Access to online materials: yay or nay?

In 2013, at the age of 26, Aaron Swartz took his life whilst battling a two year legal nightmare between himself and US prosecutors. His crime? Swartz had accessed MIT’s computer network, downloading a large number of publicly accessible research documents from a non-profit database that hosts academic journal articles, called JSTOR. If charged, Swartzs’ crimes would be punishable by up to 50+ years in prison and fines of almost $4 million.

His story of technology and its relationship to  civil liberties moved the public, so much so that it has been made into a documentary.

What’s scary about this is the extreme lengths this court case got to. Does it really matter if content such as academic articles are available online, for free!? We live in a society today where education is encouraged, so surely, we should encourage people to read a publication over the internet, print it and further develop and/or distribute the findings without any restrictions. Moreover, this ensures that scientists information can be widely recognised, talked about and cited!

So if this is restricted, this makes it awkward  that all levels of education, academic progress and scientific development rely heavily on the availability of resources, as professors can only teach with what resources they have (Cham, 2012).

Yet a recent study suggests that by 2016, 90% of online media content will be protected by a pay wall (Lepitak, 2013). Perhaps scholars do not want to risk their information and/or research being misused and/or misinterpreted. Moreover, someone has to pay for the costs of publication. Often, it is the responsibility of the author—perhaps through their employer or a research grant—to cover these costs. This can discourage researchers from them granting access of their research.

Personally, I don’t understand why scientists would want their discoveries hidden behind paywalls. Moreover, having easy access to online content promotes the sharing of knowledge, development of established ideas; enhancing future materials.

I believe that demand for unrestricted access for content online will continue to increase, even if the cost of journal subscriptions continue to rise, outpacing inflation by over 250% over the past thirty years (Cham, 2012).



Cham, J. (2012) Open Access Explained. [Online] Available at [Accessed: 8 Decemeber 2014]

Geib, A. (2013) Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Access. Edanz Group. Japan. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 8 December 2014]

Leptikah, S. (2012) 90% of online content to be held behind paywalls in three years media company survey suggests [Online] Available at at: [Accessed: 8 December 2014]

Film Buff Movies (2014) The Internets Own Boy. [Online] Available at  [Accessed: 8 Decemeber 2014]



12 thoughts on “Access to online materials: yay or nay?

  1. This was a really engaging blog post. I liked how you used an example where JSTOR was featured; as I use it day-to-day in my discipline it really grabbed my attention. The point about the court going to extremes is very interesting, though would you agree it is to make an example out of how people like Swartz and to prove a deterrent? In my blog, I briefly raised the issue of the price of journal articles and how some research is funded by the taxpayer, and how scholars are sometimes being paid multiple times for the same pieces of research as they sell it on – what are your views on this? Are researchers stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of wanting to get research done but without the funding are unable to start? My argument was that when academic content is put online for free researchers could avoid this controversial issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment!

      To answer you first question, I definitely think it is! Especially since there are so many hackers out there today, I think the American government wanted it to be known that you will be prosecuted for your actions, once caught. Its scary though, the lengths they went to, the charges they wanted Schwartz to get, just because he made it so that people could access articles for free. I guess it shows that those who hack into more “serious” databases, such as the governments database, will find themselves in a muuuch stickier end!

      I think being funded for your work gives you an incentive to want to share more of your knowledge and research. I do agree with you that for researchers, this is quite difficult to grasp because they may feel discouraged to want to use a specific source because of the charge. In my opinion, because I am a student, I think research and studies should be made free. How else are we supposed to find evidence and sources to support our research in our dissertations?! I think it needs to be encouraged that knowledge should be shared, not charged.


  2. Hi there, I think that your views on open access for all are misguided. Mr Swartz clearly knew the risk he was taking when he hacked into MIT databases. In retrospect, The persecution of Mr Swartz was over-zealous and hyper-inlfated but to that extent, perhaps as a society we are better off not knowing certain things that would undermine patriotic values. (For example: knowing that our government is powerless against ISIS.)

    In addition, his behaviour, irrespective of what he stood for, highlights the problems the internet as a whole faces today. What happens when open access for all becomes personal? (Take Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos. These academics hold onto something. Yes, the above examples may be vastly different, but their infringement of personal liberties are undoubtedly common. How would you feel if I took your blog, rearranged a few sentences, and claimed it as my own work? This is a problem that many researchers are facing everyday! My view is that some materials on the internet should remain restricted for good reason; the internet is a beautiful resource but open access is something that would most certainly ‘break’ the internet. (Not Kim Kardashian’s bum) XD


    • Thanks for your opinion and interesting thoughts! I hadnt really thought about it from that side 🙂 Unfortunately, today, our world is not ideal… people do plagiarise and can falsely name claim something that isnt ours. It happens, and its quite black and white to say, but theres nothing that can really done about it–I believe that there is always a way around the system and that there will always be someone who will find that way. Thus to answer you question, I would hate it if someone claimed my work, but if it happened, I guess I would have to accept it, even though of course I would still sue that cheeky …bum.

