying permission in some circumstances and by flat-out banning the use of DRM when the public should have right of access to a copyrighted work.

In a boost to educators, citizens will be given the right to circumvent DRM for teaching and scientific research purposes. There will also be an exception for private copying.

The draft also outlaws the use of DRM on copyright works that have fallen into the public domain, works which support cultural heritage, and works that were created by public entities or funded with public money.

Those are all eminently sensible restrictions on DRM, but they are likely to be met with howls of anger by the copyright maximalists if Portugal's president approves the law, as seems likely. That's because it would set a crucial precedent for allowing DRM to be circumvented legally, and establish that DRM can be completely forbidden in some situations. As a result, we can probably expect Portugal to be punished in the traditional manner: by being placed on the ridiculous "Priority Watch" list of the USTR's Special 301 report. If that does happen, let's hope Portugal follows Canada's lead, and treats the move with the contempt it deserves.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

22 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 10 April 2017 @ 3:43am

India Learns The Hard Way That Equating Patents And Innovation Comes At A Price

from the bankrupt-ideas dept

Last December, we wrote about China reaching a rather questionable milestone: filing one million patents in a single year. As Techdirt has pointed out repeatedly, more patents do not equate to more innovation, so simply filing huge numbers of patents means very little in itself. The government of India has just found this out the hard way. As The Hindu reports, CSIR-Tech, the commercialization arm of India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has had to shut down its operations. The reason? It's run out of money as a result of filing too many patents:

CSIR has filed more than 13,000 patents -- 4,500 in India and 8,800 abroad -- at a cost of ₹50 crore [about $7.7 million] over the last three years. Across years, that's a lot of taxpayers' money, which in turn means that the closing of CSIR-Tech is a tacit admission that its work has been an expensive mistake -- a mistake that we tax-paying citizens have paid for.

The Hindu explains that obtaining thousands of patents was not to protect innovative work, or even to boost licensing revenues. Instead, many scientists wanted to have a patent or two to their name in order to make their curriculum vitae look more impressive:

Recently, CSIR's Director-General Girish Sahni claimed that most of CSIR’s patents were "bio-data patents", filed solely to enhance the value of a scientist's resume and that the extensive expenditure of public funds spent in filing and maintaining patents was unviable. CSIR claims to have licensed a percentage of its patents, but has so far failed to show any revenue earned from the licences. This compulsive hoarding of patents has come at a huge cost. If CSIR-Tech was privately run, it would have been shut down long ago. Acquiring Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) comes out of our blind adherence to the idea of patenting as an index of innovation.

India's unfortunate experience is interesting because it shows how the erroneous view that patents are proof of innovation has led scientists to file applications for them purely out of vanity, with serious knock-on effects. Not only is there no evidence that the resulting patents were worth obtaining, but India's CSIR-Tech office has been forced to shut down as a direct result of applying for them.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

16 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 6 April 2017 @ 6:02pm

European Commission May Join Gates Foundation And Wellcome Trust In Becoming An Open Access Publisher

from the if-you-want-a-job-done-properly,-do-it-yourself dept

Open access isn't a new idea -- the term was first defined back in 2002, and arguably the first examples go back even further to the founding of arXiv.org in 1991 (pdf). And yet progress towards making all academic knowledge freely available has been frustratingly slow, largely because hugely-profitable publishers have been fighting it every inch of the way. In response to that intransigence, academics have come up with a variety of approaches, including boycotts, mass cancellation of subscriptions, new kinds of overlay journals and simply making everything available with or without permission. Here's another interesting move to open up publishing, reported by the journal Science:

One of Europe's biggest science spenders could soon branch out into publishing. The European Commission, which spends more than €10 billion annually on research, may follow two other big league funders, the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and set up a "publishing platform" for the scientists it funds, in an attempt to accelerate the transition to open-access publishing in Europe.

It was quite surprising to see the Wellcome Trust start its own rapid-publishing unit, called Wellcome Open Research, a move that seems to have encouraged the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to follow suit with the similar Gates Open Research platform, due to start publishing later this year. For the EU's main executive body to do the same is even more extraordinary. It's true that there has been no official announcement about the European Commission's publishing move, but the Science article suggests that it is likely:

A commission spokesperson says the two charities [Wellcome and Gates Foundation], which opted for a system in which papers are reviewed after publication, are "models," but that the commission is only "considering" the idea. But last week in Berlin, at a closed meeting of the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP), European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas suggested a "decision" to create the platform had already been made, says Michael Mabe, CEO of the London-based International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM). OSPP member Sabina Leonelli of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who tweeted from the meeting, confirms Mabe’s assessment.

