Category Archives: Open Access and Institutional Repositories

What faculty think

It is always dangerous to try and speculate about the opinions and attitudes of a large group, especially one af diverse as university faculty. But the University of California’s Office of Scholarly Communications always produces great research, and their recent report on “Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Scholarly Communication” is no exception. The full report can be downloaded here, and a PDF of the Executive Summary and Summary of Findings is here. This is solid, empirical research that can help guide attempts to reform and renew the system of disseminating scholarly research.

One of the most interesting findings in this report is the disconnect it documents between attitudes and behaviors around open access and, especially, copyright. Faculty members report a high level of concern about these issues, but very little change in behavior as a result of that concern. Most respondents, regardless of their worries or desire for change, continue to pursue co0nventional scholarly behaviors around research publication. These behaviors are deeply ingrained in the fabric of scholarship, so this finding isn’t very surprising. But it does suggest that offering help to faculty around copyright management, as well as simple and convenient ways to deposit their work in open access repositories, is very important. When we are asking a group to change long-followed practices, we ought to make the case compelling and the changes as painless as possible.

One thing that may help with this change is the growth of informal means of scholarly communication. As blogs, wikis, and even e-mail become an increasingly ubiquitous part of the scholarly process, traditional channels of scholarship will seem less inevitable than they have before. The UC report notes that the traditional system of tenure and promotion, with its narrow view of what constitutes acceptable scholarship, is one major reason for strict allegiance to the traditional system; the proliferation of informal channels of communication, rather than “external” pressure, seems the most likely way to open up that view of scholarship. It is to be hoped that the value for a more open and informal way of evaluating and improving scholarship will make traditional channels, as valuable as they are, no longer the only option for perceiving quality work.

Another interesting finding of the report is that “senior faculty may be the most fertile targets for innovation in scholarly communications.” For many this seems counter-intuitive, although the report on legal scholarship discussed in our last post indicated the same possibility. While younger faculty may be more comfortable with technology (although that is by no means certain), it is senior faculty, the UC report suggests, who can afford to experiment, since tenure makes experimentation much lower risk. Is it possible that another explanation of this finding is that senior faculty, with their years of experience in traditional scholarly publishing, have reached a level of frustration that makes them embrace new alternatives more quickly?

Salvos in the Copyright Wars

This diatribe against YouTube recently appeared on the web site of a right wing lobbying organization with the innocuous name of “National Legal and Policy Center.” They are certainly correct that lots of copyright infringement happens on YouTube, but several of their arguments deserve response.

It is always odd to see a group that says it advocates small government and free markets swing so far in favor of stronger copyright protection, which, by its nature, is government intervention to distort the market. Copyright works to keep the price of knowledge goods well above the marginal cost of production in order to provide an incentive for creation. Because it creates an artificial monopoly, it must always balance the incentive created with the harm done to free competition. The National Legal and Policy Center makes no such analysis.

Instead, they simply assert that “Internet piracy” causes loses by the film industry of $2.3 billion. Such an estimate relies on lost “opportunity costs” and assumes that each unauthorized copy is equivalent to a lost sale – a very questionable assumption. It also neglects the other side of the equation; the potential economic and social benefits when consumers have lower-cost access to entertainment and to the “inputs” for new creativity. Not that we should encourage “free-riding,” but the economics are not as simple as these lobbyists suggest; there is no reason to assume that the price the entertainment industry wants to charge for its goods is actually the optimum price, given the artificial support of copyright law.

Finally, the article simply assumes that YouTube should be responsible for the infringing activities of its users. The current law, in fact, cuts the other way; the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides a safe harbor for online service providers from such secondary liability in order to encourage innovation. That safe harbor, which has allowed a freedom for experimentation with fair use that has supported a wealth of new creativity, is being challenged in court by the entertainment industry. The issue is still unresolved, but once again, the desirable social balance is complex and requires careful negotiation, not mere finger pointing and accusation.

Equally simple-minded is the new campaign (PRISM) launched by the American Association of Publishers against public access for federally-funded research in health. The publishing industry lost in Congress earlier this year, when a mandate for public access to research funded by the National Institute of Health was included in an appropriations bill. Now they hope to reverse that loss by convincing the public that mandated access for taxpayers is “government interference.” Why it is not government interference for tax money to finance the research in the first place is not clear, except to note that publishers get a free ride on such research. The researchers, of course, are seldom paid for the articles they write based on the government-sponsored research, and publishers can charge outrageous rents to let the public see the results. Little wonder that they want to protect their golden goose. But the irony of accusing the government, which paid for the research, of wanting to free-load off the publishers, who do not, is a bit too much.

The debate on these issues is well documented by Peter Suber, here at “Open Access News.”

