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Front Lines of the Open Access Fight: Colombian Student's Prosecution Highlights the Need for Fundamental Policy Reforms

EFF's Deeplinks -

Scientific progress relies upon the exchange of ideas and research. The Internet is the most powerful network the world has ever seen, with the capability to enable this exchange at an unprecedented speed and scale. But outmoded policies and practices continue to present massive barriers that collectively stifle that potential. Many major online research databases are kept under lock and key by publishers, making them extremely expensive to access. Given the subscription model for these repositories, most people cannot afford to pay the fees to read or cite to existing research, let alone know what research and studies have already been published.

Circumventing these barriers can lead to extreme consequences. Aaron Swartz was one of the strongest voices leading the open access movement, and he faced up to 35 years in prison for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), for accessing the JSTOR research database and downloading copies of academic articles. Now Diego Gomez, the Colombian graduate student who faces imprisonment for sharing another researcher's thesis online, is on the front lines of this fight. His story is only one of countless many, but it highlights the problems facing students and academics who are simply trying to access works to further their studies.

It might seem as though the payments are being passed along to academics as compensation for their work, or that they are necessary to cover the costs involved in editing and publishing their research. Yet this is often not the case. Publishers normally give none of the subscription fees to the researchers themselves. Academics generally conduct the research, writing, and peer review processes without compensation from the publishers. Then, still without compensation, those academics usually assign the copyright over their article to the journal, on terms so strict that they can prevent even the authors themselves from making copies of their own articles.

That makes this problem especially frustrating. The high costs of accessing journals is unrelated to funding the research in the first place. Publishers are middlemen who enact high paywalls, making it expensive for academics to access their peers' research for their own work.

But how do they get away with this? It has to do with the culture around academic publishing. Some journals are considered prestigious. For academics, that prestige can mean their research is more highly regarded, which can help advance their career in the field. Unfortunately, this means that their work can only be read by those who can afford to pay for subscriptions, or more commonly, who are affiliated with a university or institution that provides access to them.

The Open Access Movement: Fighting for Free and Easy Access to Knowledge

The open access movement is a fight for the continued progress of knowledge, science, and culture, by recognizing the intrinsic importance of enabling scholarly works to be shared widely, cheaply, and easily. There are two basic goals for open access advocates: first, to make research freely available online without cost, through shared digital repositories or open access journals. Second, to make research reusable by promoting the use of open licenses—ensuring that the public can not only read existing works, but can also pick apart the research and build upon it.

In many parts of the world, a major policy goal is to ensure that publicly funded research becomes publicly accessible research. It is founded on the straightforward concept that if the public is already paying for research through their tax dollars, they have a right to see and share what they have paid for. In the US, research that has been funded by government grants from certain major government agencies must be published in open access repositories, like PubMed Central. EFF, along with groups like Creative Commons, SPARC, the Open Knowledge Foundation, and many others, are leading these calls for open access policy reforms.

How Copyright and Other Related Laws Stifle Open Access

It's clear that where it's possible—through policy or individual choices by academics—robust open access is the best way for research to advance the goals of academia. But where individuals work towards those goals in the absence of formal policies, they have faced truly draconian penalties. That's because our current copyright system is a poor fit for many academics. Where a reasonable copyright policy should reflect the economic interests of creators and researchers, instead our laws are shaped instead by the lobbying of special interests such as book publishers, movie studios, and music labels, which push for extreme restrictions on how content can be shared and used.

Academics, scientists, and other professionals tend to benefit little from copyright restrictions. And yet they also need to be able to access other new, cutting edge research to read relevant studies and understand what others are doing in the field. Heightened criminalization of copyright, the lack of strong legal safeguards for publicly beneficial and personal uses, and excessive, long copyright terms all fly in the face of these academic goals. The massive penalties that Gomez faces are a prime example. The demands of the copyright industries in the Colombia-US free trade agreement led to extreme policy language in the agreement, which then led Colombia to enact new, harsher criminal sanctions over "unauthorized" sharing and uses of copyrighted works.

In the midst of this experience, Gomez has brought his story to light in hopes of sparking debate and bringing about policy reform. In a recent open letter, he wrote [translated from Spanish]:

I regret that my actions in good faith I can have an impact on my life plan, just because I acted against the barriers to knowledge. [...] From this painful experience I have learned that knowledge really have invisible barriers, main reason now I am committed to activism in favor of open access, to promote the results of scientific research are public and open for everyone's benefit through open access policy.

The inability to readily access important research is an issue that affects us all. Outdated policies and practices must be reformed until we can unleash the Internet's potential to enable free and open access to research and promote the progress of science.