For three giant funding organizations -- the Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Commission -- to be driven to take this step shows just how frustrated they all are with the academic publishing world's unhelpful response to two decades of calls for open access. It also underlines that they now seem determined to open up the research they fund by bypassing completely the traditional publishers who are proving so obstructive.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

9 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 6 April 2017 @ 3:23am

If Facebook Becomes The Internet's Authentication System, Can Citizen Scores Around The World Be Far Behind?

from the network-effects dept

One of the reasons the digital world is so exciting -- and so attractive to startups and investors -- is that network effects help companies to grow quickly, until they end up with what amounts to a monopoly in a sector. A particularly powerful monopoly that is exercising people at the moment is Facebook, and for multiple reasons. Its huge user base is making it so attractive to advertisers that traditional publishers are badly impacted. Another issue is that its reach is so great that it is hard to stop so-called "fake news" from being shared rapidly and widely across the social network, with potentially serious real-world effects.

But there's a third aspect, so far little remarked upon, that is brought out well in a post by Jason Ditzian on The Bold Italic site. For the last decade, he's been a keen user of City CarShare, a nonprofit car-sharing service with vehicle stations around the Bay Area. Here's what happened:

City CarShare was recently bought by a corporation, Getaround. And Getaround built its platform on top of Facebook. So when I went to migrate my account over to them, I found that there's literally no way to do it as a non-Facebook user. If I want to share cars with my fellow city dwellers, I’m compelled to strike a Faustian bargain.

To access the services of Getaround, one must authenticate their identity through Facebook.

Ditzian writes that the Getaround site is so tightly integrated with Facebook that it claims there's no way to provide alternative authentication systems. As more companies choose to do the same, using Facebook as the foundation of their services, they too will inevitably require users to possess a Facebook account. That, in its turn, will make Facebook's authentication system even more powerful, driving even more companies to use it -- and even more people to sign up to Facebook just so they can use these services.

Leaving aside the serious issue of Facebook extending its online monopoly to become the Internet's de facto authentication system, there's another concern. As more and more services build on top of Facebook, Facebook's terms and conditions may require access to some or even all of the extra information they can provide about their users' activities and interests. That would enable the social network to fine-tune the deal it offers to advertisers, something it is naturally keen to do so that it can boost its rates to drive sales and profits. As Ditzian writes:

If we give in to the sheer gigantic sweep of Facebook and the convenience it creates, and feed all our collective information into its ever-more-intelligent algorithms; if news is read and messages are sent primarily within the Facebook network so that each of these interactions sows new data points in our profiles; and if we build up thousands upon thousands of these innocuous-seeming interactions over years and years, and those interactions are overlaid with face-recognized images, marketing data from online purchases, browsing histories and, now, GPS-tracked driving data, is this total bartering of privacy worth the buy-in to Zuckerberg's "supportive," "safe," "informed," "civically engaged," global community?

The greatest threat here may not be from Facebook itself, which, after all, is a business that wants to make as much money as possible, rather than a Machiavellian scheme to enslave mankind. But there are other powerful actors -- national governments -- that would love to have access to that rich store of information in order to use it not for profit but for the purposes of political and social control. As Techdirt has reported, China is already creating its own "citizen score" system that will draw heavily on information provided by social networks. The US, too, is starting to carry out "mandatory social media checks" as part of increased scrutiny of visa applications from some areas in the world. A single sign-on for key services makes gathering that information much easier.

The more Facebook becomes the point of control for using the Internet, the more governments will be inclined to require its "cooperation," in the form of providing access to its data, as a condition of allowing it to become the Internet's authentication service in their territory. Paradoxically, the more useful that Facebook becomes, the more vulnerable it will be to the threat of exclusion from a country. That may not be to Facebook's liking, but it's another consequence of the network effects that have made it so successful.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

47 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 4 April 2017 @ 3:23am

New Regulations Appear To Authorize Chinese Law Enforcement To Hack Into Computers Anywhere In The World

from the everyone's-doing-it dept

A recurrent theme here on Techdirt has been the way in which the West has ceded the moral high ground in so many areas involving the tech world. For example, in 2010, we noted that the US had really lost the right to point fingers over Internet censorship. The moral high ground on surveillance went in 2013 for people, and in 2014 for economic espionage. Meanwhile, the UK has been shown to be as bad as the most disreputable police states in its long-running blanket surveillance of all its citizens.