Anthropological growing pains

Last week’s announcement by the American Anthropological Association that it was moving it journals and database (AnthroSource) from the stewardship of the University of California Press to the more commercial hands of Wiley/Blackwell publishers has caused a lot of outrage and hand-wringing. There is a comprehensive blog post about the announcement here at Georgia State University and an excellent article in Inside Higher Education here.

The most important point that is made by the Inside Higher Ed. article is that this news should be seen in context. Alongside the Anthropology announcement the article also notes the recent decision by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the nations second largest funder of bio-medical research, to join BioMed Central in order to make it even easier for the researchers it funds to place their articles in open access journals. It is tempting to see the Anthropologist’s decision as unmitigated bad news, but it is really just part of the growing pains as we move toward new forms of scholarly communications.

Several possible explanations of the move to Wiley/Blackwell have been circulating. Some people see the decision as a hardening of the line against open access taken when the Association came out in opposition to the Federal Public Research Access Act (and to many of its own members who support that initiative). Others interpret this as an economic move; more money will presumably be available to pay editors and support Association activities, although it may mean that less “commercial” research gets even less attention. A third way of looking at the decision is as just another contretemps in a highly dysfunctional organization. A blog post at Savage Minds tries to sort out these different interpretations and help us see that they are not at all mutually exclusive.

All scholarly societies are facing difficult choices these days. The same economic pressures that worry libraries – spiraling costs from commercial publishers, more journal outlets every day and consolidation of the ownership of those outlets – threaten the societies that have traditional published a great deal of their own research. Joining the march toward commercialization may not seem like the best or most far-sighted solution on the part of the AAA, but it is understandable.

Far more productive, however, given the similar situation of societies and libraries, would be cooperative innovation to find new means of disseminating scholarship. Most everyone recognizes the problems we are facing; many voices, including many within the AAA are beginning to call for all those interested in the future of scholarship to talk together and think creatively about the long term sustainability of scholarly communications. The AAA has chosen a quick and short-sighted fix that will not make the problem go away; it is hoped that more creative long-term solutions await.

Can Google inherit quality?

That is the question posed by Paul Duguid, a professor at UC Berkeley, the University of London and Santa Clara University, about the Google Books Project. His article, “Inheritance and loss? A brief survey of Google Books” was just published in First Monday, a peer-reviewed online journal about the Internet.

Duguid’s point is that the Google Books project will really outstrip most other projects to digitize cultural artifacts, making them “appear inept or inadequate.” But the authority and quality of the Google project, Duguid argues, is based on a kind of inheritance from the reputation of the libraries involved. So Duguid sets out to see if Google really is the qualitative heir of Harvard and Stanford.

His results are disheartening. His search for a deliberately unconventional book, Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy,” returns results likely to confuse and discourage a casual reader. The first result on Google’s results list, a copy from Harvard, is so badly scanned that it is virtually illegible, with words cut off by the gutter on nearly every line. Elsewhere the text fades to indecipherable scratchings. And some of Sterne’s eccentricities are missing; the black page of mourning for the dead Parson Yorick simply is not included in the Google scan. When Duguid tries the second result from his search, things get worse. The first page of the scan is blank and the second page puts the reader at the end of chapter 0ne and the beginning of chapter 2 — of the second volume. Nothing informs the reader (other than comparison with a printed text) that they have been plunged into the middle of the book.

Duguid’s judgments on Google Books are harsh: the project ignores essential metadata like volume numbers, the quality of the scans are often inadequate, and sometimes editions that are best consigned to oblivion are given undeserved prominence for no discernible reason (that is his conclusion regarding the second text he found, from Stanford). Rather than inheriting quality from Harvard and Stanford, he concludes, “Google threatens not only its own reputation for quality and technological sophistication, but also those of the institutions that have allied themselves to the project.”

It is true that the real value of the Google Books Project is not so much to find reading matter for people as to direct them to which books are most likely to be of help or interest to them.  Few people, one presumes, will try to read “Tristram Shandy” in the Google Books format.  But the failures of visual quality and metadata control threaten even the more modest view of Google Books as a giant index.  Without a higher degree of quality than Duguid discovered, it is hard to argue that Google is superior in any way to a comprehensive online catalog from a major library

Yale says no to an OA flavor

The announcement this week that Yale University will no longer maintain its membership in BioMed Central is another example of the growing pains involved as scholar publishing adapts itself to new business models and forms of distribution.

