I feel the main difference between the year 1800 and 2000+ is the ability to compete on equal terms whoever you might be. Wherever you may be from. In just over 200 years, I think the free access to information has been our biggest step ahead in terms of civilization.
And in this respect we’ve taken tremendous strides thanks to the Internet. I am part of the Google generation and to me content is something that is freely available. With this freedom came tremendous innovation, creativity and empowerment. The common man is no longer power-less against anything. Everything can be brought down with a bit of time and mental effort.
It was a few months back that I started seriously looking through research papers published in the Information Retrieval field online. What I was taught/read from books was, ever so slightly, outdated. And that is when I came across the pay-walls. Any link which reads ‘Springer’ or ‘ACM’ were out of bounds. In many cases I ended up trying to find ways around this, scouring the net for a free e-version of an academic published paper. (Thank you DBLP)
I always believed that it was the duty of people in academics to spread information in general – and any good work that they do themselves – to as wide an audience as possible. This is obviously not happening since I personally know a lot of students who are turned away by the pay-walls. I would like to bring to your notice that Not Everyone Has Money. Not Everyone Has a Credit Card Either.
How about an overhaul of the system such that the papers are stored in servers across many universities across the world. If the real need to charge subscription fees is maintenance then it is the duty of the researchers to maintain it. Why does it require money? It requires only effort. Effort from people who will gain something from the process. I know I am willing to put in a few hours a week to keep something useful up and running.
This pay-wall concept has run its course. In today’s world it is just Unacceptable. If it is possible for so many developers to maintain their pet open-source projects over so many years, I don’t see why academics the world over can’t keep something like ACM open and free. It is high time research papers in all fields became open to all Joes everywhere – as long as they have an internet connection.
Update: The whole paper publishing thing is generally paid for by the government (directly or indirectly) – So shouldn’t papers be free for students wanting to read it, anywhere in the world?