For the 1,000th Time: Who Will Own (and Mine) the Scholarly Record?

Elsevier is a massive, for-profit publisher headquartered in Amsterdam. They make a lot of money aggregating faculty work product for cheap and selling it back to universities at a huge markup. Their mission is to maximize shareholder value and profit.

Elsevier just bought SSRN, a widely used repository of social science research articles, especially preprints. A lot of smart people, including Kevin Smith on this blog, have weighed in on this development. SSRN users aware of Elsevier’s profits-first practices are nervous. The excellent Authors Alliance has put together a list of principles they believe SSRN must adhere to in order to maintain the trust of the authors who post work there. One of our favorite takes, Christopher Kelty’s blog post here, explains why Elsevier probably bought SSRN, and why we should be nervous. The acquisition is probably not so much about the individual papers as it is about possession of a trove of research for data mining about scholarship. Possession may be 9/10ths of the law, but it’s 10/10ths of data mining. If you don’t have the data, you can’t do the mining. Now Elsevier’s got the data, and the academy will get to use it only on Elsevier’s terms.

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Tightening their grip

In the last couple of weeks, there have been several developments in the scholarly communication world that all point in the same direction – the move by the major commercial publishers to tighten their grip on access to and share of academic work, as well as a concern to capture data about how scholarship is shared.  Call this last part the commodification of the professoriate.

My attention was first drawn to these developments by a tweet that pointed to Wiley’s “Article Sharing Policy” site — with its handy-dandy sharing guidelines chart — and asked if Wiley really was asserting control over the pre-peer review copy of scholarly manuscripts.  Before I proceed, I think it is important to explain why the answer to that question is yes.

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The People’s Content: Diversifying What is Open and How We are Open

Pointing an OA lens on cultural heritage objects

Last fall at the Penn State University Libraries, one of the ways that we observed Open Access (OA) Week was to dedicate half a day to a series of presentations and discussions about the topic. Organized by the Libraries Open Educational Resources (OER) Task Force, the event was conducted also for internal outreach purposes, particularly since the previous semester the Library Faculty Organization, our governance body, passed an OA Policy. The talks included a “Scholarly Communications 101” presentation; a progress report by the chair of our Open Access Monographs Team; tips on how to be an OA ambassador; priorities for implementing the OA Policy; and a “technical update/year in review” that addressed federal funding agency requirements since the responses to the OSTP mandate began pouring in. It was a compilation of informative talks, put together by colleagues who have become, over the years, increasingly adept at addressing OA and schol comm issues.

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Compliance Considerations as Institutional Open Access Policies Grow

At my home institution, the University of Arizona, the Faculty Senate recently passed an Open Access policy that follows the standard model of directing faculty authors to deposit the final accepted manuscripts of their articles into our institutional repository. As an Arizona alum and OA advocate, I’m doubly pleased that that the Faculty Senate embraced the principle of making the university’s scholarship more widely accessible. Having gone down this path twice, once at Oregon State University and now at Arizona, I’ve been thinking about faculty motivations and how they relate to OA policy compliance.

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On copyright, translations and moral rights

In a recent discussion about Sci-Hub, I took some heat for bringing up the history of copyright and the shifting attitudes over time about what it is good for.  So I should probably know better than to appeal to history again as I begin some thoughts about the unique place of translations in copyright law.  Nevertheless, I think it is important to note that translations were not explicitly protected by U.S. law until 1870, and that 17 years earlier, an author of no less stature than Harriett Beecher Stowe lost a lawsuit in which she tried to prevent the publication of an unauthorized translation into German of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  As this article about the case tells us, the judge asserted that once it was published, Stowe’s expression was as available to translators — as much “public property” — as were the works of Homer or Cervantes.

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Clarity for our users

One of my favorite articles in the library literature is Melanie Schlosser’s “Unless Otherwise Indicated: A Survey of Copyright Statements on Digital Library Collections” in the July 2009 College & Research Libraries. Schlosser looked at the copyright statements for digital collections of members of the Digital Library Federation and did an analysis of their content. She identified several trends in these such as “The Vague Ownership Statement” and “Protecting Ourselves and You”, and, in general, found that these statements provided mixed messages about terms of use and copyright, and incomplete information about the actual copyright status of the items themselves. The examples she provides throughout the text give one a great sense of those mixed messages, incomplete information, and general CYA language that many libraries have used.

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