SOPA and the Research Works Act: Evil master plan or do publishers think so little of us?

This week there’s been some interesting and disgusting things going on within scholarly publishing. Most of the internet is up at arms about SOPA, the ludicrous Stop Online Piracy Act. Earlier this week I stumbled across an interesting blog post Why The Movie Industry Can’t Innovate and the Result is SOPA. I think the same could be said for any of the content publisher – books, music, video games, not just film. Look at the list of SOPA supporters. Along with the usual suspects (major lables, the big 6, etc), you get Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer. Nice to know they’re against net neutrality. Cameron Neylon wrote an excellent post on how SOPA will affect scientific research. You need to read it. Loud library advocate Andy Woodworth is making a list to talk to vendors at ALA Midwinter next month. Good on him. I was thinking about talking to some folks at SLA later this month, but then something else caught my eye…

The Research Works Act (H.R. 3699). A post from the SPARC OA forum distils it:

“No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that — (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.”

Not surprisingly, publishers think this is a great idea.

The Research Works Act will prohibit federal agencies from unauthorized free public dissemination of journal articles that report on research which, to some degree, has been federally-funded but is produced and published by private sector publishers receiving no such funding. It would also prevent non-government authors from being required to agree to such free distribution of these works. Additionally, it would preempt federal agencies’ planned funding, development and back-office administration of their own electronic repositories for such works, which would duplicate existing copyright-protected systems and unfairly compete with established university, society and commercial publishers.

This is just bullshit. Especially in light of the publishers’ healthy profit margins often on the work of academics paid in prestige. The need to publish in these big, expensive journals for a lot of faculty is the only way they can attain tenure. The only way they can fund their work is to get federal (or other publicly funded) grants. Tax payers can pay for the research, but then they can’t see the results. It’s a great racket for the publishers. (Sounds sort of like the vicious cycle of federal student loans and the for-profit colleges, which is pretty much any university these days.)

Publishers are still upset about the NIH Public Access Policy. UC Berkeley professor Michael Eisen yesterday blogged about Elsevier paying NY Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to promote the bill. Jason Baird Jackson from Indian University asks who else is Elsevier lobbying for this bill?

It’s outrageous that in a time when everybody’s budgets are being squeezed, the big scholarly publishers are getting more creative about making huge profit margins. If the government is going to fund research, they need to also fund the publishing because that’s the only way the public will have access to the information and data. The funding for publishing has always been an afterthought or meant to be a cost recovery tool, which explains how NTIS and the National Academies “function”.

I’ll be in DC a couple of weeks for the TRB Annual Meeting. (TRB is part of the National Academies.) It’s where the transportation research agenda is discussed, research that will be funded by the taxpayers. I’ll try to get some answers.

The Research Works Act is seriously bad news, as is SOPA. Maybe it’s because I just watched all of the Bond films, but I really hope this isn’t just general incompetence but a master plan from SPECTRE to take over the world by destroying scientific research and scholarly publishing. Blofeld, Largo, Dr. No, and their henchmen are off springing the mousetrap. We just need James Bond to stop them. Or us.

Fetishizing the container obscures the content, obviously.

vinyl library, originally uploaded by Luke Pineda.

Last night on LibPunk Radio we were talking about that #hcod drama. You know, the Harper Collins-Over Drive debacle.

Lots of stuff has been written and said about the whole affair and I’m not really going there. The thing I’m focused on is the “content vs. container” issue and how it really fits into this but hasn’t really been brought up as such. It’s clear that the current model is not sustainable, but I also think libraries are in a painful transition where we’re all coming to terms to the shift from the physical to digital… just like music did 10 years ago. David Lee King touched upon this a while back when he asked what’s a real book?

I think it’s time for us librarians to get over our paper fetish.

Content and container – the two are really, truly, different. Books are stories or a largish chunk of non-fiction text – novels, biographies, histories, etc. The format or container? This tends to change (though it hasn’t in a long time).

I think we all agree that physical books have to be treated somewhat different than ebooks, but it has to be reasonable to all involved, not punitive. We can all get behind Librarians Against DRM, but I don’t think we’ve moved to the shift yet. It’s not gonna happen overnight. I mean, look at how long we got to where we are with music.

I remember when Napster came on the scene. I remember how exciting it was and how nobody really thought about the legalities. Now, as the landscape has matured, it’s clear piracy won’t go away, but it’s also been shown that a lot of piracy is a reaction to crappy options. Until the publishers/labels/studios make a fairly priced, accessible, and convenient product, lots of people will continue to pirate. It’s obvious.

What’s this got to do with fetishizing the container? Well, I think the publishers and librarians are still doing it with the books. We haven’t accepted that an ebook/PDF is not the same thing. I mean, we know they aren’t but all parties involved aren’t really sure how to proceed, which has left to this #hcod debacle. So I really think we need to look to music. The only problem is that I don’t see how libraries can insert themselves into the solution.