The UK's most recent move to cast off any pretense that it is morally superior to other "lesser" nations is the Investigatory Powers Act, which formalizes all the powers its intelligence services have been secretly using for years. One of the most intrusive of those is the power to carry out what is quaintly termed "equipment interference" -- hacking -- anywhere in the world. That means it certainly won't be able to criticize some new rules in China, spotted by the Lawfare blog:

The regulations seem to authorize the unilateral extraction of data concerning anyone (or any company) being investigated under Chinese criminal law from servers and hard drives located outside of China.

Article 9 of the 2016 regulations provides that the police or prosecutors may extract digital data from original storage media (e.g., servers, hard drives) that are located outside of mainland China (i.e., including servers in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) "through the Internet" and may perform "remote network inspections" of such computer information systems. Remote network inspections are helpfully defined, in Article 29, as "investigation, discovery, and collection of electronic data from remote computer information systems related to crime through the Internet." The only caveat to this grant of authority is a requirement that investigations be subject to "strict standards." No guidance is provided as to what "strict" means.

On its face, the regulation indicates that Chinese officials have authorization to remotely search or extract data anywhere in the world, subject only to the limitations of [China's] domestic law.

If the idea of Chinese government agents hacking into your computer doesn't appeal, well, tough luck: the West is doing it too, so there's really nothing governments there can say that isn't deeply hypocritical. That won't stop them, of course, and it may lead to some nasty international name-calling that could escalate dangerously.

The fact that pretty much all the main players are hacking everyone else like crazy is yet another argument for not weakening encryption anywhere. However much certain politicians might want magic crypto systems that only let in the good guys and always keep out the bad guys -- perhaps by invoking the necessary hashtags -- they simply don't exist. Morever, the supposedly clear-cut distinction between good guys and bad guys has been blurred so completely by decades of the West losing the moral high ground here that it's not a very useful way of framing things anyway.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

23 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 3 April 2017 @ 3:21am

Use Of VPNs Banned Completely For Millions Of People By Chinese Authorities

from the can-we-live-without-them-now? dept

Following the Congress vote to dismantle privacy protections for broadband subscribers, VPNs have suddenly become a very hot area, despite the complex issues surrounding them. We've reported on various instances of authorities around the world either banning VPNs, or flirting with idea of doing so. But there's no doubt that the main battleground over VPNs is in China, where the government has been clamping down on their use with ever-greater rigor.

For example, back in 2012, China started blocking VPNs, but in a rather ad hoc and piecemeal way. As Karl reported in January of this year, the authorities have now taken a much harsher line, requiring all VPN providers to obtain prior government approval in order to operate. Although that still allows people to use VPNs, it places them under strict control, and means they can be turned off by ordering suppliers to shut them down. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reveals that in the major city of Chongqing, the local authorities have taken these measures to their logical conclusion -- banning VPNs completely:

Security authorities in the Chinese city of Chongqing have expanded regulations that govern web access, in a bid to plug holes in the Great Firewall that separates mainlanders from the global internet.

They ban individuals and organisations from establishing or using channels to connect to international networks, and target businesses that help users to connect to such services.

According to the SCMP article, the rules came into force last year, but have only just been published on the local government's website. The regulations are valid until July 2021, and impose fines of up to $2000 on companies offering VPNs. Individuals caught using them are ordered to disconnect, and receive an official "warning," which is probably not something to be taken lightly. Although this seems to be a purely local initiative, the numbers affected are considerable. According to Wikipedia's entry on the metropolis:

Chongqing's population as of 2015 is just over 30 million with an urban population of 18.38 million. Of these, approximately 8.5 million people live in Chongqing city proper;

Those figures are equivalent to the population of a typical small country elsewhere. As such, the move to ban VPNs in Chongqing could act as a rather handy test run to find out what the knock-on effects are, particularly for important classes of internet users like businesses and researchers. Whether or not this latest move was ordered by the authorities in Beijing, they will doubtless be watching its roll-out with keen interest.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

