Restoring Copyright's Ability "To Promote The Progress of Science"

John Willinsky
May 14, 2021 | 11:00am EDT | 15:00 UTC

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John Willinsky

John Willinsky will present his argument from a forthcoming book from MIT Press for reforming the United States Copyright Act to support universal open access to research publications. A draft of the manuscript is available at The argument proceeds in five steps: 1. Scholarly publishing’s principal stakeholders (including the big publishers) are now in agreement that open access to research publications does more for the progress of science than persisting with the subscriptions of the print era. 2. This consensus places current copyright law in violation of the Constitution, for the law cannot “promote the progress of science” if publishers can only exercise their “exclusive right” by restricting access, which impedes scientific progress. 3. This law’s shortcomings force these stakeholders to pursue legal and extra-legal workarounds–with embargoes, final drafts, illegal copies–resulting in the market failing to deliver universal open access with all due speed at a reasonable cost. 4. Yet copyright has a remedy in “compulsory licensing” which could be applied in this case to require (a) immediate open access to research publications and (b) fair compensation for publishers by research’s institutional users and funders. 5. Such legislative reform would seem out of reach, if Congress had not amended the Act nearly 60 times in the digital era for everything but science, with many of those reforms now operating internationally, which is the goal of this initiative. 


John Willinsky is the director of the Public Knowledge Project, which has developed the world's most widely used open source scholarly publishing platform (Open Journal Systems), and author of The Intellectual Properties of Learning: A Prehistory from Saint Jerome to John Locke (Chicago, 2017) and The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship (MIT, 2006).