Inching Towards Open Access: JSTOR Will Offer Reading Access to Some Journals Free

JSTOR—Journal Storage, I think—keeps a good portion of English language scholarship, a thousand journals and more, in digital form to serve up to subscribers. Some have felt that corralling scholarship so assiduously behind a paywall is wrong, wrong as antithetical to the fundamental principle of disinterested scholarly inquiry, and wrong as creating a barrier to knowledge that the relatively poorer members of society can’t afford to cross. See, for example, this talk by Larry Lessig at CERN, and the politically motivated “hacking” of JSTOR by Aaron Swartz talked about here on Slaw.

But JSTOR, a non-profit venture aimed at taking some of the financial burden off libraries, has made a couple of steps towards open access, the first not quite six months ago and the second scheduled for a couple of months from now. Back in September of 2011, JSTOR made freely available something on the order of half a million journal articles that have entered the public domain, specifically those published in the US from before 1923 and those from Europe published before 1870.

Now JSTOR has announced its intention to institute Register and Read, a program to let anyone have reading access to articles from a small selection (70) of its journals. A viewer can select up to four articles each fortnight and will be unable to print or copy from them. This is explicitly said to be a test, and one presumes that if publishers’ revenues don’t plummet as a result, some cautious expansion of the program will come about in time.

A list of the participating journals is available in spreadsheet format. Though lawyers are interested in everything, potentially, the journals in the program that are most clearly of interest are: American Society of International Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Modern Law Review. (Various publishers appear on the list as such, so it’s hard to tell at this point which of their journals will be made available.)

Small as this advance appears to be, for what it’s worth Professor Lessig has felt the announcement important enough to merit a tweeted “BRAVO.


  1. Nice. Who knows, though. There could be a mad scuttling for access to Crustaceana. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that JSTOR’s selection of journals was such that Crustaceana is listed immediately after the College English journal (and not because somebody at JSTOR remembered a crabby prof.)

    Nah, I’m not sorry about that one (nor was I hinting [:-)]

    You’re right about the Modern Law Review. That’s nice to see.