Most biomedical journals charge readers a hefty access toll to read the full text version of a published research article. These tolls bring enormous profits to the traditional corporate publishing industry, but they make it impossible for most people worldwide — particularly in low and middle income countries — to access the biomedical literature. Traditional publishers also insist on owning the copyright on these articles, making it illegal for readers to freely distribute and photocopy papers, translate them, or create derivative educational works. This article argues that excluding the poor from accessing and freely using the biomedical research literature is harming global public health. Health care workers, for example, are prevented from accessing the information they need to practice effective medicine, while policymakers are prevented from accessing the essential knowledge they require to build better health care systems. The author proposes that the biomedical literature should be considered a global public good, basing his arguments upon longstanding and recent international declarations that enshrine access to scientific and medical knowledge as a human right. He presents an emerging alternative publishing model, called open access, and argues that this model is a more socially responsive and equitable approach to knowledge dissemination.