This post is part of a week of action by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organizations in January 2014, to which the Wikimedia Foundation is invited to contribute, particularly on Wednesday January 15, when the topic of action is Open Access.
Wikipedia aims to collect the sum of human knowledge and is operating under five fundamental principles, also known as the “five pillars” – it is (1) an encyclopedia that can (2) be read, modified and shared by anyone, while it strives for (3) a neutral point of view and (4) civil discourse on the basis of respect within its community of contributors, which (5) can amend policies and guidelines.
Writing with the aim of representing a topic neutrally requires access to quality sources of information. Citing these sources allows readers of the encyclopedia to verify statements made in its articles, and to explore the topic further, be it for themselves or to enrich future versions of the same or some related Wikipedia article.
Existing copyright legislation makes it difficult to use sources in these ways. In the current default mode with “all rights reserved” articles hidden behind paywalls, Wikipedia authors are barred from reading the sources they might need to improve Wikipedia content, readers might be prevented from verifying the information they find in Wikipedia articles, or even whether it represents a copyright violation or plagiarism. In the event that they can eventually get read access to specific sources, they still do not have the right to use any materials from there (e.g. images, audio or video) to illustrate Wikipedia articles or blog posts about relevant topics.
Over the years of exposure to this set of problems, the Wikimedia communities have come up with a number of approaches to handle the situation. Two of them shall be presented today in a pair of blog posts. The first one is about the Wikipedia Library, an effort to provide read access to the scholarly literature for active Wikipedia contributors. This second one is about interactions of the Wikimedia and Open Access communities, most notably via WikiProject Open Access, which places particular emphasis on reusing materials from suitably licensed scholarly publications in the context of Wikimedia projects.
The Open Access movement and the Wikimedia community have interacted for more than ten years, particularly via the English Wikipedia. For instance, the article about arXiv was started on February 11, 2002, the entry on preprint followed ten months later. In November 2003, the entry open access publishing was started, which was renamed into open access two months later.
Still in 2004, the first Wikimedia chapter — Wikimedia Germany was founded, which went on to become the first Wikimedia entity to sign the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities in 2006, followed by Wikimedia Poland and the Wikimedia Foundation a year later. Since that time, suggestions for large-scale import of materials from Open Access sources into Wikimedia platforms have kept coming up.
In early 2007, the first images from Open Access sources were promoted to featured status on Wikimedia Commons, with one of them reaching the final of that year’s Picture of the Year contest (the 2013 contest is scheduled to start on Friday, again with an Open Access image).
With the beginning of 2009, the journal RNA Biology (which was and still is not Open Access) started to require manuscripts about new RNA families to be accompanied by drafts for corresponding Wikipedia articles, and a few months later, WikiSpecies started a collaboration with the Open-Access journal ZooKeys that was expanded to its sister journal PhytoKeys in the following year.
While more and more images from Open Access sources were uploaded and the number of references from Wikipedia to Open Access articles continued to grow, research about Wikipedia was still mainly published in closed-access journals. This prompted the newly established Research Committee to draft, in 2010, an Open Access policy for research projects receiving significant support from the Wikimedia Foundation.
Since July 2011, the Research:Newsletter has marked references as to whether they were free to read or not. Later that year, Wikimedia Germany had approved funding for the Open Access Media Importer, an automated tool to harvest audio and video materials from suitably licensed scholarly articles and to upload them to Wikimedia Commons. Still in late 2011, the Open Access File of the Day initiative was started, and the Research Committee submitted a response to a EU consultation about Open Access, followed by a response to a similar consultation by the White House in January 2012, at a day when a tiny frog’s image from PLOS ONE was on the front page of more than a dozen Wikipedias. Two days before that, WikiProject Open Access had been launched.
Since January 2012, an Open Access report has been published as part of the monthly GLAM newsletter. In March, PLOS Computational Biology started its Topic Pages — a manuscript track for review articles destined to become updatable as Wikipedia entries — with the article about Circular permutation in proteins. In May, Jimmy Wales became an advisor to the UK government on matters of Open Access, and the Wikimedia Foundation endorsed the Access2Research petition to the White House.