A Restart on the eBook License Agreement

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.

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Revolutionizing Scholarly Publishing

I recently went out on a limb to help a group of scholars who were trying to do a good thing but going about it in a not-so-good manner.

They wanted to curate a list of articles on a topic relating to current events and social justice. Unfortunately, they were determined to post the materials to the open web using full-text PDFs from licensed, published content.

Yes, cue the collective copyright librarian shudder.

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Using library content licenses to shape the scholarly communications landscape

As announced Friday, the MIT Libraries have included innovative language in our agreement with Springer : a provision that MIT-authored articles will automatically be deposited into our campus repository.

This partnership reflects the strategy mentioned in my previous post – our newly created Department of Scholarly Communications and Collections Strategy is assessing potential purchases using a new lens: whether purchases transform the scholarly communication system towards openness, or make a positive impact on the scholarly communication environment in some way—to take one example, through licensing.

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