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October 2021
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Top Publishers Aim To Own The Entire Academic Research Publishing Stack; Here's How To Stop That Happening

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Techdirt's coverage of open access -- the idea that the fruits of publicly-funded scholarship should be freely available to all -- shows that the results so far have been mixed. On the one hand, many journals have moved to an open access model. On the other, the overall subscription costs for academic institutions have not gone down, and neither have the excessive profit margins of academic publishers. Despite that success in fending off this attempt to re-invent the way academic work is disseminated, publishers want more. In particular, they want more money and more power. In an important new paper, a group of researchers warn that companies now aim to own the entire academic publishing stack:

Over the last decade, the four leading publishing houses have all acquired or developed a range of services aiming to develop vertical integration over the entire scientific process from literature search to data acquisition, analysis, writing, publishing and outreach. User profiles inform the corporations in real time on who is currently working on which problems and where. This information allows them to offer bespoke packaged workflow solutions to institutions. For any institution buying such a workflow package, the risk of vendor lock-in is very real: without any standards, it becomes technically and financially nearly impossible to substitute a chosen service provider with another one. In the best case, this non-substitutability will lead to a practically irreversible fragmentation of research objects and processes as long as a plurality of service providers would be maintained. In the worst case, it will lead to complete dependence of a single, dominant commercial provider.
Commenting on this paper, a post on the MeaseyLab blog calls this "academic capture":
For those of us who have lived through state capture, we felt powerless and could only watch as institutions were plundered. Right now, we are willing participants in the capture of our own academic freedom.Academic capture: when the institutions' policies are significantly influenced by publishing companies for their profit.
Fortunately, there is a way to counter this growing threat, as the authors of the paper explain: adopt open standards.
To prevent commercial monopolization, to ensure cybersecurity, user/patient privacy, and future development, these standards need to be open, under the governance of the scholarly community. Open standards enable switching from one provider to another, allowing public institutions to develop tender or bidding processes, in which service providers can compete with each other with their services for the scientific workflow.
Techdirt readers will recognize this as exactly the idea that lies at the heart of Mike's influential essay "Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech". Activist and writer Cory Doctorow has also been pushing for the same thing -- what he calls "adversarial interoperability". It seems like an idea whose time has come, not just for academic publishing, but every aspect of today's digital world.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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posted at: 12:00am on 02-Oct-2021
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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PS4 Battery Time-Keeping Time-Bomb Silently Patched By Sony; PS3 Consoles Still Waiting

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Over the past several months, there have been a couple of stories that certainly had owners of Sony PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 consoles completely wigging out. First came Sony's announcement that it was going to shut down support for the PlayStation Store and PlayStation Network on those two consoles. This briefly freaked everyone out, the thinking being that digitally purchased games would be disappeared. Sony confirmed that wouldn't be the case, but there was still the question of game and art preservation, given that no new purchases would be allowed and that in-game purchases and DLC wouldn't be spared for those who bought them. As a result of the outcry, Sony reversed course for both consoles specifically for access to the PlayStation Store, nullifying the debate. Except that immediately afterward came word of an issue with the PS3 and PS4 console batteries and the way they check in with the PlayStation Network (PSN) to allow users to play digital or physical game media. With the PSN still sunsetting on those consoles, the batteries wouldn't be able to check in, and would essentially render the console and all the games users had worthless and unplayable.But now that too has been corrected by Sony, albeit in a completely unannounced fashion.

PlayStation owners wanting to preserve their PS4 libraries well into the future can breathe a sigh of relief, as the system's latest firmware update reportedly fixes a time bomb found inside every console.While Sony's official patch notes for the 9.00 update strangely make no mention of the CMOS fix, that lack of mention may point to a change in its attitude about PlayStation's legacy platforms. With PS5's backward-compatibility limited (so far) to PS4 titles and in the absence of a major overhaul to its PS Now streaming library of games, taking the step to push an update that nixes the CMOS issue on PS3 as well would be a welcome shift.
So now PS4 owners are off the hook, though whether they know it or not appears to be a matter of whether they read the news about this on sites like this. PS3 owners, meanwhile, don't currently have a fix in place. And that really does highlight a continuing messaging and transparency problem when it comes to Sony and how it treats its PlayStation customers.Sony has, far too often, had to either reverse course on its plans when its own fans go apeshit, such as when it finally enabled cross-console play for PlayStation games, or instead has had to weather tough public relations and legal storms when it kept to its plans, such as when it removed useful features from the PS3 via firmware update after the public had already bought the console.It's great that the company fixed this problem for the PS4 owners, but what about everyone else? Why not let people know the fix has been made? Why can't this company communicate?

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posted at: 12:00am on 02-Oct-2021
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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