22 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 31 March 2017 @ 3:39am

EU Plans To Weaken Encrypted Communications Despite Countless Warnings It Can't Be Done Safely

from the even-with-the-necessary-hashtags dept

Last week, the UK's Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that WhatsApp risked becoming a "place for terrorists to hide." Then, like many others that have used this tired old trope, she went on to call for the development of some magic unicorn key to unlock all encrypted communications, one that was somehow available only to those on the side of truth, beauty, law and order, and not to the other lot. In doing so, her cluelessness was particularly evident, as her invocation of the "necessary hashtags" emphasized, but she's not alone in that. Despite the chorus of experts pointing out for the thousandth time why it's not possible, the EU Justice Commissioner has just said that the EU must have magic unicorn keys, too. As EurActiv reports:

The European Commission will propose new measures in June to make it easier for police to access data on internet messaging apps like WhatsApp, EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová said yesterday (28 March), heeding calls from national interior ministers.

Jourová said she will announce "three or four options" including binding legislation and voluntary agreements with companies to allow law enforcement authorities to demand information from internet messaging apps "with a swift, reliable response".

...

Jourová said the measures would make it easier for law enforcement authorities to request and access data from online services that are registered outside their jurisdictions.

Jourová went on to complain that law enforcement authorities are currently dependent on service providers to provide voluntary access to encrypted communications. But as Techdirt pointed out recently, that's just not true: there are a number of encryption workarounds available. You might expect politicians to be at sea when it comes to complex digital technologies, but you would hope that their expert advisors would fully understand things. And yet here is what Gilles de Kerchove, the EU's anti-terrorism coordinator, told EurActiv:

the question is, can you open a backdoor for Europol [the EU's law enforcement agency] only, or would that at the same time create a vulnerability and open a backdoor for the Russian mafia or third party state spies?

Hey, Gilles, let a dozen of the world's top security and crypto experts save you time and effort by giving you the answer to that crucial question: "No, you can't." Got it? Can we please move on now?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

40 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 30 March 2017 @ 3:36am

All That On-Off Excitement About CETA Last Year? It's Happening Again

from the mostly-about-corporate-sovereignty,-of-course dept

Remember last year when CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU, was on, then off, then on again, then off again, and finally on again? After that, CETA was ratified by the European Union, and now needs to be approved by all Member States' parliaments before it is definitively in force. Well, guess what? One of those parliaments -- in the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia, which has already derailed CETA before -- could be about to block it again. As an article originally in The Globe and Mail reports:

The trade deal between Canada and the European Union is facing a new challenge from the Belgium region of Wallonia which is threatening to block final ratification of the agreement. Wallonia First Minister Paul Magnette said in an interview that his government will not support the CETA trade deal when it comes up for ratification unless changes are made to how disputes are resolved. Mr. Magnette also said his government is challenging the legality of the dispute resolution mechanism in the European Court of Justice, which could take at least two years to rule.

Yet again, the problem is mainly the corporate sovereignty chapter, which is emerging as a real trade deal killer (hint to governments: why not drop it?). But it's not just Wallonia that might stymie CETA. According to a post from the Council of Canadians, the final ratification of CETA also faces challenges in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. If one or more of those do halt the deal, another question arises:

If the full ratification of CETA is blocked, will the provisional application be undone? Council of Canadians trade campaigner Sujata Dey comments, "The German constitutional court has already ruled that provisional application can be undone. And in the country statements adopted by the European Council (the EU institution comprised of the heads of state or government of the member states, which sets the EU's overall political direction and priorities) many countries reiterated their right to undo provisional application."

It seems that as far as CETA is concerned, it ain't over until, well, it's completely over.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

4 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 27 March 2017 @ 9:27am

More Financial Scandals Involving A Collecting Society: Remind Me Again Why They Are Credible Representatives Of Artists?

from the maybe,-just-maybe,-they-are-not dept

If you've been reading Techdirt for any time you'll know that copyright collecting societies have a pretty poor record when it comes to supporting the artists they are supposed to serve. Sometimes, that is just a question of incompetence, but often it veers over into something worse, as happened in Spain, Peru and India. TorrentFreak has some interesting news about an audit of the Greek collection society (AEPI). Initially, AEPI was reluctant to hand over the relevant documents to allow the audit to take place, but here's what has just emerged:

The final report, obtained by Greek publication TVXS, reveals a capital deficit of around 20 million euros, which according to the publication means AEPI cannot meet its obligations.

