White House Grants Aaron Swartz's Wish: Taxpayer-Funded Research Will Be Free

White House Grants Aaron Swartz's Wish, In Part

Aaron Swartz, a well-known Internet activist who killed himself last month, believed that information should free, not digitized and put behind pay walls.

"The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations," he once wrote.

The Obama administration just granted his wish -- at least as it pertains to research funded by taxpayers.

The White House directed federal agencies on Friday to make the results of federally-funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication. The new policy came after more than 65,000 people signed a petition asking for expanded public access to the results of studies paid for by taxpayers.

"Americans should have easy access to the results of research they help support," John P. Holdren, the president's senior advisor on science and technology, said in a memo announcing the new open-access policy.

Making such data freely available will lead to new innovations, according to Holdren. For example, giving the public free access to genome sequences has led to many biotechnology innovations, he said.

Last month, Swartz, 26, was found dead in his apartment of an apparent suicide. He was facing trial in April for allegedly downloading nearly 5 million articles from JSTOR, one of the world's largest digital archives of scholarly journals. Swartz wanted to make those articles freely available to the masses, especially those who lacked access to them because they were not affiliated with a university that offered them free to students.

In a 2008 manifesto, Swartz said sharing information was a "moral imperative" and advocated for "civil disobedience" against copyright laws pushed by corporations "blinded by greed" that led to the "privatization of knowledge."

After his death, many academics posted their research papers online for free under the Twitter hashtag #PDFTribute.

Earlier this month, members of the House and Senate introduced legislation that requires federal agencies to give public access to federally-funded research papers within six months of publication.

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