Take Action

In the US? Send a message to your lawmakers to secure open access to taxpayer-funded research

Watch Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Related Issues: Fair Use and Intellectual Property: Defending the BalanceOpen AccessInternational
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Jobvite Recruitment Service Website Vulnerable to Hackers

The Hacker News -

Jobvite, a recruiting platform for the social web, is found vulnerable to the most common, but critical web application vulnerabilities that could allow an attacker to compromise and steal the database of the company's website. Jobvite is a Social recruiting and applicant tracking created for companies with the highest expectations of recruiting technology and candidate quality. Growing

Tor on Campus, Part II: Icebreakers and Risk Mitigation Strategies

EFF's Deeplinks -

In part one of this blogpost, we discuss why it makes good sense to contribute to the Tor project on university campuses, and we offer some examples of students who have been able to set up relays or exit nodes in recent years.

EFF realizes that many students may be interested in contributing to the Tor Project, but are unsure of how to get the conversation with their university started. In this post, we offer some tips that we've pulled from successful efforts to establish an exit or a relay node on campus. We also provide some suggestions for addressing concerns students are likely to encounter from their campus administration.

Many campus IT departments may be understandably concerned about the risk of having Tor traffic exit from their network. There is a potential for legally questionable activity to occur over Tor, and anonymized traffic will appear to have originated from the campus. This can cause law enforcement to first come to the campus in search of the origin of the suspicious activity or for DMCA copyright complaints to be sent to the host of the exit node. Though this can often be addressed through an explanation of Tor to the complaining party, and it is rare for the host of an exit node to be troubled by law enforcement, we highly recommend reading our legal FAQ to better understand the risks.

Let’s start with some tactics for organizing on campus. If you encounter resistance, please use and remix our Open Letter Urging Universities To Encourage Conversation About Online Privacy.

Start a conversation about Tor on Campus

Ask your friends and other professors if they know of someone working in the computer science, political science, or journalism department that may already advocate for security or online privacy. Students will often need faculty allies to initiate running a Tor node on campus, and often there are already professors and technologists at universities who are familiar with and support the Tor Project. If you don't already have contacts, try searching through your computer science, journalism, political science, or any related departments' websites to see if any professor specializes in online privacy, security, or communications and human rights. Email them to set up a meeting to talk about setting up a Tor node on campus.

Contact a computer science or human rights group on campus. There is a great chance that other students will want to be involved or get excited about the prospect of contributing to the Tor Project. You all can work together to find out who the professors and IT professionals are on campus that you'd need to talk to in order to get the project started.

Start a digital rights campus group. Often the biggest barrier to setting up a Tor node on campus is one of understanding. The faculty and the IT department might not be convinced that supporting a freedom-enhancing technology project is worth the potential risk, so sometimes it might take a series of information sessions and ongoing meetings to demystify Tor for people that are new to the concept of online anonymity. Check out our organizing resources and start a campus group. Setting up a Tor node is a great first project.

Understand the Risks and Try to Address Potential Concerns

Try to dedicate a separate IP address to the relay or exit node. Some servers blacklist Tor traffic, so having a separate IP address will help to ensure that only traffic from the dedicated Tor IP address will be blacklisted or affected, and not other users of the campus network who share an IP address with the Tor node. Note that EFF believes that Tor relays should be protected from copyright liability for the acts of their users and that a Tor relay operator can raise an immunity defense under the DMCA as well as defenses under copyright's secondary liability doctrines. However, no court has yet addressed these issues in the context of Tor itself. Check out our legal FAQ, which includes a template for a response to a DMCA notice.

Consider a reduced exit policy. Exit policies allow hosts of Tor nodes to decide what kind of traffic is allowed to travel through their node. The Tor Project has an excellent explainer on the kinds of exit policies available for exit node hosts and how limiting what is allowed to travel through your node can reduce its risk of receiving legal complaints. Most reduced exit policies still allow web browsing activity that may give rise to content-related complaints or investigations.

Set up a reverse DNS entry for the IP address. By setting up a reverse domain name for the IP address running the Tor node, you can help to alleviate knee-jerk reactions from sysadmins and people who see unfamiliar traffic coming from your IP node. A domain name like tor-exit.yourdomain.edu or tor-proxy-readme.yourdomain.edu might be useful.

Set up a Tor Exit Notice. Once you have a good reverse DNS name, you should put some content there that explains what Tor is for those who see the name and try to visit it via HTTP. If you run your DirPort on port 80, you can use the Tor config option "DirPortFrontPage" to display a notice explaining that you are running an exit node. This sample content from The Tor Project website will help educate and inform people who stumble upon the Tor exit node DNS name. Be sure to update the contact info and other places marked with FIXME in the notice.

Tell us how it goes

We want to Tor project to become as robust as possible and encourage students contribute in any way they can. Even if you are unable to get past the concerns or bureaucracy of the campus administration, the fact that the conversation has been started is a wonderful contribution in and of itself. At the moment, too many Internet users wrongly associate the need for privacy and anonyminity online with deviance, ignorant to the fact that these tools are essential for journalists, activists, medical and legal professionals, as well as everyday users around the world need to circumvent government censorship to communicate and stay informed.

Email info@eff.org to keep us posted, and good luck!

In part one of this blogpost, we discuss why it makes good sense to contribute to the Tor project on university campuses, and we offer some examples of students who have been able to set up relays or exit nodes in recent years.


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