Double talk

For almost two years now a small group of lawyers and repository managers in the U.S. have been discussing and drafting model language that libraries can use to insert in vendor contracts with publishers that will ensure the self-archiving rights of faculty at the specific institution who publish in the journals that are part of the licensed collection.  The model language, and a considerable amount of background information can be found on this blog.  A similar effort has been underway at JISC, the Joint Information Services Committee in the U.K., for which information can be found here.

Obviously these efforts have struck a nerve, because yesterday the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers issued a statement opposing these efforts.  The statement is a model of misdirection — affirming, in the best tradition of political double speak, exactly the values they think their opponents hold while trying to claim that it is merely the means, not the goal, that they oppose.  It is worth taking a close look at this statement.

The STM statement makes four basic points, as follows:

  1. “Conflating” authors rights with institutional content licenses would add complexity and uncertainty to the process.
  2. Publishers are already doing well in terms of responsiveness to authors and in disseminating the results of research.
  3. Scholars “value fora that provide comprehensive coverage of a discipline,” while institutions are pushing repositories in order to enhance their own reputations.
  4. The impact of institutional repositories should be the subject of objective research and assessment.

The first of these arguments is really interesting, since it is publishers own policies that have driven institutions to adopt this strategy.  Publishers often tell individual authors that they cannot accept authors’ rights addenda to individual publishing contracts because they need consistent agreements.  Yet they have never been concerned that libraries must negotiate different agreements with each publisher when they are in their vendor roles.  Now suddenly they want to avoid complexity, but only if it will serve to shut the other avenue toward authors’ rights.  Can we expect a new willingness to accommodate individual authors who seek to self-archive?  I don’t think so, especially after working with an author this week whose request to shorten the 18 month embargo imposed on self-archiving by his publisher was turned down flat.

This experience, and countless ones like it, convince me that the second point is simply not true.  Responsiveness to author needs tend to stop at precisely the point where the author wants to take advantage of the new opportunities offer by the digital environment to increase his or her impact on her field.  Impact on the field is a collective goal for publishers, but it comes right behind maximizing profit, and it does not including helping individual authors in any way that is perceived to threaten those profits.

The third point is a rather disingenuous attempt to drive a wedge between authors and the repositories on their campus, by characterizing the motives of each side so that they seem divergent.  The use of the term “institution-centric repositories,” which seemed to have been coined specially for this statement, is indicative of the desire to put authors and their institutions at odds.  In fact, authors really do want maximum impact for their work, and institutions are not just seeking a “showcase” with their repositories.  When my institution adopted an open access policy, in fact, the most compelling argument for both the faculty council and the administration turned out to be “knowledge in the service of society,” which is one of Duke’s overarching strategic emphases.  Both groups recognized that traditional toll-access publication was not serving this shared goal very well.

Finally, the impact of open access repositories has been subject to a great deal of research already.  Most of it has supported the values that are behind the effort, and these publishers don’t like such conclusions.  Thus the implication that they are the only ones capable of carrying out “objective” research and the reference to a project which is being lead by the STM Association itself.

All in all, this statement provides a model of partisan double speak, but it does little to forward the conversation.  Licensing negotiations are one of the few places where institutions wield real power, the power of the purse, in their relationship with publishers.  It is, therefore, a very appropriate venue to pursue the goals that are shared between faculty authors and their institutions.  Such negotiations may be complex, but they always have been.  What is new is that institutions are beginning to stand up for their own shared values.

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