Welcome to the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter
     July 17, 2001

Separating electronic rights from print rights

Standard book contracts give the publisher the exclusive right to publish the author's work in "book form".  A federal district court in New York ruled on July 11 that this contract language covers print books but not electronic books.  The effect is that even authors who have signed such contracts retain the electronic rights to their books and may shop them around or put their books online without charge and without the consent of their publishers.

Rosetta Books is an e-book publisher which has purchased the electronic rights to over 100 print novels, including some by three notable Random House authors, William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert Parker.  Random House charged that this violated its contracts with the authors and went to court for an injunction to stop Rosetta from publishing any of the books in electronic form.  This is the case that Rosetta just won in district court.

The case obviously has consequences for the commercial publication of e-books.  But it also has consequences for FOS.  On the one hand, this appears to be a victory for authors.  They retain more rights to their work than publishers had thought, and perhaps more than the authors themselves had thought.  But on the other hand, publishers will respond to this decision by asking authors for electronic rights along with print rights.  Authors usually lack bargaining power with publishers and therefore will usually acquiesce.  But if publishers routinely demand and receive electronic rights, then authors will be worse off than they are today.  They will not be free to post their books to the web without the publisher's consent, and publishers will not consent if they believe that free online access will reduce sales of the print edition.

In this sense, Rosetta is like the Tasini case decided by the Supreme Court on June 25.  Tasini did for freelance authors of newspaper and magazine articles roughly what Rosetta does for book authors (though Rosetta does not cite Tasini).  Both decisions recognize that electronic publication is a new medium, sufficiently different from print publication that contracts covering the latter will not be construed to cover the former.  However, publishers will respond to both decisions by asking for electronic rights in addition to print rights.  The victory for authors seems limited to those who signed contracts before publishers woke up to how their interests have changed in the digital age.

David Kirkpatrick, Judge Grants Authors a Victory in Fight Over Digital-Book Rights
From _The New York Times_

Rosetta Books home page

Rosetta's lawsuit update page

Amicus brief for Rosetta Books by The Authors Guild

Random House v. Rosetta Books (July 11 decision, U.S. District Court)

New York Times v. Tasini (June 25 decision, U.S. Supreme Court)

* Postscript.  I haven't seen a case settling these issues for authors of scholarly journal articles.  If you know one that I'm overlooking, or one in the pipeline, please let me know about it.


Los Alamos arXiv moving to Cornell

Paul Ginsparg is moving from the Los Alamos National Laboratory to Cornell, and his international e-print archive will move with him.  One reason for the move is that the archive needs to grow beyond the size that Los Alamos can support.

Ginsparg's archive is the oldest and largest repository of free online scholarship, and the foremost demonstration that FOS is not electronic vanity publishing, but an unprecedented tool to facilitate cutting edge research.

Florence Olsen, Pioneer in Electronic Scholarly Publishing Leaves Los Alamos, With Archive in Tow

Ginsparg's arXiv


California offers free online books and one journal

The University of California Press is experimenting with free online access to the full text of more than 60 of its e-books and one of its e-journals.  I visited one of the books and the journal to check on the experiment.

The content is very well presented, thanks to content management software from eBT International.  The text is real text, not an image.  Hence it can be cut and pasted, printed in whole or part, and searched through your browser.  However, the search engine accompanying the text is better than the one in your browser, if only because it crosses file boundaries (hence chapters).  The texts are not hidden in a database and can be crawled by public search engines like Google.  Illustrations are well-rendered and integrated with the text.  The texts use frames as unobtrusively as it is possible to use frames, to keep tables of contents and other navigation aids in view.

Unfortunately, eBT is going out of business.  Let's hope that California can hold on to the software or find an equally satisfactory replacement.

California plans to offer more free online e-books in coming months, some of them before their print counterparts.  By contrast, while it plans to offer nearly all of its journals electronically, most will be accessible only to paying subscribers.  It doesn't explain the different treatment at its web site, but it is probably thinking that many readers of a printable online e-book will still want to buy the printed volume, while very few readers of a printable online journal article will want more from it than they already have.

