Calling for better policies

Unfortunately, I had to leave the SPARC Digital Repositories conference to catch a plane before the closing keynote address by David Shulenberger, VP for Academic Affairs at NASULGC, but there is a nice write up about his remarks here in   Shulenberger outlined seven steps to help academia weather difficult economic times and still “get to the next level” in scholarly communications.  Given the context, it is no surprise that the emphasis was on creating digital repositories.  I would note that his first step is for each university to be sure that a repository is available for their faculty, which is not quite the same thing as saying that every institution must have its own digital archive.  The possibilities for collaboration and sharing are precisely what have burgeoned in the digital environment, and it is important to remember that we can share infrastructure as well as the scholarship that infrastructure is designed to support.

The point I want to emphasize, however, was Shulenberger’s third step, in which he called on faculties and administrations to discuss current intellectual property policies and practices.  This is innocuous enough until Schulenberger delivers the punch line — “emulate Harvard.”  The point, of course, is that faculty should not surrender their copyright without thought and negotiation when publishing their scholarly output.  The time when that was a sensible or practical way of doing business is simply past, now that the digital environment offers so many new ways to disseminate research and scholarship.  The earlier part of Schulenberger’s remarks included a “calling out” of university presses and some scholarly societies for their support of the lawsuit against Georgia State and of legislative attempts to reverse the NIH Public Access policy.  The key to resisting these efforts to hamstring broader access to scholarship is precisely in this point — if faculty do not give away their copyrights, but rather give only licenses for publication, they will retain control and can use their work, and let others use it, without fear of being sued for infringing the copyright in works they or their colleagues produced in the first place.

The other appeal for better policies around copyright and intellectual property is this article in the ARL Research Bulletin by the President of NASULGC, Peter McPherson.  McPherson makes the point that colleges and universities are at the heart of the purpose of copyright to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts.”  To do that, he argues, we need to resist the trend toward every greater protection that has tilted the balance of the copyright bargain away from its core purpose.  He recommends that higher education work in concert to develop a comprehensive set of policies and to create a structure to advance those policies with lawmakers.  He argues quite correctly that our voice has been fragmented and unfocused, while those who believe, in opposition to the constitutional purpose of copyright, that they are entitled to squeeze every penny from each copyrighted work, speak in unison.

McPherson makes an excellent point, with which I want to close, when he notes that no single strategy will address all of the issues and all of the needs that arise around intellectual property within the academy.  It is precisely this need for creativity and flexibility that so urgently requires that we cooperate to develop an appropriate set of strategies, rather than each pursuing our own favorite issue or solution.  McPherson writes:

a “solution” to fully address some of the contemporary challenges we face in the intellectual property arena may be a combination of further legislation, public licenses, market-based allocation, or market-modification allocations.

I think this is exactly right, but would point out that the fundamental point made above, that IP rights can not simply be ceded away in exchange for traditional publication, is a prerequisite to any and all of these strategies.  Higher education should welcome the leadership of NASULGC, exemplified in these two articles, on this issue.

One thought on “Calling for better policies”

  1. Overlooked here is the hypocrisy of universities that call for more sharing of scholarly work yet are unwilling to subsidize their own universities presses to the extent that would allow them to do just this. Instead, they require presses to rely on the marketplace to generate 90% of their operating revenue and thereby compel those presses to rely on copyright protection to meet those financial targets, which the universities themselves set! There are, of course, many universities, like Georgia State, that contribute nothing to operating the system of scholarly communication and benefit from the existence of other universities that support presses to publish their own faculty’s work so that they can get tenure and promotion, all the while reproducing the works published by those other presses with no compensation at all. We in university press publishing would be far more sympathetic to universities in their call for open access if they really showed themselves willing, at the top levels, to shoulder the financial burden of making the shift to an OA model.

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