The Scholarly Clampdown

The hubbub started two weeks ago (6 December) via the blogsphere and twitter and grew into articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education and The Washington Post. The scholarly publisher, Elsevier, had asked to remove final version editions of Elsevier publisher articles posted by scholarly authors to the social media site. In the ensuing backlash, Elsevier released a statement about why the takedown notices were issued, reiterating that takedown notification was an ongoing practice, and providing alternatives for scholars to use for posting articles such as utilizing the final author draft pre-print copy. In the various social media venues where this action was debated and discussed, one statement was made again and again, that the takedowns from ™ were probably just the beginning of takedown notification. Indeed, this week, the University of Calgary received a takedown notification for Elsevier content posted within their domain. Following this announcement, TechCrunch (TC) noted on 19 December that takedown notifications had now been sent to start-ups, Harvard, and individual researchers. Peter Suber followed up on this post by TC with a Google+ posting giving further information regarded the notifications sent to Harvard. In response to these notifications, the full legality of the takedown notifications has been called into question.  As noted by Mike Carroll, Washington College of Law, on the LIBLICENSE  discussion list:

“in the United States, you can’t transfer the exclusive rights under
copyright without signing a written agreement to that effect.  In the
absence of a signed writing, the author retains the exclusive rights and
the publisher is said to have been granted an implied non-exclusive
license to publish.  In the absence of a signed writing, a publisher that
asserts that it owns the copyright in a misleading copyright notice is
itself legally problematic.”

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) sent a memorandum out to the ARL Directors and this email in turn has been distributed out to ALA-ALCTS leaders. Here is a paraphrase from the ARL memorandum:

–Takedown notices are being sent to the designated DMCA agents at universities accompanied by spreadsheets of the articles that Elsevier claims are infringing. It is recommended that librarians communicate with your campus DMCA agent regarding these notices. Copyright should be respected when the claim of rightsholder is clear, but articles do not need to be removed if the author did not sign a copyright transfer agreement. In the case of these DMCA takedown notices, Elsevier bears the burden of proof that there is a signed agreement by the author(s) of the article transferring their rights to the publisher.–

The question of whether the copyright transfer agreements are really in place for all the takedowns being requested is a very real one.  Academic institutions are not involved in copyright transfer agreements and whether an agreement was signed or not was left up to the authors. In addition, academic institutions do not make any effort to centrally warehouse these agreements as a common practice. Authors often forget to sign these documents or refuse to sign them but see their work published nonetheless. In many cases, authors signed the agreement but did not keep it or forgot about performing that step when submitting their articles. Librarians have realized that this is a very opportune moment to educate faculty on what it means to sign a copyright transfer agreements, suggest alternatives to publishing with Elsevier, as well as capturing their research within library repositories. One response to the takedown notifications has been that librarians are developing online  messages such as this web site from Canadian Academic Research Libraries (CARL).

Lastly, in a comments exchange by Stevan Harnad with Tom Reller on the Elsevier web site, one practice is agreed upon:

December 17, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Stevan Harnad: Tom, I wonder if it would be possible to drop the double-talk and answer a simple question: Do or do not Elsevier authors retain the right to make their peer-reviewed final drafts on their own institutional websites immediately, with no embargo? Just a Yes or No, please… Stevan
December 18, 2013 at 2:36 pm
Tom Reller: Hello Dr. Harnad. I don’t agree with your characterization of our explanation here, but nevertheless as requested, there is a simple answer to your question – yes. Thank you.
December 20, 2013
Stevan Harnad: Tom, thank you. Then I suggest that the institutions of Elsevier authors ignore the Elsevier take-down notices (and also adopt an immediate-deposit mandate that is immune to all publisher take-down notices by requiring immediate deposit, whether or not access to the immediate-deposit is made immediately OA)… Stevan “


#ICanHazPDF vs. #ICanHazLibrary: Where Librarians Need to Rise to the Occasion

At the end of last week, a blog post by  Alex Bond, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Saskatchewan, on the blog: The Lab and Field caught quite a bit of attention on Twitter.  The blog post is entitled: “How #icanhazpdf can hurt our academic libraries.” The post describes a twitter stream based on this hash-tagged phrase where researchers, academics, students, and other interested parties basically ask one another to share PDFs of articles to which the originator of the post does not have access but hopes to gain free access via someone who does have access to the content. Librarians jumped to attention and re-tweeted the blog post throughout the next couple of days pointing out that Inter-Library Lending (ILL) through libraries could also supply PDFs or articles for free. Some researchers countered that ILL takes too long (up to two weeks still at many institutions) and is still delivered at many institutions in print form as opposed to sending an electronic file to the requestor. In some cases, the researcher/academic wrote they were invited to come into the library to find the content they needed but either couldn’t because of time constraints placed on their research or due to wanting to access content when libraries were closed and unavailable. For a sense of the growing use and development of #icanhazpdf, I recommend the blog post by Jean Lui at AltMetrics entitled: Interactions: the Numbers behind #IcanHazPDF.

In the information glut society in which we now reside, librarians have opportunities to expand services and provide more content at the point of need. First, we need to insure that all open access content is made readily available through our discovery systems, include all OA articles and do not “not include” resources within our library catalogs/discovery systems because they do not represent a complete journal issue or journal run. There are times when access does trump ownership and open access content is one specific situation we can readily remedy by providing broader access through our current systems. Secondly, we need to explore how to provide context sensitive content delivery when possible and make it happen. This means document delivery. Build into your service and/or collection budget a fund for rapid supply of article delivery to the desktops of faculty and graduate students. It has to be article delivery that is useful to the end-user, it cannot just be a PDF that can only be used for a short period of time or not printed-out. It has to be full on article delivery to the end-user. There are service providers, some from within our very own community, who can make this happen. This type of service may in fact, be more important than the addition of more journals or journal packages. Lastly, establish a 24 hour article delivery option of print resources to faculty and graduate students by offering to scan and deliver to desktops, content that reside within your stacks or storage facility. It is worth the staff time and resource commitment to do this as this type of service will be greatly lauded by faculty and researchers on campus.

Librarians cannot fully compete with Twitter but we can improve both access and availability to the content we’ve collected and the content our end-users demand.


Ithaka Faculty Survey

The 2012 Ithaka Faculty Survey of information behaviors hit the street this week. I’m not sure there are any great surprises in the report. The progression towards use of electronic materials continues at about the same pace. The disciplinary differences between humanities, social sciences, and sciences seem about the same as previous years. They are all shifting in their behaviors in the same direction.

What is fairly constant as well, is that most faculty continue to think that the most important activity of the library is to acquire or provide access to scholarly material. “The library pays for resources I need…” is uniformly the highest response in several questions about the role of the library. (See pages 63-76.) Of course, anyone who has looked at Libqual data will know this as well.

Contrast this with responses from library directors, especially regarding the development of library support services for scholars, and you begin to see a disconnect between scholar desires (or knowledge of library services, at least). On some issues there is almost a 40% difference in response rate between faculty and library directors. “The library supports and facilitates my teaching activities,” for example, or, “The library provides active support that helps to increase the productivity of my research and scholarship,” are both questions to show a wide gap between faculty and library directors.

Library collections continue to be very important for scholars. We need to continue thinking about the best ways to serve those scholarly information needs.