If you wonder what the payback is for California, the site offers no answer.  California seems to believe that free online e-books will trigger a net growth in the sales of print books.  If so, and especially if it has evidence, I wish it had been as explicit as the National Academy Press, which explains on its web site that publishing all its books in both formats has more than paid the costs of doing so.  This position may be well-grounded in evidence for those who have tried it, but it is so incredible in the industry that publishers who have the evidence should speak loud and clear.

University of California Press E-Editions

[Sample book] Peter Green (ed.), _Hellenistic History and Culture_

[Sample journal] _The Public Historian_


National Academy Press (NAP)

NAP's rationale for publishing free online e-books

* Postscript.  See the May 11 issue of the newsletter for a description of Princeton's digital books program, which is slightly different from California's or NAP's.  If you know other academic publishers experimenting with the coexistence of free online editions and priced print editions, then please post a note to the discussion forum or send me an email.


Free + commercial = commercial

STN Easy is a database offered by the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS).  (STN stands for Scientific and Technical Information Network.)  CAS recently introduced a new feature for STN Easy, which extends STN searches to the wider web.  If you run an STN search, you will now find  a new button labelled "Search the Web" on your page of hits.  Press the button and STN will transfer your search to Google or ChemIndustry.com, at your choice.  In this way you can collect web pages to supplement the proprietary content you found in STN.  Eventually CAS will offer this service for all its databases.

STN searches cost money, while Google and ChemIndustry searches are free.  What CAS is doing, in other words, is bundling a free service with its proprietary service.

Redirecting a query from one search engine to another can be a convenience, especially when the two cover different domains.  But does simple redirection to free, public search engines deserve to be called *eScience*, as this one is?  The self-important name makes me wonder whether CAS is hoping that users will mistake this freebie for the kind of added value that explains price hikes.  There are some clues.  CAS calls eScience a "new resource" and "your passport to a select variety of the most valuable science-related websites."

Even if this is just promotional bloviating, providers of free content should beware of what might be called the hijacked freeloader problem.  If you give your content to everyone, then you also give it to commercial services, which might add it to the feature list they use to justify their prices.  This isn't a case of enclosing the commons, since the free content is still available for free through a different doorway.  It's a case of deceiving users, who aren't told that the new feature at the commercial service is available elsewhere for free.  The solution is not to force commercial providers to pay for content which is free to everyone else, but to educate users.

Chemical Abstracts Service



ChemIndustry.com search engine

* Postscript.  Here's a digression on the hijacked freeloader problem.  One day there will be much more free online scholarship in distributed archives than there is today.  Suppose that the first comprehensive portal to it all charges money.  This would be a non-trivial and useful service, especially compared to eScience.  Would you pay for it?  Instead of losing much sleep trying to answer this question, let's just make sure that the second such portal, launched a week later, is free.


Another approach to digital preservation

France has just adopted a law requiring all French web pages to be archived.  Webmasters may do this themselves, but they'll only be duplicating the back-ups created by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) and the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA).  The archive will update itself at varying intervals, visiting newspaper sites, for example, more often than personal home pages.  There are still a few problems to be worked out, like what counts as a French web page and how to archive Flash animations and other dynamic content with the same completeness as HTML.  BNA and INA are committed to making all elements of the archive searchable.

I haven't been able to discover whether the plan also includes the invisible web (database contents not usually accessible to outside crawlers) and password protected content.

Frans van Mieghem, Entire French web to be archived
From EuropeMedia.net

Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Institut National de l'Audiovisuel


Following up

* In the last two issues, in my comments on the Hague Convention on Jurisdiction and Foreign Judgments, I cited the Taliban as a premier example of a regime you would not want to have jurisdiction over your online writings.  On cue, the Taliban banned the internet from Afghanistan yesterday.  Not just pornography or sites criticizing church or state, but the internet itself.  The bad news is that Afghan citizens are being repressed.  The good news is that the Hague Convention is slightly less dangerous now that the Taliban will not be reading your online writings.  The Taliban Foreign Minister said, "We want to establish a system in Afghanistan through which we can control all those things that are wrong, obscene, immoral and against Islam."  Exactly.

