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[NEW] An emerging issue in library licensing is assured provision for digital preservation of licensed content. A team led by Alicia Wise of CLOCKSS has prepared new guidelines (2023) to help shape effective agreements.

Increasingly, university and research libraries are being inundated with information that has been created in digital format and transmitted and accessed via computers. As the number of collections in digital formats increase exponentially, more and more libraries and information providers are facing a number of unique challenges presented by this relatively new medium.

Chief among these new challenges is crafting agreements with information owners that adequately assure libraries will continue to provide users with comprehensive and timely access to information in digital formats. Because of several unique properties of digital information, agreements that govern the acquisition and maintenance of traditional paper collections are inadequate in the digital information context. Unlike paper materials, digital information generally is not purchased by the library; rather it is licensed by the library from information providers. A license usually takes the form of a written contract or agreement between the library and the owner of the rights to distribute digital information.

As many librarians responsible for collections know all too well, licensing agreements often are complex, lengthy documents filled with arcane and unfamiliar terms such as indemnity, severability, and force majeure. In an effort to assist librarians (and information providers as well) to understand the issues raised by these licensing agreements, we have prepared an Analysis of Licensing Agreements for Digital Information. The pages that follow include a collection of common terms usually found in licensing agreements, along with a discussion of the pros and cons of specific language in such agreements. We have tried to present language that we believe to be fair and workable for libraries and information providers as well. We have also included examples of provisions that we believe are unduly burdensome or otherwise do not adequately reflect the needs of libraries in providing digital information to their users.

The LIBLICENSE project was created in January 1997, comprising two parts. The LIBLICENSE Web site provides resources (including model license language and detailed discussion of licensing terms) through an extensive series of links and menus. LIBLICENSE-L is a continuing discussion forum for licensing issues and related contemporary concerns in the domain of scholarly communication. We hope that these materials will serve as a useful starting point toward providing librarians with a better understanding of the issues raised by license agreements in the digital age.

The materials on this Web site are not intended as legal advice and do not include all information necessary to evaluate any actual business transaction or legal dispute. Specific legal steps should only be taken after consultation with a qualified attorney. All librarians should make sure that wherever appropriate, legal staff review licensing agreements to be certain that they serve the best interests of the library.

The LIBLICENSE project has been hosted since November 2011 by the Center for Research Libraries.  Founded in 1949, the Center for Research Libraries is a consortium of over 250 academic and independent research libraries in the U.S., Canada and Hong Kong. CRL supports advanced research and teaching in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences by preserving and making available to scholars primary source materials critical to those disciplines.

Please contact us with any comments, questions, criticisms, and ideas.