Today is the day when many websites across the world shut off to protest against laws debatted in the US Congress and Senate (here and here) that would effectively amount to censor the internet… And put the means to censor into private hands. For defenders of freedom of speech, this is unacceptable. Copyrighted materials cannot justify such a move, unless you pose that property is more important than liberty, which no doubt some people do.
This denying of the freedom to exchange concept and ideas is of course important for scientists: without this capability, research would be tremendously slowed down. But there is an attack that is more direct: the Research Works Act. This act basically prevents scientific works made in public institutions to be published outside the journals where it has been submitted. Normally, when one publishes a paper, there are two possibilities: either the rights are owned by the authors under a Creative Commons licence, like in Open Access or rights are given by the authors to the journal in which they publish. In the latter case, it is common practice that the authors still put these papers on their website, with the tacit agreement of the journal. This is important because it allows people, particularly people applying to work in the lab of the authors to read the paper and get an idea of the quality of the research done without paying $30 or so.
The RWA is a device put forward by some publishing companies to denying citizens the access to the science they founded through their taxes. It is well known in the scientific communities that publishing companies that are not open access are essentially parasites: they charge scientists to publish their work and, and to read it afterwards through subscription to their journals. And while the costs of running such a journal are not that important, they use public money to publish publicly-founded research. Worse: they charge a considerable subscription fee to public institutions like university libraries or public research centers’ libraries to have access to this research.
I linked Pharyngula to this: he’s more direct than me, but the point is the same.