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Paywall: The Business of Scholarship



Everyone enjoys a good movie, don’t they? To celebrate open access week, why not treat yourself to Paywall: the Business of Scholarship, an insightful documentary that explores the need for open access in the world of publishing. The film, released in 2018, was created by Jason Schmitt, a professor of communication and media at New York’s Clarkson University. At just over an hour-long it is a strong advocacy piece for the open access movement and it is entertaining and informative watch, not just for those involved in academia but for anyone who stands to benefit from access to knowledge and research in wider society. 

 OA post 3 Paywall 1

Paywall questions a world in which some publishers have achieved profit margins that rival those of the most profitable global tech companies. When they are making so much money, should people still be paying to access publicly funded research? The documentary outlines what is wrong with the incredibly profitable academic publishing industry: from the exploitation of academics (writers and reviewers remain unpaid), to the exclusion of people who cannot afford to access research, including medical professionals and academics in the global south. The film consists almost entirely of talking head interviews with academics, librarians, research organisations, open access publishers, and open science advocates however it doesn’t get boring, in fact you are kept on the edge of your seat as the prospect of an open access revolution, which is passionately argued, seems a real possibility.  


 OA post 3 Paywall filming

A number of criticisms have been levelled at Paywall. It can be seen as one-sided since the publishers’ side of the story is not explored (Elsevier, the company that comes in for most of the criticism in the movie declined to participate). The documentary also focuses only on Gold open access, and doesn’t explore the importance of the Green route in which authors deposit their research in institutional repositories.  

Since Unpaywall first aired in 2018, in Europe at least, open access has received a boost with the advent of Plan S, an initiative involving the major European funders (including UKRI and the Wellcome Trust) which aims to make all funded research free to read upon publication. Whilst this is an important move, and likely to be the shape of things to come more widely, there is still a long way to go to ensuring research is opened out to all across the globe. The film’s message therefore remains relevant. 

In keeping with its commitment to open access, Paywall is free to stream and download, and is licensed under the CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons designation. 

You can watch it above or at:  

Article author: Sarah Dar, Scholarly Communications Officer, The University Library 

Image stills taken from the Paywall: the Business of Scholarship under a CC-BY 4.0 licence. 

For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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