BioMed Central is an open access publisher that relies on author fees and institutional memberships to pay the cost of online publishing. The resulting 180 peer-reviewed electronic journals are freely available to all users. But open access is not free, and Yale decided to withdraw its institutional membership, which covered the fees for all articles published in BioMed Central journals by Yale authors, because the price was getting too high. In one sense, this is good news for open access publishing; it means that lots of authors from this prestigious university are publishing in BioMed Central journals. Clearly quality, peer-reviewed scholarship is compatible with open access. In its response to the news from Yale, BioMed Central points out that costs have risen because the journals have grown and asserts that, on a cost-per-article basis, its journals still represent good value.

Open access based on author fees is an important aspect of the movement toward new models of scholarly publishing, but it is just one model of how OA can be accomplished. The Yale decision offers a good chance to comment on the variety of publishing models with which authors and publishers are experimenting by pointing out this article on “The Nine Flavours of Open Access Scholarship” by John Willinsky, which is itself published in an open access journal. Willinsky categorizes the various flavors (his spelling is different because he is a Canadian), including the “author fees” model and the “dual mode” model practiced by the Journal of Post Graduate Medicine, which published his article. This brief article is also a good introduction to Willinsky’s superb monograph on “The Access Principle,” where he develops the economic, social and scholarly arguments for open access and also expands his list to include ten “flavours.” Yale is not happy with the economics of one particular kind of OA (although it is keeping its membership in the Public Library of Science, another important OA publisher using author’s fees), but there are many more options to experiment with.

UPDATE — Presumably BioMed Central is feeling better these days, with the announcement (August 20) that the second largest funder of biomedical research in the US, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has joined BMC and will pay the costs for publishing all the research articles it funds in open access form.


The Creative Commons, the organization behind the increasingly-ubiquitous Creative Commons licenses, has recently announced the formation of a new division, CCLearn. The stated goal of CCLearn is to minimize the legal, technical and social barriers that impede the sharing and reuse of educational materials.

Towards this end, one of the activities of CCLearn will be to encourage those who create educational resources to make them available free of legal and technical barriers that discourage adaptation and creative reuse. The Creative Commons license, by which creators can waive their copyright claims as long as their works are used for non-profit educational purposes, is a major tool toward creating such “open educational resources.” So a major initiative of CCLearn will be to encourage those who create education resource to employ CC license or some similar mechanism to communicate their desire to share those resources with the educational community.

Equally important, of course, is the ability to find resources that are made openly available for educational purposes. An important aspect of CCLearn will be its Open Education Search, a tool that “aims to direct search engine traffic to the incredible diversity of OER repositories and communities.” This tool should make it much easier for faculty members to find resources they can use in their classes without having to worry about copyright concern. It is a frequent and bitter observation that our system of copyright law does not accommodate the needs of education very well, even as it relies on institutions of higher education for much of the material that populates that system. Careful attention as CCLearn develops its open education search tool is called for; it promises a system that could offer both a potential solution to some of these copyright problems and an immense resource for creative approaches to teaching.

Hybrid journals and the transition to OA

When colleges and universities first started talking about scholarly communications over a decade ago, the context for those conversations was often the so-called “serials pricing crisis.”  Our notions about the system of scholarly communications is now considerably broader and more inclusive now, but the problem of spiraling costs for traditional material is still with us.  One of the knottiest questions is whether, and how, open access to scholarly publications might address that problem of high costs.

As many publishers develop hybrid models of journal publishing – where much of the journal content, print or digital, is still available only upon subscription but some proportion of that content is freely available online because the authors have paid a special “supply-side” fee to make their work open access – many librarians question how such supply side income will impact traditional subscription rates.  The issue of how we can transition library budgets away from a focus on subscriptions toward a dual focus, where author side fees might be underwritten by the institutions, is a trick and difficult one.  Subvention of such author fees is really a more efficient use of the money we spent to support scholarly communications, providing much greater access than institutional subscriptions can, but it is hard to see how we can move that very limit supply of dollars toward such subventions as long as subscription rates continue to climb.

The recent announcement from Oxford Press that they are adjusting the online-only subscription rates to their Oxford Open journals suggests a step forward toward making this difficult transition.  Oxford is discounting some subscriptions to reflect the income received from its “open choice” option that lets authors pay for open access.  As Heather Morrison notes in her “Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics” blog posting, this announcement illustrates one step in the “potential positive spiral in the transition to open access.”  

Advertisements, elitism and open access

One of the joys of blogging is the opportunity to relate issues and news items that do not seem to have an obvious connection. Here the only connection is that both involve SSRN — the Social Science Research Network, an open access depository for articles in the social sciences that is a wonderful resource on policy and legal issues.

