Whenever you read something in the news about people being charged for illegally downloading and uploading material from the internet, it’s usually about movies or music. Pirating these entertainment materials can land you in some serious trouble. In 2009, Jammie Thomas was found guilty of of sharing music online and federal jury levied $222,000 in damages against her. And this was just for 24 songs.

While record industries fight online music thieves, another pirating war rages along too. The battle of access to academic journals, articles, and papers has been debated amongst those who have and those who don’t. Should we limit access to historical, scientific, and research papers only to those who have the money to pay for expensive subscriptions? Can we limit access to knowledge?

Greg Maxwell doesn’t think so. He posted a torrent of 18,592 academic articles on the well-known pirating site The Pirate Bay. Maxwell had collected these articles in previous years legally from the JSTOR archives. He said that he did this in response to the prosecution of Aaron Swartz, who remotely downloaded JSTOR articles from MIT servers.

“If I can remove even one dollar of ill-gained income from a poisonous industry which acts to suppress scientific and historic understanding, then whatever personal cost I suffer will be justified,” says Maxwell.

Maxwell will most likely face prosecution himself for his actions, but what he did again sparks the question of limiting academic articles to only those who pay for them.

At universities, we have the extreme priviledge of access to various and numerous online databases where we can research our individual fields of study. I actually use JSTOR extremely frequently to research papers for my Roman and Greek history classes and cannot imagine not having access to the amazing articles housed there. However, after I graduate and leave Trinity, I’m not going to be able to search for these papers or keep up with academic trends unless I pay for an expensive subscription.

Libraries are places where even those who aren’t in college can go to look up information in books and sometimes online article databases. What if we had to pay for access to the library? Why are physical books full of information free for our use in libraries, but not digital copies of articles? Books take a long time to publish and are not always up to date with the most recent academic trends, whereas online articles are able to be published more quickly.

I’d like to open up our comment section for you to voice your thoughts on whether or not there should be a limit on access to academic papers. I certainly agree that surely the authors of these papers deserve to be able to copyright their hard earned research and time. But isn’t part of academia sharing information? Should this information be free or should it be reserved for only those who can pay for it?

[via CBS News, Maximum PC and Gigaom]