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A Failure to Communicate
June 16, 2010 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and Sage Publications are suing four librarians at Georgia State University for making portions of electronic copies of articles available to students when the text is places on reserve in the library, which is likely protected under fair use.

The lawsuit could however make these particular publishers toxic for universities, especially when journal articles are so often available on free preprint servers. Unlike the situation in entertainment media, universities are both the producers and consumers for academic journal articles, and academics are able to reign in academic publishers by canceling journal subscriptions, resigning from editorial boards, and simply not refereeing for journals held by these publishers.
posted by jeffburdges (29 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Journal publishers are a unique kind of scum; they have academics feeling like they owe it to the journals to do peer review for free, they often charge submitters to publish, and them they charge outrageous prices to libraries and universities. It's like if you were going to come up with the most arrogant and exploitative model possible, what exists is what you would create.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:44 AM on June 16, 2010 [13 favorites]


Open Source journals, people, open source. Stop publishing in these scams.
posted by waitingtoderail at 8:45 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's rein in! REIN! Argh!
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:48 AM on June 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


It's like if you were going to come up with the most arrogant and exploitative model possible, what exists is what you would create.

See below.

Also, jeffburdges, it's spelled "rein." Like what you do with a horse.
posted by felix betachat at 8:49 AM on June 16, 2010


hee
posted by felix betachat at 8:50 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not surprisingly the Publisher's Weekly article seems slanted towards the publisher's.
posted by nestor_makhno at 8:59 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


"But it's equally unlikely that cash-strapped institutions would be willing or able to subsidize the costs on behalf of students."

Unlikely? Unlikely? It is unlikely that I will pay my tuition thanks to a stuffed burlap sack with a dollar sign stenciled on tumbling out of the sky. It is in a parallel universe where hamburgers eat people that a university, as a unified system, will ever drive students' costs down by their own accord.

Individual professors, of course, do this all the time. I go to a university with a healthy contingent of working-class students, and I've had at least one professor scan an entire textbook for a required 101 course which, otherwise, would have cost over $100.

This sounds like the clinging-to-life throes of a financially unsustainable system being shown that custom alone cannot sustain it. This isn't about coming up with a "more efficient" system. It's about nipping unadulterated exploitation in the bud.
posted by griphus at 9:03 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, I felt kinda suspect posting that particular article, given the calls for a boycott existed only in comments, not the article itself, but I appreciated the publishers view that : If Google just settled when Google Books was so close to fair use, maybe the universities will also just settle.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:06 AM on June 16, 2010


Where I teach, official e-reserves have a limitation that make them essentially unusable. Any particular article can be placed in e-reserves for a class once. Want to use it again for that class next semester? You can't. After that, I'm sure there is some way to pay to make the article available, but that was never really discussed, and I don't know where the money would come from, anyway.

Some professors make articles available to students outside of the official e-reserve system. I've heard many feel justified in doing this as long as they are accessible to enrolled students only. This is easily done in any course management system.

I'm curious about what revenue streams are being protected here. Is the thought that e-reserves are replacing official course packs for which appropriate permissions were sought and royalties paid? In that case, the physical object "justifies" the cost and the practice of pushing it onto the student. This is a much harder sell with digital copies. The only way I see all players (faculty and students) agreeing to pay for digital resources is to roll it all up into blanket policies paid for by uniform student fees, as is currently done with access to journals and, on some campuses, music. Course-specific fees might be doable, given that students already pay extra fees for certain courses (lab materials, art supplies, etc.).

Open-access journals are, of course, a good solution, but only to part of the problem. As a researcher, I have all of my publications available as PDFs on my website, and this is more and more common. Not all of the materials used in courses are scholarly articles, however. For books, movies, music... well, the arguments end up being the same as in any other digital media / intellectual property discussion, I guess. [on preview: Oh look, there's one now.]
posted by whatnotever at 9:07 AM on June 16, 2010


In the rain, the King reigns with or without the reins of his horse. In conclusion: Journals suck.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:08 AM on June 16, 2010


Bring on the revolution. And our battle cry shall be: Elsevier to the scaffold!
posted by No Robots at 9:08 AM on June 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


You should tell you professor about gigapedia griphus.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:09 AM on June 16, 2010


Good Lord, this is offensive.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:12 AM on June 16, 2010


See below.

