Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, May 21, 2007

More on MIT and the SAE

Elia Powers, Standing Up for Open Access, Inside Higher Ed, May 21, 2007.  Excerpt:

Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were perplexed: How could a membership organization that gladly accepts and archives their scholarly work turn around and limit transmission of the material?

[A]bout two years [ago, the SAE]...began requiring users to download a plug-in that prevented sharing encrypted documents over a network. Users could only view a paper on a single desktop computer and were allowed one printed copy per access code. No saving a copy to the computer. No photocopying. SAE also changed pricing models so that users were charged per view....

Last month, MIT Libraries explained in a blog posting its decision to cancel access to the database because of the restraints. The decision set off a chain of events that has led SAE to reconsider its policy. The case shows, among other things, the extent to which faculty members will go to protect the free flow of academic information in a time when technology allows for greater research sharing.

Wai K. Cheng, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and an SAE fellow who led the faculty charge against the restrictions, presented his concerns to SAE’s publications board last month. The organization prides itself on its efficient search engine and comprehensive database, he said in an interview, which made the change in policy all the more annoying.

“It is a step backwards,” Cheng said. “All of the sudden we’re back to archiving papers by printing them out. They want to put a lock on this thing and make it more difficult to operate.”

As a result of his and others’ lobbying efforts, the panel last month announced plans to form a task force of professors, librarians, its own board members and others to rethink the policy....

[Ellen] Duranceau, [MIT's] licensing consultant, said faculty at MIT are committed to keeping their papers open to as many eyes as possible.

“The core issue is the reaction of the authors here in discovering that when they had written papers and given SAE the right to the materials, [the group] betrayed their trust,” she said. “No one was under a naive assumption that everything should be free, but there was an understanding that things should be made as barrier-free as possible.”

PS:  For more background, see my posts from March 21 and April 23, 2007.