Despite that notable shortfall, key members of AEPI's management team have been getting paid rather handsomely:

AEPI's CEO alone received an annual salary of 625,565 euros in 2011, more than 52,000 euros per month. This figure has prompted outrage in local media.

Strangely, though, the actual artists that AEPI is meant to represent aren't doing quite so well:

According to the audit, AEPI’s IT system tasked with handling royalty payments was incapable of producing a report to compare royalties collected with royalties being paid out. But artists were certainly being short-changed on a grand scale.

"By Dec. 31st 2014, the undistributed royalties to members and rightsholders amounted to 42.5 million euros, and have still not been awarded to members," the Greek newspaper EfSyn notes.

A further post on the TorrentFreak site, this time concerning the former head of anti-piracy at the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), shows that there are problems with money in other parts of the copyright industry:

"BPI can confirm that a former employee, David Wood, was dismissed for gross misconduct in December 2015," a BPI spokesperson told TF.

"BPI has referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police who are investigating. As investigations are ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment in any more detail at this stage.”

TorrentFreak sources indicate that very large sums of money are involved in the dispute, running well into six figures. Precise details have proven impossible to verify (the BPI declined to comment) but we understand the numbers involved are "significant".

Given that this kind of thing has been happening all around the world for years, you really have to wonder why these organizations are still allowed to put themselves forward as the legitimate representatives of the artists they serve so poorly.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

33 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 24 March 2017 @ 7:39pm

Encryption Workarounds Paper Shows Why 'Going Dark' Is Not A Problem, And In Fact Is As Old As Humanity Itself

from the you-don't-know-what-I-know dept

It was October 2014 when FBI Director James Comey made his famous claim that things were "going dark" in the world of law enforcement because of the increasing use of encryption. Since then, Techdirt has had dozens of posts on the topic, many of them reporting on further dire warnings that the very fabric of civilization was under threat thanks to what was claimed to be a frightening new ability to keep things secret. Many others pointed out that the resulting calls for backdoors to encryption systems were a stunningly foolish idea that only people unable to understand the underlying technology could make.

One Techdirt post on the topic mentioned a great paper with the title "Keys Under Doormats: Mandating insecurity by requiring government access to all data and communications," which ran through all the problems with the backdoor idea. It was written by many of the top experts in this field, including Bruce Schneier. He's just published another paper, co-authored with Orin Kerr, who is a professor at George Washington University Law School, which looks at the other side of things -- how to circumvent encryption:

The widespread use of encryption has triggered a new step in many criminal investigations: the encryption workaround. We define an encryption workaround as any lawful government effort to reveal an unencrypted version of a target's data that has been concealed by encryption. This essay provides an overview of encryption workaround.

The various possibilities are largely self-explanatory:

We classify six kinds of workarounds: find the key, guess the key, compel the key, exploit a flaw in the encryption software, access plaintext while the device is in use, and locate another plaintext copy. For each approach, we consider the practical, technological, and legal hurdles raised by its use.

What's interesting is not so much what the workarounds are, as is the fact that there are a number of them, and that they can all work in the right circumstances. This gives the lie to the idea that we are entering a terrible new era where things are "going dark," and it is simply impossible to obtain important information. But as the authors point out:

there is no magic way for the government to get around encryption. The nature of the problem is one of probabilities rather than certainty. Different approaches will work more or less often in different kinds of cases.

Schneier and Kerr go on to draw an analogy:

When the police have a suspect and want a confession, the law gives the police a set of tools they may use in an effort to persuade the suspect to confess. None of the interrogation methods work every time. In some cases, no matter what the government does, suspects will confess. In other cases, no matter what the government does, suspects will assert their rights and refuse to speak. The government must work with the inherently probabilistic nature of obtaining confessions. Similarly, the government must work with the inherently probabilistic nature of encryption workarounds.