Don't worry, I saw that post. ;)
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:15 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are some excellent open access journals (e.g. the PLoS Journals). Unfortunately they are quite expensive to publish in. For example, PLoS Biology charges US$2900 per article. In the grand scheme of things this is not a huge amount, considering other research costs, but I'm sure it puts plenty of people off.
posted by jonesor at 9:15 AM on June 16, 2010


"It is a significant enough revenue stream for publishers to be concerned about," says Sandy Thatcher, executive editor for social sciences and humanities at Penn State University Press. "The paperback and the permissions markets have eroded over time because of e-reserves and course management systems, and if you can't substitute the lost revenue, you can't publish new books."

Good! The publishers are constantly churning out new editions that are slightly different than the last in order to keep students from taking their money to the used market. The number of subjects that require a totally 'new' edition every year is really small (tax books, mainly). The rest are just reformats of existing material with a bit of new information tossed in. This new information could happily have been released as a supplement or pamphlet (or heck, faculty could just tell the students in class). The cost of a new text is usurious, often upwards of 100-200 bucks.

The publishers woo faculty to use their books (like the article mentions, faculty need to publish to advance) so these new editions are required year after year. Even those faculty that don't want to change to a new edition every year are stuck - if they decide they like, say, the 11th edition of a particular text, that edition will not be available new in 2 years (or less!) and will be vanishingly rare used as well. Bookstores won't buy back used books if they can't resell them, after all.

At my academic library, we eschew eReserves. They exist, sure, but are managed by the professors on their Blackboard accounts. We'll take physical copies of chapters and the like as course packets, but assume that the entire contents of said packet are fairly used.

Instead, we just buy two copies of every required book for ever undergraduate course at the university. While we don't encourage it, I know there are dozens of students who have ceased buying texts all together and instead rely on our copies. Looking over a standard freshman's fall semester courseload (entry level English, Math, Spanish, and Psychology courses) that's a savings of ~350 bucks a semester. In a time when I'm seeing many student leave school because they just can't afford it anymore, paying an extra 700 bucks to get access to the information you need is just plain cruel.

So that's where the libraries step in. We can't be the keepers of All Information Everywhere anymore, but we can certainly work to make sure you can still access it. If I thought I could get away with scanning chapters out of books and putting them up for students to use, I would do it in a heartbeat.

So good on Georgia State!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:22 AM on June 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


"...which is likely protected under fair use."

That, I think, is begging the question. I'm no lawyer, but I've dealt with course reserves for years. The rule the General Council at Big Ass East Coast University set for us was this: if a journal article is on the syllabus and in reserves, that means you planned to use it to make money (i.e., in a course where students pay tuition); if you planned to use it, it can't be fair use, as fair use requires "spontaneity"; if it's not fair use, you've got to get permission and possibly pay up.

My question: is that all wrong?
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:28 AM on June 16, 2010


Niko Pfund, publisher of Oxford University Press, one of the named plaintiffs in the case, along with Cambridge University Press and SAGE Publications, said the plaintiffs were reticent to sue, but had little choice. "I consider this a failure of dialogue," Pfund says of the suit. "It's a shame. We've successfully come to agreements with others over the years. But Georgia State just wouldn't talk with us."

Our hands were tied! They forced us to sue them!
posted by twirlip at 9:37 AM on June 16, 2010


There are a number of journals in mathematics that are published by the mathematical societies like the AMS and LMS, which earn money for the mathematical societies through library subscriptions. In fact, the LMS earns enough money from their journals that Britain's applied mathematicians surreptitiously attempted a hostile takeover. All these society journals are nevertheless completely free for authors and fairly inexpensive for libraries.

I'll also observe that Cornell university runs the arxiv.org preprint server without charging anyone anything. In fact, arxiv.org has proven so successful that mathematicians and physicists consider it the almost absolute measure of who actually proved the result first. Articles there are print quality of course.

