May 28, 2022

MIT Follows Up on Questions Raised in Aaron Swartz Case

Here’s a new report from MIT that was made available today.

It runs about 2200 words.

Direct to Full Text.

Concerning the questions the [July 2013] report raised about open access, intellectual property, and ethics in the digital domain, [MIT President L. Rafael ] Reif wrote, “Because these questions bear so directly on the expertise, interests and values of the people of MIT, I believe we should explore them, respectfully debate our differences, and translate our learning into constructive action.”

Portion That Deals With Open Access Issues

Academic Council asked Steve Gass, interim director of libraries, to address the question from the Abelson Report that concerned the Institute’s commitment to open access:

Should MIT strengthen its activities in support of open access to scholarly publications?

Gass reported to Academic Council that now is an opportune time for MIT to be asking itself this question, given that the Institute is approaching the fifth anniversary of MIT’s Faculty Open Access Policy, which encourages MIT faculty members to share their scholarly articles openly over the Web. Since the passage of the policy, MIT Libraries have deposited into DSpace@MIT — MIT’s publicly accessible research repository — about 37 percent of the papers written by faculty members: some 10,800 papers. More than 1.6 million downloads of those papers have been made: Currently, about 90,000 downloads are happening every month.

Gass noted that when the open-access policy was established in 2009, it was determined that the policy would be reviewed in 2014 by the Faculty Policy Committee. In the spirit of providing thoughts for that required review, as well as for addressing the Abelson Report’s related question, he and a small group of Libraries colleagues explored ways that MIT could build on the success of its open-access policy.

The primary possible action that emerged for this working group concerns the way MIT’s open-access effort is governed. Gass suggested that MIT consider creating a new faculty body to lead the effort, rather than relying on a working group of the Faculty Committee on the Library System, whose charge limits it to issues around implementation. A restructuring of some sort could allow for broader issues — such as exploring new models of journal publishing — to be addressed more effectively.

The group led by Gass considered what other issues such a newly formed group might investigate. One was whether MIT could benefit from expanding the current open-access policy to include graduate students, postdocs and research scientists — and to expand what is being shared to include not only journal articles, but also data and educational works. The group also suggested that MIT might make it easier for faculty members to understand what federally funded research they are required to make accessible, and how to do so.

The group recommended that MIT consider offering greater financial support for faculty members faced with publication fees charged by open-access online journals. It also raised the possibility of MIT partnering with the MIT Press to host an open-access journal at MIT and recommended that MIT give thought to advocating more forcefully for open access, in particular for the rights of authors and for the creation of new publication models: The group suggested that this might be achieved through concerted outreach to professional societies, commercial publishers, and the federal government. Finally, the group noted that MIT might consider examining its assessments of the quality of open-access journals, in so far as those assessments bear on MIT’s tenure-and–promotion processes.

The suggestions and recommendations made by the group led by Gass are being submitted to the Faculty Policy Committee for consideration in its pending review of MIT’s open-access policy.

“The question posed by the Abelson Report regarding open access was both good and timely,” Gass says. “It helps give energy to an effort that we have long known we will make this year, which is to keep MIT at the leading edge of progress on making access to scholarly publication as open as possible. I was glad that the group I led was given the chance to help shape discussions that will help us move forward with purpose.”

Read the Complete 2200 Word Document

See Also: Steve Kolowich Summarizes the Complete Document in the Wired Campus post, “MIT Is Still Working on Its Response to Aaron Swartz Case”

See Also: Boston Globe: “Swartz Not ‘Targeted’ by MIT, According to Review” & Link to Full Text Report (July 30, 2013)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.