* Remember the Digital Promise Project?  This is the ambitious proposal to take $18 billion from the federal sale of radio spectrum and spend it on digital media and digital content to improve American education.  See the May 18 issue of the newsletter for more details.

On June 22, a federal appeals court seems to have thrown a monkey wrench into this plan when it invalidated about $16 billion worth of auction sales.  The government had sold licences that formerly belonged to NextWave Personal Communications, thinking that NextWave forfeited the licenses by defaulting on its payments.  However, NextWave was in bankruptcy proceedings at the time of the default and some of its assets, including the licenses, were protected from this kind of forfeiture.

The government, which hoped to have $16 billion in sales revenue, and a handful of media giants (including Verizon Wireless, ATT Wireless, and Cingular), which hoped to have licenses to bands of radio spectrum, are stunned by the decision and trying to figure out what it means for their plans.  The waters are equally murky for the Digital Promise Project.

NextWave v. FCC (June 22 decision, U.S. Court of Appeals)

Stephen Labaton and Riva Atlas, U.S. Court Upends Plans to Improve Cellular Service
From the _New York Times_

The Digital Promise Project


In other publications

* In a June 27 paper posted at XML.com, John McKeown and Benjamin Jung give step-by-step instructions for creating an electronic publication with XML.  If you need to make electronic publications which flexibly adapt themselves to different display formats, or which are maximally compatible with different platforms and applications, then these instructions will help you.

* In the July issue of _Online_, Péter Jacsó points out that database collections of digital journals do a poor job covering the journals in field of library and information science (LIS).  Moreover, when they do cover digital LIS journals, they frequently fail to provide active links to the journals.

* In a guest editorial in the July issue of _Learned Publishing_, Sally Morris discusses the special problems facing non-profit publishers.  They are more likely than for-profit publishers, for example, to let authors retain copyright and to post their writings to free web archives.  When they lose revenue because their journals have moved to an FOS model, then they will need new sources of revenue to subsidize their other activities, or else cut back on their activities.

* Also in the July issue of _Learned Publishing_, John Houghton studies the economics of scholarly publication, using Australian journals as a case study.  He argues that scholarly publishing is in transition from print to electronic media.  While the transition is highly desirable, it itself has costs that are easy to overlook.

* In the new issue of _College and Research Libraries News_, Mary Case reviews the Public Library of Science initiative and its September deadline to boycott science journals that don't put their content online free of charge within six months of print publication.  She includes a handful of suggestions for libraries that wish to support the initiative.

* The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) and Research Libraries Group (RLG) joined forces in March to study the best practices for long-term preservation of digital literature.  Its working group has just issued a white paper reviewing the state of the art.



If you plan to attend one of the following conferences, please share your observations with us through our discussion forum.

* Summer Seminars at the Oxford Humanities Computing Unit
Oxford, July 23-27

* Biological Research with Information Extraction & Open-Access Publications
Copenhagen, July 26

* International Summer School on the Digital Library
Tilburg, Holland, August 5-10

* The International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting
Milan, September 3-7

* 5th European Conference on Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries
Darmstadt, September 4-9

* DELOS Workshop on Interoperability in Digital Libraries
Darmstadt, September 8-9

* Experimental OAI Based Digital Library Systems
Darmstadt, September 8

* Preserving Online Content for Future Generations
Darmstadt, September 8


I've updated the FOS home page to describe how to subscribe to the discussion forum and receive the postings in digest form or not receive the postings by email at all.


This is the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter (ISSN 1535-7848).

Please feel free to forward this newsletter to interested colleagues.  If you are reading a forwarded copy of this issue, you may subscribe yourself by signing up at the FOS home page or the FOS Newsletter page.

FOS home page

FOS Newsletter, subscriptions, back issues

FOS Discussion Forum, subscriptions, postings

Peter Suber

Copyright (c) 2001, Peter Suber

Return to the Newsletter archive