I'd therefore argue that open access journals charging $3k per article are not the solutions, just another different problem. A far better solution would simply be abandoning software like MS Word that produce sub-print-quality documents. If you must spend money, buy Adobe, otherwise use LaTeX.

I'll even assert that the only reason non-free math textbooks still exists is that mathematicians don't use version control software like Git or Mercurial for managing their journal article source. MediaWiki's "one size fits all" approach works great for an encyclopedia, but not academic wars over pedagogy. You could however easily handle multiple developments using LaTeX and Git
posted by jeffburdges at 9:43 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


For a librarian's perspective, here's a Library Journal article about the case (this is the article by Barbara Fister mentioned in the Publisher's Weekly story).
posted by twirlip at 9:44 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think I shall refuse to review articles for any of the above mentioned publishers from here on out. Never reviewed for Sage, but I review for CUP and OUP all the time, for a pittance of an honorarium for books, and for free for articles.

My rates just went up, sharply.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:45 AM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


On a related note, faced with a 400% price increase the University of California system is threatening to cancel its subscriptions and encourage faculty to neither submit nor review articles for Nature and its related publications.
posted by caddis at 9:51 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


On a related note, faced with a 400% price increase the University of California system is threatening to cancel its subscriptions and encourage faculty to neither submit nor review articles for Nature and its related publications.

There was a MetaFilter post on just this topic.
posted by grouse at 10:35 AM on June 16, 2010


Damn it, I just downloaded several articles from Sage for my work, and it's stuff I have to read and comment on. I don't have much choice (yet another reason I can't wait to get the damn PhD).
posted by oddman at 10:42 AM on June 16, 2010


> I'll also observe that Cornell university runs the arxiv.org preprint server without charging anyone anything.

This is true, but I want to nitpick the difference between "without charging anyone" and "without cost to anyone," because the first is accurate in this case and the second is not. Not jumping on you, jeffburdges -- you just happened to say the thing that got me thinking.

The arXiv now actually is getting a significant chunk of its funding from (currently voluntary) support from the institutions whose users access the archive most heavily -- see here for their FAQ on this. $400k/year in hosting and staff salaries is dirt-cheap in comparison to established journals, but significant enough that the Cornell Libraries got tired of footing such a huge chunk of the bill.

I'm emphatically on the side of open-access journals and repositories in general and the arXiv in particular, and I don't want the distinction between "free to use" and "free to maintain" to be lost, to the detriment of arXiv.

This might more properly belong in the other thread, but the comment is here, so.
posted by dorque at 10:51 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This sounds like the clinging-to-life throes of a financially unsustainable system being shown that custom alone cannot sustain it. This isn't about coming up with a "more efficient" system. It's about nipping unadulterated exploitation in the bud.

This. Collapse of another industry unable to recognize how profoundly technology has fundamentally altered things.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:52 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


GAACK. This stuff just makes my blood pressure go up so high I'm not sure if I can stand it any more. Between this and the recent post on the UC system and journal subscriptions, I really just want to scream at the top of my lungs. I really wish more states would just turn to the publishers and say "Fuck off."

And Sage, slimy bastards, is a major publisher in my field. Great.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:05 AM on June 16, 2010


Universities shunning OUP and CUP? But … there are tenure books to be published, and you can't publish them just anywhere!
posted by kenko at 11:08 AM on June 16, 2010


"It is a significant enough revenue stream for publishers to be concerned about," says Sandy Thatcher, executive editor for social sciences and humanities at Penn State University Press. "The paperback and the permissions markets have eroded over time because of e-reserves and course management systems, and if you can't substitute the lost revenue, you can't publish new books."

Good! The publishers are constantly churning out new editions that are slightly different than the last in order to keep students from taking their money to the used market. The number of subjects that require a totally 'new' edition every year is really small (tax books, mainly).


Not all academic books are text-books: there are edited collections, conference proceedings and monographs. Monographs are still important in most of the humanities and social sciences, particularly (as it happens) to OUP and CUP.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:19 AM on June 17, 2010


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