Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More access barriers at the BL document delivery service

Peter Murray-Rust, Copyright paralysis from the British Library, A Scientist and the Web, September 5, 2007.  Excerpt:

I posted recently (Copyright madness - story 2) about a colleague who wished to access an eighty-five year old scientific paper (in the transactions of the Transylvanian Haematological Society) and had bizarre restrictions put in her way. Now she wishes to access an even older paper and it gets worse:

The absurdities apply equally to very old articles, which should be well out of copyright. Thus  I am looking into the early origins of [garlic as a blood clotting agent], having traced the concept back to 1899, and a journal (and author!)  long since deceased.  Only the  British Library still has it,  but a request for an inter library loan to them is only granted if I agree to the BL’s own copyright terms, which include my not being able to
a) copy what they send me
b) give my copy to anyone else
c) have it translated for me (it’s in Transylvanian)
d) or acquire it in digital form should I wish to pass it through OSCAR or other text mining.
I will in fact go and try to collect it....I will let you know what happens!

PMR: This is grotesque. There is no way this document is in copyright. A colleague confirmed that the British Library has effectively decided that the simplest management technique is to copyright everything they issue as an Interlibrary loan. And they have some sort of protection from the law by doing this.

Comment.  See the BL response when the PLoS Director of Publishing, Mark Patterson, asked why the BL was charging for copies of PLoS articles, which are all OA.  At first I thought the BL was saying, in effect, that it doesn’t have the resources to see whether an article is under an open license (or in the public domain).  But it’s more complicated than that, and the more I re-read it, the less I understand it.  In the case of PLoS articles, the BL charges a copyright fee set by UKCLA and passes the fee on to UKCLA, keeping nothing for itself.  But it doesn’t explain why UKCLA believes that PLoS articles should carry copyright fees.

Update. I just received this message from a colleague:

The BL doesn't keep any of the copyright fee for itself (whether for OA or non OA publishers), but it does keep the service charge.

There's nothing wrong with a service charge, of course (as long as the article is CC-BY licensed, rather than CC-NC). The key problem is charging a copyright fee which should not be levied, passing it on to someone other than the copyright holder, and then most frustratingly, adding a standard wrapper around every article saying 'this is copyright material and you can't do anything with it without permission of the copyright holder' which is a flat out untruth...

The BL is very much aware of this and committed to fixing it, I believe. Unfortunately, the gap between the BL recognizing that something isn't working right, and fixing it, would seem to generally be measured in decades....

Update. PMR has blogged a sequel to his original post, showing what his correspondent did next.

Update. My comment above led PMR to investigate how the BL is treating his own OA work. He found that it is charging an access fee for one of his OA articles. ("I am now gobsmacked.") He has written an open letter to the BL asking it to explain.