That analogy reveals something profound: that the supposedly new problem of "going dark" -- of not being able to find out information -- has existed as long as humans have been around. After all, there is no way -- yet, at least -- of accessing information held in a person's mind unless some kind of interrogation technique is used to extract it. And as the analogy shows us, that is exactly like needing to find some encryption workaround when information is held on a digital device. It may be possible, or it may not; but the only difference between the problems faced by those demanding answers thousands of years ago and today is that some of the required information may be held external to the mind in an encrypted digital form. Asking for guaranteed backdoors to that digital data is as unreasonable as demanding a foolproof method to extract information from any person's mind. We accept that it may not be possible to do the latter, so why not accept the former may not be feasible either?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

11 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 22 March 2017 @ 3:16am

JEFTA: The Latest Massive 'Trade' Deal You've Never Heard Of, Negotiated Behind Closed Doors, With Zero Public Scrutiny

from the when-will-they-ever-learn? dept

As Techdirt has reported, the election of Donald Trump has turned the world of US trade deals upside-down. The US officially pulled out of TPP, although some still hope it might come back in some form. TAFTA/TTIP seems to be on ice, but Trump's choice for US trade representative has just said he is open to resuming negotiations, so it's not clear what might happen there (or with TISA). Against that confusing backdrop, the European Union has been quick to emphasize that it is in favor of trade deals, and is keen to sign as many as possible, presumably hoping to fill the economic and political vacuum left by the US.

One of the negotiations that has been going on in the background is for a major trade agreement between the EU and Japan. It began back in March 2013, but has garnered little attention, as people focused on the more imminent threats of TPP, TTIP, CETA and TISA. That's just changed, thanks in part to a joint statement signed by dozens of civil societies in both the EU and Japan, who write:

the European Union and the Japanese government have been negotiating a deep and comprehensive trade agreement which would cover a third of the world's GDP. The 18th round of negotiations took place in Tokyo in December 2016, and whilst the negotiations might come to a close soon, on the EU side, the mandate given to the negotiators is still not public, and on the Japanese side, secrecy is total.

Neither most parliamentarians in EU member states and in Japan, nor European and Japanese civil society organisations and trade unions know the content of the discussions. Nor have they seen draft chapters or been consulted. We condemn this opacity.

The other factor that has suddenly put the spotlight on JEFTA -- the Japan-EU Free Trade Agreement -- is the first leak of some of the negotiating documents, to the Austrian site Attac. Unfortunately, we don't have the actual pages yet, only a summary (original in German). That broadly confirms the information contained in one of the few detailed documents on the EU's official JEFTA site, the 314-page Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment (pdf) prepared for the European Commission in 2016, and largely overlooked.

Although that document is a study, and therefore speculative, it does contain some important information. For example, like most other EU agreements, JEFTA will include a corporate sovereignty chapter, also known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). As Techdirt has described, the EU is trying to establish a new, possibly global court that would hear all such cases, called the Investment Court System. It still only exists on paper, but that didn't stop it being part of the CETA deal. The JEFTA Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment has this to say on the matter:

Whether or not the final outcome is based on the Commission's new Investment Court System (ICS), Japanese business tend to comply with the regulations of the host countries rather engage in investor-state disputes. There is only one known case of Japanese (indirect) involvement in an ISDS case, via a Dutch subsidiary operating in Czech Republic.

That is, Japanese companies prefer to use the national court systems of the countries they have invested in when there is some kind of legal dispute. This is precisely how things should work. And yet the EU is pushing for the inclusion of a completely parallel legal system, only available to investors, that would allow domestic courts to be by-passed and overruled. Here's why it's so keen on the idea:

exclusion of ISDS from the EU-Japan negotiations would be contrary to the emerging norm in comprehensive trade and investment agreements. Japan does not see the inclusion of ISDS as a difficulty.

The inclusion of ISDS is not part of an "emerging norm", but purely a matter of EU policy -- dogma, even: the European Commission wants to make it a part of all trade deals, and so aims to include it in JEFTA, even though Japanese companies are perfectly happy to use national courts. The Sustainability report admits that including an investment chapter will have little effect:

Investment flows (in both directions) are likely to be driven by an improved business environment and better profit margins -- which the investment chapter alone has only a moderate impact on. The economics effects are symmetrical, but moderate.

Even though Japanese companies might not use ISDS, there's a big downside to including it. Following CETA, it is likely that JEFTA will allow investors from other countries -- for example, multinational corporations with significant subsidiaries in Japan -- to use the chapter to make claims against the EU. Including corporate sovereignty unnecessarily, just to set a precedent, could come back to haunt the European Commission in the future if major awards are made as a result. The Sustainability report also touches on the issue of copyright, pointing out:

Another central issue in the EU-Japan FTA negotiations is the lack of protection for the use of sound recordings for public performance in Japan.

