vol. 10, no. 1
health and human rights • 23
excluding the poor
This “death spiral” has been exacerbated in recentyears by mergers and acquisitions within the publish
ing industry. Four companies — Reed Elsevier, Taylorand Francis, Springer, and Wiley-Blackwell — now own most of the biomedical research articles indexedin the world’s leading citation index, the ISI Web of Science.
When commercial companies purchasesmall publishing companies or journals published by small scholarly societies, this consolidates an increas
ing amount of content into the hands of fewer andfewer rms and is consistently associated with jour
nal price increases.
After Reed Elsevier acquiredPergamon Press, for example, the deal resulted in anaverage price increase of 22% for former PergamonPress journals and an 8% increase for Elsevier
While the economic impact of these mergers is of grave concern to the scholarly community, thereare additional serious implications of concentrating biomedical research results in the hands of just afew multinational corporations. These implicationsinclude the aggressive lobbying by these powerfulcompanies for tighter and tighter restrictions on theuse of their copyrighted works.
Charlotte Hess,Director of the Digital Library of the Commons,and Elinor Ostrom, Professor of Political Science,both at Indiana University, argue that the “informa
tion arms race,” in which corporations are battling for larger and larger shares of the global knowledgepool, “leads to speculation that the records of schol
arly communication, the foundations of an informed,democratic society, may be at risk.”
James Boyle,Professor of Law at Duke Law School, warned:“Around the world, corporations are lobbying theirgovernments, demanding more expansive copyright,patent, trademark and data-base rights. Governmentsare complying, granting monopolies over informationand information products that make the monopoliesof the 19th century robber barons look like penny-ante operations.”
Another form of monopoly behavior, called “journalbundling,” is yet another cause for concern. Publishershave proted not only by increasing the cost of jour
nal subscriptions faster than the rate of ination, butalso by insisting that libraries purchase “bundles” of their journal titles rather than individual journal titles.In other words, the library is forced to purchase sev
eral titles at once and is locked into a no-cancellationpolicy for all journals in the bundle. The effect, argues John Willinsky of the Public Knowledge Project,is to “increase the publisher’s share of subscribing libraries’ budgets beyond the number of titles thatlibraries might have otherwise ordered.”
Traditionalpublishers tend to have a higher prot margin ontheir lower-quality journals, and the bundling agree
ment means that libraries cannot cancel subscriptionsto these lower-quality journals unless they also cancelthe higher-quality ones in the same bundle.
An analysis of the scientic and medical publish
ing industry commissioned by the Wellcome Trust,the world’s largest charitable sponsor of medicalresearch, concluded that “the current market struc
ture does not operate in the longterm interests of the research community.”
The private ownership of scientic and medical research articles by a monopo
lized publishing industry puts the results of the glob
al biomedical research enterprise — an enterpriselargely funded by governments, public universities,and charitable foundations — out of reach of mostpotential audiences. Worldwide, only a small fractionof researchers, clinicians, health and science policy-makers, teachers, patients, and the broader publiccan afford to pay access tolls on biomedical researcharticles. “We feel compelled to share our frustrating experience in accessing biomedical journals in ourhome countries of Indonesia and China,” wrote agroup of researchers in
Theresearchers explained how Indonesia has been affect
ed by the South Asian monetary crisis that started in1997 and that has hindered not only access to healthcare for those of low economic status but also accessto the latest research ndings for health care provid
ers. “In 2002,” they wrote, “we were obliged to doa compulsory research project in order to completeour residency training. However, many journal sub
scriptions were suspended in many medical schoollibraries. We tried accessing full-text articles online,since the recent printed articles remain very limited,but almost all the essential articles were only availableto subscribers or those who could pay.” Autar S. Paintal, former director general of theIndian Council of Medical Research, pointed outthat “an Indian [researcher] is often unaware of thelatest trends in science publishing [because] hardly 10percent of our libraries get the top journals.”
close of the 20th century, over half of the researchand higher-education institutions in the lowest-income countries simply had no current subscriptions