June 6th, 2006 by John Wilbanks
Science Commons launches the Scholar’s Copyright Project – making it easy for faculty to retain the freedom to archive their scholarly works on the internet.
From our background briefing:
Scholarly communication primarily involves three kinds of information: (1) data generated by research, (2) peer-reviewed journal articles explaining and interpreting the data, and (3) metadata that describes or interprets articles or their underlying data. At each of these levels, the Internet and associated digital networks create a range of opportunities and challenges for changing the nature of what information is gathered, stored and communicated as well as how and when such information is communicated, identified and located.
But the full powers of new technological approaches, such as text mining and semantic indexing, are not resulting in powerful new public resources. Contracts between publishers and universities can explicitly forbid such use of technology on scholarly resources, and the opportunities implicit in the Internet fall by the wayside. Efforts to create an “open access” movement have shown real success. But unfortunately the majority of scholarly research is unavailable, either for reading or for processing in software.
Approaches to the continuing accessibility problem break into three classes at present. First, some major providers of research monies encourage funded scientists to archive publications on the Web. Second, important research faculties advocate access to institutional knowledge, and the right of academic use within the academy, as fundamental to the mission of the university. Last, extensive research has been conducted into the technical barriers against providing access to the literature, resulting in both software and “how-to” guides for archiving.
However, the policy of encouragement and “requests to archive” is running into the wall of traditional journals and scientific reluctance – the vast majority of scholarly papers are not flowing onto the public internet, even those funded by taxpayer monies. As a result, one key funder of life sciences research recently strengthened its policy: anyone receiving funds will make a copy of any published research available through a central, standard database. And legislation pending before the United States Senate espouses similar policy, not just for life sciences research but on any research receiving federal funds.
This idea extends to the academy. Faculty bodies and university administration are recognizing the growing importance of access as explorations of university roles in copryight transfer are moving through policy discussions, and in many cases, have resulted in institutional policies for access.
But such policy regimes reveal a problem not addressed by funders, the academy, or technology: does the scientist have the legal right to comply with the policy?