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Re: Science Commons, SPARC Announce New Tools for Scholarly Publishing

I can't speak for other publishers, Joe, but I can say that, at least for Penn State, the revenue stream Project Muse produces is quite sufficient to keep our journals afloat. Maybe we have lower overhead than some of our peers.... :)


We agree on your comments about the implications of the author's addendum, but I don't think this is the worst of Project Muse's problems.

Muse is an artifact of a transitional era, a period when income was primarily derived from hardcopy subscriptions; anything that came from electronics was additive. When the electronic revenue stream is the primary one, or when it is the sole one, as increasingly is the case, then Muse is not likely to provide enough income to its constituent journals to keep them all afloat. The problem is simply that Muse doesn't cost enough; thus the sums it sends back to its publishers are inadequate to pay the bills. We have already seen some defections from Muse on this account, and we can expect to see more. Muse's problems are despite the fact that Muse has been an outstanding service for the library community. This does not mean that Muse is helpless or that innovative management can't develop a new strategy (yes, there are such strategies), but that even without having to wrestle with the author's addendum, Muse has a difficult road ahead.

For anyone who wishes to challenge this point of view, please see Susan Skomal's post to this list a while back concerning BioOne ("For titles with very large and stable traditional subscription sales, however, BioOne may not be an appropriate choice": http://www.library.yale.edu/~llicense/ListArchives/0702/msg00068.html). Skomal's post addressed a slightly different problem, but the general issue is the same. I am not suggesting that Skomal endorses my point of view.

Joe Esposito

----- Original Message -----
From: <sgt3@psu.edu>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Sunday, May 27, 2007 8:00 PM
Subject: Re: Science Commons, SPARC Announce New Tools for Scholarly

First I will beg the indulgence of the moderator of this list and its readers to accept a flurry of postings from me. I have dutifully downloaded the postings for the past six weeks but had such a busy schedule that I have had to postpone to this weekend responding to any. So here I begin....

I have a simple question to ask those who stand behind and support this initiative (and others similar to it, like the one proposed by the CIC provosts): how does it help universities that pay for their presses to publish journals to create a lot of extra work for their staffs explaining to authors why they cannot accept all of the proposed clauses in the addendum? This is a real cost, which will add to the burden of already understaffed university presses (like mine).

A university press (like mine) that relies for a very substantial part of its journal income from participation in Project Muse simply cannot afford to sign an agreement that would have the effect of undermining Project Muse. A clause that allows authors, or others, to post on the open Internet the final peer-reviewed and copyedited version of their articles, with or without a six-month delay, is very likely to lead eventually to the demise of Muse-which, may I remind you all, was established with the support of a Mellon grant jointly to the press and library at Johns Hopkins and was developed from the beginning to be a library-friendly, reasonably priced resource.

If Muse disappears, then so too do all of the ten journals that we currently publish and have enrolled in Muse, including such long-established leading journals in their fields as Philosophy & Rhetoric, The Chaucer Review, and Comparative Literature Studies and such newer journals as Book History (the official journal of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing). It has long since passed the time when their print subscriptions alone could sustain the cost of publishing them.

I am also curious as to the legality of this further strategy proposed by SPARC and adopted by the University of Wisconsin Faculty Senate on May 7 when it approved the CIC initiative:

The Library Committee amended the original CIC addendum distributed by the CIC provosts to include subsection 4 that was derived from ARL's Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). ARL/SPARC has been an international leader in the discussion of author rights and scholarly communications. This sub-section is a default clause that states that in the event that the publisher publishes the article in the journal without signing a copy of the addendum, the publisher will be deemed to have assented to the terms of the addendum.

Not being a lawyer, I'm no expert on the validity of such "default" clauses, but I would bet that they are unenforceable. A license is a license, and if the publisher does not agree to terms explicitly in writing, no "default" is going to compel the publisher to do anything it doesn't want to do. Other opinions, please?

As for the general approach of Creative Commons (copied in this Science Commons version) to provide a means for authors to license any uses that are "noncommercial," I would appreciate knowing what "noncommercial" means. If it is meant to be the equivalent of "educational," then it is as vacuous and unhelpful as the view that "fair use" sanctions any "educational" use-which, as we all know from a variety of Supreme Court cases, is not the view of the highest court in the land. For the vast majority of the specialized scholarly writing that is the subject of journal licensing agreements, there is NO market outside of higher education-which is, by the way, the reason that university presses were established in the first place. Is "noncommercial" then supposed to be a synonym for "nonprofit"? But university presses are nonprofit entities. Thus, are we permitted by Creative Commons licenses to republish any articles or book chapters whose authors have signed such a license? It would be nice to know so that we don't have to bother paying them any permission fees. The same, of course, would hold for "nonprofit" society publishers. Our missions are, of course, to serve scholarship, so we would be happy to accept this interpretation of "noncommercial." I'm not sure its creators intended for it to be interpreted in that way. On the other hand, I really haven't a clue about how they did intend it to be construed, since it is inherently a slippery concept. And the whole edifice of CC licensing is built upon this shaky commercial/noncommercial distinction, is it not?

As in much else that is going on now, every step forward in one arena seems to entail a step backward in another. If universities were thinking systematically about this issue instead of narrowly focusing on the STM journal problem, they would realize that proposals like these are at least partly self-defeating.

Sandy Thatcher
Penn State Press