      But I believe it is all abut sharing when it comes to knowledge and interest. How else are we supposed to move forward and discover/learn new things if some of us are to feel discouraged because we have to pay for it?



      Liked by 1 person

      • The argument for open access for journals and research is a strong one indeed. I believe that restricted access via paywalls is perhaps the best of the worst solutions. It may not be ideal, but it has worked thus far and will continue to do so. Until there are greater grants being made available to researchers and alike research for thousands of dissertations will remain a difficult of a task as they have always been!


  3. Hi Freya,

    I enjoyed this post and the bit about Aaron Swartz was really interesting. I understand your frustration about how academic material in particular shouldn’t be made commercial. However, I would also understand why authors would want to charge for their content. Not all scientist share the same altruistic view that you hold and I would go as far as say there are probably some that are down right selfish. Do you think a happy balance between having some content made open access and some paid could be a good policy to have for researchers? The ones in open access being the ‘tasters’ and the ones that are paid to be ones that are of higher quality and more expensive?


    • Hi,

      Thanks for your comment. After reading more on this topic from my course mates blogs, I think there there should be a balance between having content made free and being paid to read. In an ideal world, this would be perfect as this would satisfy both the researcher and author. But realistically, it would be extremely difficult to implement measures to achieve this balance, because charging even a little may not only discourage the researcher (because, simply, they are spending money…and as students we dont want to! ) but also the author as they may feel that because they are in a situation of charging, why not take this opportunity, be selfish (like you mentioned) and charge more!


  4. Hi Freya!

    I am from the singapore campus doing this module and when I came across your post on topic 5 I was not only enlightened but the video you shared on Aaron Swartz gave me goosebumps. I love how you took a very persuasive example on the stand of weather content should be available for free and your views on the predictions on media being protected by a paywall by 2016.

    It got me thinking, what does the future look like with the rapidly increasing dependence of the internet and how it is shaping our world. If Aaron Swartz gave his life to make a stand, is this a possible sign that we could possibly face a cyber war in the years to come?

    In the past people went to war to fight for their freedom, Do you believe with 90% of online media content being protected by a paywall people might fight for this freedom too?


    • Hi!

      Thanks for your lovely comment 🙂 And interesting question- to be honest I dont really know how to answer it! I think the reason why the federal government was so strict and forceful on the charges they were making on Schwartz, was because they wanted to make an example of him. Perhaps they wanted to prove a point that they will go to extreme lengths with those who try to hack their systems and who are, essentially, breaking the law! I think, in years to come, a cyber war would be possible,because hackers are becoming more experienced, skilful and fundamentally more competitive with one another! Thus governments will retaliate by enforcing stricter rules and punishments, which could create turmoil for those who get caught, and also their families who have to suffer the consequences. And like you said, I think a cyber war may also occur because so many people will be fighting for free access to online content! Like I said in a previous comment, we should be encouraged to share our knowledge, not to charge it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Freya!
        Thank you for the reply! I could not agree with you more. It will also be interesting to see how the different countries around the world tackle this issue! It makes me wonder if Aaron was in Singapore how different the outcome might have been?


  5. Hi Freya,
    I really related to the bit about academic content being free for the benefit of all. I have just started my dissertation and it’s very difficult to find economics articles that are free. I did come across the statistic about 90% of media content being behind a paywall. I was wondering if you thought that the commercialisation of most aspects of the internet is inevitable? And is there anything that we as internet denizens can do about this future?


  6. Hi, nice job on the blog Freya and I think I agree with you a lot because I do think content should be available for us to read and unrestricted access will continue to increase because there are a lot of us that cannot afford to buy journals. However, when you said you don’t understand why scientists would want their discoveries hidden behind paywalls, I don’t think it’s the author’s first choice and they like it. Scientists will want their research to be available for the world to read and share but working countless hours on those research papers is quite hard and they will want to be compensated even if they enjoy it. Maybe the grant for the scientists aren’t enough to motivate them. One of the disadvantages of OA can be that the authors may not be compensated well compared to the traditional paid system so in order to be compensated to satisfactory level the normal system of subscription may be more suitable for the scientists that’s why 90 percent of online media content will be or maybe behind paywalls in future.


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