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Documentary Puts Lens on the Open-Access Movement Upending Scientific Publishing

By September 19, 2018No Comments

Jason Schmitt was working at Atlantic Records when the online site Napster disrupted the music industry by making copyrighted songs freely available. Now, the communications and media researcher at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, is pushing for a similar disruption of academic publishing with Paywall, a documentary about the open-access movement that debuts today in a Washington, D.C., theater. “I don’t think that it’s right that for-profit publishers can make 35%–40% profit margins. The content is provided for them for free by academics,” Schmitt, who produced the film, says.

The documentary explores the impact of Sci-Hub, a website that provides pirated versions of paywalled papers for free online, and interviews academics and publishing figures. Schmitt says many large publishers refused to go on camera—although representatives from Science and Nature did—and he is not impressed that several have begun publishing some open-access journals. “Elsevier is as much to open access as McDonald’s fast food is to healthy,” he says.

Schmitt predicts that all but a few high-quality journals will be free in a decade. He adds that because the United States has so many universities and colleges negotiating separately with publishers, the country is slowing the open-access movement. Earlier this week, a coalition of European funders announced a plan to require open-access publication of its grantees.