Category Archives: Copyright

Georgia State Strikes Back

If the university presses that sued Georgia State over the use of electronic readings offered their students through the campus CMS, department pages, and library e-reserves were looking for a “whoops” and the kind of statement that Cornell (and other schools) have adopted – they guessed wrong.

At issue: well, it depends on how you frame it. University presses think Georgia State violated their rights by not “seeking permission” (copyright lingo for “paying”) to use digital copies of their publications. They want the university to adopt practices that are at least closer to their more limited definition of fair use. Georgia State believes they were furthering students’ education in a way that is fair use. And in papers filed on Tuesday they’ve just explained their side of it to the court.

Andrea Foster’s article in the Chron (the only coverage of this development that I’ve seen so far) points out that Georgia State is making another argument – as a state institution they’re immune from prosecution.

Without having a copy of the filing, it’s hard to read the tea leaves – but this could be precedent-setting in ways the previous settlements were not. How interesting that this document was filed just before ALA is having its annual meeting in Annaheim and at the very same time the American Association of University Presses is meeting in Toronto. I’d love to have two flies on those conference center walls with Twitter accounts.

(The AAUP has a statement of support for the press’s suit posted on their website, but it’s from last April. I tried to see if they have updates on their blog, but guess what – it’s closed to non-members. I also couldn’t find a statement from Georgia State’s press office at their Website.)

Do you know more about this court filing? Do tell.

Lawsuit on “Electronic Course Packs”

This story in The New York Times is alarming – does anyone know more about it? Though libraries, CMS’s, and e-reserves are not mentioned, it appears to have widespread implications.

Three prominent academic publishers are suing Georgia State University, contending that the school is violating copyright laws by providing course reading material to students in digital format without seeking permission from the publishers or paying licensing fees.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in United States District Court in Atlanta, the publishers — Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Sage Publications — sued four university officials, asserting “systematic, widespread and unauthorized copying and distribution of a vast amount of copyrighted works” by Georgia State, which the university distributes through its Web site.

The lawsuit, which may be the first of its kind, raises questions about digital rights, which are confronting many media companies, but also about core issues like the future of the business model for academic publishers.

If anyone has the inside scoop, please share it with us.

Update: The AJC writes a really confusing headline but adds some information about the library angle; Inside Higher Ed writes journalistic circles around the Gray Lady. The complaint is here. The Chron comments on the commentary and links to a fascinating take from Kevin Smith that argues libraries and faculty aren’t free-riders on publishers, it’s the other way around: publishers get free content from academia, then wants to be paid all over again when it’s used for courses.

Free Culture Clash

Libraries think it makes sense to digitize theses and dissertations and have them web-searchable rather than have to rely on UMI publishing them. Having a few print copies on the shelf means hardly anyone will find that scholarship, and why would anyone go to the trouble to write all that if they don’t want it read?

Well, to get a credential, for one, and for another, to prepare for a life that involves publishing books – books that are a marketable commodity, not given away for free.

Several universities have fallen afoul of graduate students who fear their first book – the one that gets them tenure – will be unpublishable if the dissertation its based on is open access. The University of Iowa is now finding itself in the middle of an unanticipated firestorm when they decided deposited electronic theses would be open access and, eventually, print theses would be, too. According to the Chron:

At the center of the conflict is a routine form that students and their faculty advisers sign for depositing students’ theses with the Graduate College. Language added to the form this semester says that the University of Iowa Library will scan hard-copy theses and “make them open-access documents,” which it defines as freely available over the Internet and retrievable “via search engines such as Google.” It is not clear who authorized that clause.

Students can request to have Internet publishing delayed for two years, the form states, but it adds that the default assumption is that students want their theses disseminated online. All graduate students must sign the form, due in early April, in order to graduate.

To some this is a Trojan horse – a university taking control of students’ intellectual property without discussion; for others it’s outright theft. For many students in the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop it’s an inexplicable lapse of common sense. After all, these are students who are in school to learn how to write publishable work. They see this action as a high-handed move to take away their creative work and make it unpublishable.

The language in the “first deposit checklist” states the library plans to make electronic deposits open access and to digitize print ones, rather than have them published via UMI. The library has tried to clarify its role in this issue, as reported in EarthGoat.