First I came across this complaint, on a law professor’s blog, about the presence of Google advertisements in SSRN and the odd juxtapositions those ads sometimes create with the content of the paper. Specifically, Professor Leiter reports on a paper dealing sympathetically with a recent labor dispute at a university that was framed with ads for organizations that purported to help keep campuses union-free. The author was, not surprisingly, upset that his article would become the unintended vehicle for a point of view he does not support. Prof. Leiter also mention the uncomfortable relationship some ads seem to have with his own article on religion and law.

One of the realities of open access, of course, is that someone has to pay for the server space, upkeep, and the like. SSRN has a complex funding model that includes deposit fees, institutional subscriptions and — here is the rub — advertisements. Do the advantages of open access outweigh the discomfort that advertisements accompanying scholarly work can cause? I think they do, but read on.

Another recent article in SSRN broadens the question raised by these advertisements to an issue of gatekeeping and elitism. In “Evaluate me! Conflicted thoughts on gatekeeping and legal scholarships new age,” Paul Horowitz explicitly raises the question of how much open access to scholarship disrupts the traditional function of publication to certify and validate scholars and scholarship. Much open access material, of course, has already been peer-reviewed and accepted through the traditional channels of scholarship. But there is a whole new form of scholarly communications out there — informal discussion on blogs and listservs that are often the midwife of formal scholarship. Some may see this as a threat to traditional forms of evaluation and quality control; advertisements seem like a tangible reminder of that threat. But others will see informal and open web communications as a renewal of creativity and an opportunity to democratize the process of scholarship as well as its results. What do you think?

Friday’s good news

Last Friday was a day of both good news and bad news for higher education on the copyright front.

On the plus side, on Friday we learned that the House of Representatives passed, late Thursday night, a Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill that included language to make the public access policy for the National Institute of Health mandatory. What this means is that the published results of research funded by NIH grant monies would have to be made available to the public, whose tax dollars paid for the research, within one year of publication. The NIH offers the PubMed Central database for this purpose, and a small amount of research (compared to the total amount funded) has been made available under a voluntary program for the past three years. A mandatory policy will vastly increase public access to vital health information; the 12 month delay would ensure that subscriptions to the journals that publish these original articles would not be endangered.

This was only a small provision in a huge appropriations bill, but it is the first time a full branch of Congress has endorsed the principle of public access. Publishers lobbied hard against the change, for reasons that are hard to fathom (note — here is an article in which several representatives of the content industry express the reasons for their opposition), but Congress specifically passed over the opportunity to amend this provision. A similar bill, with the open access proviso, will soon be considered in the Senate. President Bush has threatened to veto the Appropriations bill because of disagreement over the amount of spending — not because of the public access rule — so it may be sometime before this mandate goes into effect. Nevertheless, a very significant first hurdle has been successfully cleared.

See a news release from the Alliance for Taxpayer Access here.

Our next post will discuss Friday’s bad news.

Copyright term, open access and the NIH

As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week, an Oxford graduate student in economics is soon to publish a paper arguing that the “optimal” term of copyright protection is just 14 years. This is vastly shorter than the current term of protection in the US, where the term is life of the author plus 70 years, or in nearly any other nation of the world. Although his conclusion may be too radical to be practical, Rufus Pollok’s calculations add some weight, if any was needed, to the argument that copyright protection has moved very far from its original goal of providing an incentive to authors to create and now nearly exclusively serves the economic interests of large commercial distributors.

Pollock bases some of his calculations on the argument that a shorter term becomes more desirable as technology makes reproduction and distribution easier. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the optimal term he arrives at – 14 years – was precisely the term provided by the first English copyright law, the 1709 Statute of Anne.

Even if the copyright term was vastly shorter than it now is, however, many of the arguments for open access to research and scholarship would remain just as strong. That there is great public benefit to wider access to cutting edge research, and great justice in providing taxpayers with no-toll access to the results of research for which they have already paid, are points that do not depend on the length of the copyright term. Even if the term were as short as Pollock proposes, more immediate public access would still be worthwhile pursuit; authors would still need to see that a right to open access deposit was included in their publication agreements and funders, especially government agencies, would still need to mandate such deposit whenever practical. But under our grossly over-extended term of protection, these needs are greatly amplified.

Congress is now considering an appropriations bill that includes funding for the National Institute of Health and, for the first time, would mandate that research funded by the NIH be deposited in the PubMed Central database within six months of publication. This language has clear the appropriations committee and will be considered on the House floor this week. Publishers have objected that this mandate might undermine copyrights, but this argument hardly seems convincing, since most publication agreements already allow authors to offer their own published work on the web. Authors must continue to read such agreements with great attention to be sure they retain this right, and Congress should not let this spurious argument prevent them from seeing the basic justice that demands passage of the NIH appropriations bill as it has come from committee.

Added note — The American Library Association has posted this Action Alert to assist those who would like to encourage Congress to support the NIH mandate.