People love iTunes and the Amazon MP3 store. eMusic has been a legal option for a long time. Labels have gotten into the game with offering download codes. What’s happened? Well, in 2010 vinyl had a 33% jump in sales. Now, of course it’s not to say that piracy is dead, but there are user friendly options that aren’t adversarial. Instead, they make people enjoy the product. It’s made it all easier for me to get back in love with vinyl. The sound, the feel, the collecting them like Pokemon. I’m all about it, but I think it’s easier for me to choose because I’m also subscribed to MOG.

So we need to work with the creators and the publishers to find the happy ground where we all benefit. We need to speak for the users.

Working online – Library school, committee work, work work, it’s all the same.

Today, Drexel (my alma mater), has an interesting post on their einsights blog, where they discuss different issues surrounding online/distance education. Today, they tackle common mistakes online students make and how to avoid them. The mistakes are:

  • Assuming online is easy
  • Poor time management
  • Communication breakdown
  • Not utilizing available resources
  • Not staying connected
  • Taking on too much too soon

I really identified with many of these mistakes, though by then end I think I had it figured out. I knew how to fit it into my life and understood that I had to really take the time and make the effort to stay on top of everything. I really think that these are useful tips to remember for any student, not just online students. (OK, save for maybe the first one?)

The thing is, these tips don’t stop being relevant when you graduate. In fact, I’ve seen how valuable the lessons of my online education have been for me as I work and collaborate with my colleagues from around the world. I know it’s going to be extra work, but it’s not impossible. I wonder, as more and more people graduate with online degrees, will professional online collaboration be more effective? It could happen. I know from my experience, it took time for people to warm up to the online environment. I had spent years chatting online and using message boards to communicate, so it was a fairly easy switch. You could tell some of my cohort struggled to figure out how to use the medium. It’s the same with using listservs, blogs, wikis, and other venues to communicate. If people aren’t comfortable with it, they won’t use it. So we have to work together, and then hopefully something good will come of it.

CDs and DVDs – can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

Microwaving a CD, originally uploaded by AlpinePhotographer.

I’m supposed to be getting ready for the TRB Annual Meeting, but I’ve been bogged down with pulling PDFs of other conference proceedings off of discs. It’s a weird skill to have – figuring out how to bypass the auto-run software, locate the files, and locate the single paper somebody wants. It’s clear that back in the late 1990s/early 2000s when organizations switched from paper to disc they did it with good intentions and not much of an idea for future access, which is really preservation.

One of my least favourites to deal with is ITE, especially their proceedings from 2003. The disc wants to install an outdated version of MS Access and Acrobat, and the PDFs themselves are “hidden” in a zip file. We’ve had problems from these discs, where we can’t really access the table of contents and have to do brute force techniques to find the file we want. This is only going to get worse as time goes by, but it’s fine since we’re moving to on-line exclusively, right?

Well… I don’t know about that. This year the TRB Annual Meeting papers are being made available to registrants on-line for the first time. People are excited. As a user, I’m excited. As a librarian, I’m concerned. How long will we have access to these papers? 1 year? 2 years? More? Are they going to be persistent? And that’s where we get into the messy stuff. We want to have certain expectations met from organizations that provide access to material on-line. I’ve been conditioned to recognize it’s not out right ownership, like something physical, but just access. Meeting papers, which are really just pre-prints, are still heavily used. We routinely get people looking for ones back to the beginning of our collection (1974). The demand’s not going to go away. It’s not just TRB, it’s everybody. I wish every professional organization was like IEEE, but that’s not realistic. It’s going to be some interesting road ahead.

Data.Gov — transparency overload, PR move, tool.

The SLA Gov Info division posted this morning a link to a Harvard Business School case study, Data.Gov: Matching Government Data with Rapid Innovation. (There’s a free copy of the study for government employees linked on the DGI blog.)

It’s a good read about Vivek Kundra and the whole project, but I think it doesn’t really address some of the major usability issues of Data.Gov. Not everything is in there, organization could be better, most usable analysis tools, etc. It’s a fine line because on one hand, it’s commendable for the Obama administration to take on such a task and pay service to the idea of Open Data, but then on the other it’s frustrating because not all data is equal. Some agencies are barely represented because their data is such a mess, though it is available elsewhere. It makes my job difficult because I can’t yet sell Data.Gov to my users as the one-stop source for their data needs.
It would be great if the Obama Administration could make better data collection and sharing a top priority for all of the different departments, but I also know it’s pretty low on the list of things to do (even before the economy collapsed). When it has enough transportation data for the needs of my community, I will be happy, but I know we’re not alone.