But clearly, there are some very sticky issues here that open access supporters (including many critics of this new policy) need to untangle.

Addendum: Peter Suber has, as usual, words of wisdom. The only disagreement I would have with him is that two years’ embargo is okay for literary works. It takes a year, at a minimum, to publish a book the traditional way, and trade publishers would not be happy with any open access that wasn’t under their control, ever. Backlist is gold to them, and a lot of books retain their market value even when they’re years old. (I do find myself wondering whether UMI publication has ever interfered with signing a contract for an MFA-originated project – but that’s a rabbit hole we don’t need to go down.)

UPDATE: The university (not surprisingly) said whoops and the language on the policy was changed (and that link will no longer work). Chances are, this could have been resolved in-house without any friction, but because there was a deadline involved, the issue didn’t seem resolvable quickly, and word spread across the internet much faster, it became a bit of a public relations disaster. If nothing else, it suggest rolling out any new open access initiative needs to be an opportunity to discuss what open access is all about.

Welcome to the Public Domain

Happy new year! Here are some authors whose works are back in the public domain: J. M. Barrie, Jean de Brunhoff, H. P. Lovecraft, Maurice Ravel, and Edith Wharton. (If you live in Canada, you get even more.)

Thanks to John Mark Ockerbloom and to BoingBoing for the reminder that with every new year, some works become public. At least until the next copyright extension law is passed.

photo courtesy of tilaneseven

Free As In Free Speech?

The American Library profession is at a crossroads: will our future be marked by the predominance of free and open source integrated library systems and open access journal publishing, or will we continue to use proprietary software and tolerate barriers to scholarly information? Does it matter?

The ethical and philosophical implications of open source and open access were debated at the North American Computing and Philosophy Conference in Chicago this past July. Keynote speakers included Richard Stallman on open source free software, and Peter Suber on the open access movement.

Richard Stallman, I found out, is something of a celebrity in the computer science world. He is founder of the GNU Project and president of the Free Software Foundation. Stallman has a particular conception of free software that he promotes and defends with great verve. Stallman believes the terminological distinction between free software and open source software is important. Free software to Stallman means that the user has the “freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes.” Stallman believes these freedoms are not only about price, but about promoting sharing and cooperation. One of Stallman’s slogans is “free as in free speech, not free beer.”

The Library community, I’ve noticed (here, here, and here), tends to use the phrase open source. (Casey Bisson uses them both in “Free at Last” a recent American Libraries column only accessible to… ahem.) Systems librarians have long been fed up with the lack of development of proprietary OPACs and are now experimenting with open source models.

“Open source” originated at a strategy session in 1998 in which it was decided to “dump the moralizing and confrontational attitude that had been associated with “free software” in the past and sell the idea strictly on the same pragmatic, business-case grounds.”

As a marketing strategy, this maneuver seems to have worked. Open source software is all over the place, and mainly for pragmatic reasons–the open development process is producing better software. And besides a few licensing details, open source software and free software are very similar and share the same goals. So does it matter what it’s called?

In their fascinating new book, Decoding Liberation, Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter sidestep the issue by using “free and open source software.” Chopra and Dexter explore and expand on the ethical issues raised by Stallman. They raise the interesting points that as a scientific discipline, computer science requires code to be publicly inspectable, and that in a world increasingly infused with code, “personal and social freedoms become the freedoms granted or restricted by software.”

(Chopra and Dexter are taking some flak over publishing their book with Routledge which is listing it at $95.00 with an eye toward the suckers who buy anything no matter how much it costs enabling publishers to make hefty profits and restrict knowledge from people the academic library market. Chopra and Dexter reveal why they went with Routledge and an interesting discussion is emerging on the differences between copyright in book publishing and copyright in software over at their blog.)

It’s time for the library community to start looking not only at the practical aspects of free and open source software but at the ethical issues as well. For Stallman, the development of free software is an ethical imperative. Chopra and Dexter raise issues of academic freedom and social responsibility. One thing I realized at the conference was how similar philosophically the library values of free speech and the hacker ethic of free software really are. What should be the future of academic libraries? More collaboration with programmers and more free and open source software for libraries which result in better services for users. Put that together with open access and we’ve got a vision that includes making scholarly information accessible to more people. If we’re not for that, what are we for?