The second folly I want to talk about is somewhat embarrassing, since it is my own. Publication contracts are always an adventure for academic authors, of course; we are routinely taken advantage of by publishers who know that publication is a job requirement and believe they have us in a stranglehold. I once read a comment by a lawyer who works with authors that signing an agreement with one of the major publishers was akin to getting into a car with a clearly intoxicated driver – no sensible person should do it. So in this story I have no one but myself to blame. Nevertheless, I want to tell folks about it because it was not one of the big publishers that treated me badly; it was my own professional organization, the American Library Association.
It’s been a busy summer for OA in Europe. On one hand, nationally coordinated efforts in places like Finland and Germany have sought (unsuccessfully so far) to pressure Elsevier into better subscription pricing and OA options. On the other hand, a group of early career researchers (ECRs) at the University of Cambridge are looking to mobilize fellow ECRs to embrace open models that are not controlled by commercial entities. In my view, these divergent approaches illustrate why we should focus our collective energies away from strategies in which commercial interests retain control under new economic conditions (see also, proposals to flip subscription payments to APCs), and towards working with ECRs and others who envision a return of scholarly dissemination responsibility to the academy.
It has been a while since we have posted to this site, and I want to catch up by sharing some thoughts about a few odd or disturbing developments from the past month or so.
Let’s start with a recent folly, the “settlement” in the infamous “Monkey Selfie” case. The New York Times proclaims the settlement proposed on Monday as “a victory of sorts” for the monkey and his friends. The “friends,” of course are PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who brought the case as Naruto’s “next friend,” trying to establish that the monkey, who they named Naruto, owned the copyright in the picture he apparently snapped. It is not at all clear that PETA even knows which monkey it is representing, since in court papers they identify Naruto as a six-year old male, but the original photographer whose copyright claim PETA is disputing, David Slater himself identified the photogenic macaque as a female.
Over the last two weeks, I have been putting together a syllabus to teach a course in copyright law at the University of Kansas law school. Although I have taught copyright a lot, I have never done so in a formal law school class, so this is both an exciting and intimidating process for me.
As part of planning a class session about the doctrine of first sale, I was doing a little bit of research about the Capitol Records v. ReDigi case, which squarely confronts the issue of whether or not first sale can survive in a digital age. The case has been going on for a while, so I will claim the process of creating a syllabus as my justification for writing about it now.
I came across this question on Twitter recently, and it got me thinking about something that I think about quite a bit:
I do a lot of work around diversity, inclusion, and representation in librarianship, publishing, and higher education. And I get a lot of questions like this from people looking to diversify their lists of potential collaborators, speakers, etc. I’ve even written a bit about ways to incorporate diversity into our programming and work.
This is a guest post by Barbara DeFelice, Program Director for Scholarly Communication, Copyright and Publishing at the Dartmouth College Library.
Dartmouth offers a small number of MOOCs, selected from faculty proposals, through the DartmouthX infrastructure. This includes a cross-unit team of librarians, educational designers, students and faculty. Dartmouth is providing this level of support for faculty to develop MOOCs in order to influence long-standing teaching practices through experiments in the MOOCs that are evaluated and brought into the on-campus learning experience.
The lawsuit is really a rather local affair; an action brought by Louisiana State University against Elsevier alleging breach of contract. But the facts raise significant questions for all Elsevier customers, and especially for public universities that do business with the publishing giant (which is to say, all of us). Even more significant, I think, is what the specific circumstances, and some of the comments made about the lawsuit, tell us about the future of scholarly communications. In my mind, we have reached the “enough is enough” point with Elsevier.
Recently there has been a spate of comment expressing frustration about the allegedly slow progress of open access, and especially Green open access. It is hard to disagree with some of this sentiment, but it is important that frustration not lead us into trying to solve a problem with a worse solution. The key, I believe, to making real advances in open access is to walk away from the commercial publishers who have dominated the market for scholarship. Only if we do that can libraries free up money from our collection budgets to do truly new things. A new business model with the same old players, even if it were possible, would be a mistake.
Last month, I attended the Charlotte Initiative Open Conference. This Mellon-funded project brought together publishers, librarians, and technology providers to explore a reconsideration of the transactional models between publishers and libraries for eBooks. To quote the initiative, “Our starting premise is that permanent acquisitions of eBooks requires these licensing terms:
- Provision of irrevocable perpetual access and archival rights.
- Allowance for unlimited simultaneous users.
- Freedom from any Digital Rights Management (DRM), including (but not limited to) use of proprietary formats, restricted access to content, or time-limited access terms.”
I was invited to be on the project’s advisory board two years ago and I’ll admit the premise seemed like quite a stretch at that time. In a climate where the rhetoric of accountability is paired with market-optimizing tools like DDA and EBA, the idea that libraries will only buy our most successful books and then insist on broad usage terms like the Charlotte Principles just felt like a non-starter. As John Unsworth mentioned in his conference keynote, publishers operate in the world of risk and libraries have historically helped academic publishers mitigate risk by building deep monograph collections. Predatory publishers figured out how to game this system, forcing libraries to use “accountability” as a reason to reduce monograph purchases despite the arrival of digital platforms making them less expensive and more accessible than ever. As a director at a public university press, I can attest to the acute pain that strategy has had on mission-driven non-profit publishers and on the humanities and social science disciplines we support. More on that in a moment.
It might be necessary to remind readers that the copyright lawsuit brought by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Sage Publishing against Georgia State University is still going on. It began in 2008, and after losing all of their major points at every level of the litigation, it would be easy and sensible to conclude that the publishers had walked away, as most sensible plaintiffs would have done. But these are not sensible plaintiffs; they, or the folks who call the shots and pay the bills for them, are fanatically determined to push their alternate view of copyright law ever up the hill, no matter how often it rolls back on them.