Angry Words: Libraries v. Academic Publishers

Battles over academic publishing and IP are going on all over. Cambridge University Press is taking on Georgia State over E-Reserves and whether those constitute copyright violations. This is heading to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, after a lower court handed down a decision mostly favorable to Georgia State.

medieval_libary

Sorry, this triangle here means it’s copy protected, so I can’t make you a copy. Please go to Avignon to register with the Pope;  and come back with your login and password. A boar’s head, would be nice too.

The question of copying and who pays or gets paid is a very old one in academic libraries, predating the web by centuries. Some savvy medieval invaders made complete copies of every book in the monastery libraries of the conquered region one of the conditions.

In my long ago college era, reserves meant articles in boxes behind the library reference desk, which I think mostly passed muster as fair use (although they probably were not supposed to be recopied, as they inevitably were). Profs also handed out lots of photocopies, sometimes with instructions not to violate copyright. And there was the unloved and unlamented world of microfiche and microfilm, which really is something we all have to be happy isn’t around any more.

Reserves had become course packs by my late 80s stint in grad school. These were “book like” of the Kinko’s variety and they carried lots of warnings about one-time use, etc., presumably to stave off law suits, although they did occur. People go to school, particularly library school, to get access to lots of information, so there is a built in desire to push limits among everyone involved.

Now that you can buy readings online from academic publishers, I suppose the difference in appearance between what is offered in an e-reading that a professor or library provides and what you might pay for from the publisher has diminished even further. I see that as a mostly good thing, and the idea that you have a EULA to agree to rather than some form of ownership a little weird. Certainly publishers’ business models are stressed by all these changes. Maybe that stress will spawn some creativity around what is needed now given that simple access is a completely different issue;  it’s also an challenge for libraries and academics, as the economics of access to content fall to their shoulders in ways that are hard to predict and manage for.

India has its own version of this going on, in this context still over the photocopying of reserves. A bunch of very high profile academics, led by Amartya Sen, have come out strongly against the presses, pointing out that one argument at least, that photocopying hurts the financial interests of professors, is pretty laughable. From the article:

The letter finally said that “We would finally like to place on record that the petitions filed by the publishers claim that they are acting on behalf of authors and representing the interest of authors. As academics and authors we believe that the wider circulation of our work will only result in a richer academic community and it is unfortunate that you choose to alienate teachers and students who are indeed your main readers and we urge you to consider withdrawing this petition.

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