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.
On March 15, founding editors Stacy Konkiel and Lily Troia, both of Altmetric, and Nicky Agate of the Modern Language Association, will officially launch The Idealis, a portal for connecting to curated open access library and information science scholarship. Operating on the WordPress plugin Press Forward, The Idealis will include annotated lists of open access scholarship written by, for, or of interest to information professionals. Curation will be done by volunteer editors with expertise in the field. Each editor will serve on two-week rotations during which they will nominate pieces for inclusion in The Idealis platform using the Press Forward plugin. Initially, the collection will consist entirely of works focused on scholarly communication, but the hope is that The Idealis will soon grow to include scholarly work from a wide-range of library interests, including critical librarianship, public librarianship, school librarianship, and more.
I have a conflicted relationship with the idea of moral rights in copyrighted works. Because I saw my work as a scholarly communications librarian as focused on helping academic authors understand their rights and use them to further their own goals and the goals of scholarship writ large, I have often been sensitive to the lack of a real attribution right in U.S. law. I even wrote an article in 2010, in which I suggested such a right as a potential improvement of our law. Nevertheless, the difficulties associated with incorporating moral rights into U.S. copyright are substantial, so this topic has remained unresolved in my own mind.newrambler.net/ramblings/wp-content/uploads/essay
The Electrochemical Society, a small nonprofit scholarly society founded in 1902, has an important message for all of us who are concerned about access to science. Mary Yess, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Content Officer and Publisher, could not be clearer about the increased urgency of ECS’ path: “We have got to move towards an open science environment. It has never been more important – especially in light of the recently announced ‘gag orders’ on several US government agencies– to actively promote the principles of open science.” What they committed to in 2013 as an important open access initiative has become, against the current political backdrop, truly a quest to “free the science.”
This is the Conference Report from the Symposium on Open Access : Envisioning a World Beyond APCs/BPCs that was held at the University of Kansas last fall. The symposium generated international attention and some great conversations. This report was written by Robert Kieft, Ada Emmett, Josh Bolick, and Rebecca Kennison.
On November 17-18, 2016, the University of Kansas Libraries (KU), Open Access Network (OAN), Allen Press, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), and Association of Research Libraries (ARL) sponsored an international symposium, Envisioning a World Beyond APCs/BPCs, at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, USA. The symposium brought together a group of 18 panelists and 9 respondents and offered a first session livestreamed for a worldwide audience. The remainder of the meeting was structured as an “unconference” focused on key ideas raised by participants’ statements and the ensuing discussion during the opening event. The symposium asked the participants to consider current models available for achieving an expansive, inclusive, and balanced global open publishing ecosystem, one that does not depend on the payment of article- or book- processing charges (APCs or BPCs) for publication.
Last month I was invited to participate in a panel on Open Access at the annual American Historical Association meeting in Denver. One of my colleagues led their presentation with the astute comment that the way most historians react to OA is with apathy. After all, the economics of traditional monograph publishing work pretty well in history and the book is still the coin of the realm in this field. If OA is a solution to an economic crisis, then history should be the last place we need it, right?
This quote is from a 1996 letter written by then-Register of Copyright Marybeth Peters to Senator Orrin Hatch of the Senate Judiciary Committee about why the Copyright Office belongs in the Library of Congress:
Put simply, copyright differs from industrial property in fundamental respects. Most other countries, like the United States, have recognized this difference, handling copyright issues in their ministries of culture or education, and patent and trademark issues in their ministries of commerce or trade. While copyright, like industrial property, has important commercial value, it also has a unique influence on culture, education, and the dissemination of knowledge. It is this influence that logically connects copyright to the Library of Congress in contributing to the development of our nation’s culture.