The EU will doubtless try to force Japan to rectify that omission. Similarly, the basic term of copyright protection varies between the EU and Japan: 70 years for the former, 50 years for the latter. Again, the European Commission will want to turn the copyright ratchet to extend Japan's term to match the EU's. Finally, it's worth noting that the EU's official study contains an estimate of the benefits that could flow from JEFTA:

The long-term GDP increase for the EU is estimated to +0.76% and +0.29% for Japan under a symmetrical scenario.

It's important to emphasize that this is "long-term": what this means is that the GDP could be higher by the percentages quoted after ten or more years. The average extra GDP growth per year is therefore an even smaller 0.08% and 0.03% for the EU and Japan respectively. That is, like TTIP and TPP, the predicted benefits that will accrue from JEFTA are likely to be very small, while the risks and possible losses in terms of ISDS fines, say, have been ignored completely.

But the worst aspect of JEFTA is not that it's probably not worth the effort, but that the EU and Japan have done everything they can to prevent both the public and even politicians from finding out what a bad deal is being negotiated in their name. After the humiliating defeat of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and the more recent failures of TPP and TTIP, you would have thought that the governments involved would have realized that this kind of secret dealmaking just isn't acceptable any more, but apparently, they haven't. Fortunately, JEFTA is finally out in the open, which means it can begin to be subjected to long-overdue scrutiny and democratic input. What we need now is for the EU to release negotiating texts as it did for TTIP.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

19 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 21 March 2017 @ 9:22pm

Unpaywall: The Browser Add-on That Finds (Legal) Free Copies Of Academic Papers You See As You Browse The Web

from the another-way-to-liberate-knowledge dept

Techdirt has just written about ResearchGate, which claims to offer access to 100 million academic papers. However, as we wrote, there's an issue about whether a significant proportion of those articles are in fact unauthorized copies, for example uploaded by the authors but in contravention of the agreement they signed with publishers. The same legal issues plague the well-known Sci-Hub site, which may deter some from using it. But as further evidence of how the demand for access to millions of academic papers still locked away is driving technical innovation, there's a new option, called Unpaywall, which is available as a pre-release add-on for Chrome (Firefox is promised later), and is free. It aims to provide access to every paper that's freely available to read in an authorized version. Here's how it works:

Millions of researchers are currently uploading their own fulltext PDFs to preprint servers and institutional repositories worldwide, making them free for anyone to read. But there was no easy way to find them as we browsed. So we made one! Eventually, we hope tools like Unpaywall will nurture the transition to fully open access scholarly publishing, by closing the gap between readers and freely-available fulltext.

We gather content from thousands of open-access repositories worldwide. To help us, we rely on some fantastic open data services, especially PubMed Central, the DOAJ, Crossref (particulary their license info), DataCite, and BASE. After we put all this data together, we in turn make it open for reuse via the oaDOI API: a free, fast, and very scalable way to leverage our data and infrastructure to support your own projects.

Once the add-on has been installed, it is easy to use. When you come across an academic paper of interest as you browse the Web, you go to its home page, usually on a publisher's site. A small icon on the right-hand side of the browser indicates whether the full text is freely available somewhere in an authorized version. If it is, you just click on the icon, and it appears in your browser. The team behind Unpaywall claims that its system manages to find free authorized versions of articles for about half the requests made to it. Unpaywall does the right things when it comes to privacy -- it doesn't ask for, track or store any personal information -- and it's also open source, so you can inspect its code and adapt it for your own projects.

In that and other respects, Unpaywall is like the Open Access Button, which has been around since 2013. The Open Access Button offers some other important features. For example, if the service is unable to locate a freely-available, authorized, full-text version of an article, it will contact the author on your behalf, and ask for a copy (obviously, you need to provide your email address for this):

We're tired of requests for research, especially data, going unanswered. Instead we're designing a transparent and effective request system to help make more research accessible. If we are unable to get you access, you can create a request quickly with the Open Access Button. We'll contact the author on your behalf and others can support your request. By holding researchers accountable for sharing their research articles and data, and providing them pathways to share their research, we will make more research legally and freely available.

You can also access the underlying data, when it exists, and request it if it has not been released. That's an increasingly important aspect, since it allows researchers to verify results and to build on existing work.

Projects like Unpaywall and the Open Access Button are good examples of continuing efforts to liberate all the knowledge contained in academic research papers, much of which is still locked away behind paywalls charging outrageously expensive fees. Until everything is released as open access, they will remain valuable and necessary tools.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

6 Comments | Leave a Comment..

More posts from Glyn Moody >>