The BL’s position becomes somewhat clearer but additional comments welcome

Comment scraped into Arcturus

I’ve had a really helpful comment from Stephanie Taylor who says (in full):

May 10, 2010 at 6:06 pm  (Edit)


I’m based in the UK and have an inter-library loans background in academic libraries. I’m currently working with UKOLN at the University of Bath as researcher and am also a consultant in various aspects of digital library services.

PMR thanks very much

The main difference between BL services and publisher services is that BL do not own the copyright of the the majority of the material they supply via SED. Certainly in UK academic libraries, requests for articles etc. from academic researchers are made to their home library. The library then requests a copy of the article (or other material) from BL on behalf of the original requester. To comply with copyright law, the original requester (in this case the academic researcher) has to sign a request form, including a copyright declaration, at some part during the interlending process. This is a legal requirement for obtaining non-returnable copies. In UK law, the signature has to be obtained as a written signature, i.e. pen on paper.

PMR I understand, especially after Andrew Walker unearthed the legislation. I get the impression that at times the BL treats the totality as being the same as the majority because it’s easier. For example they charge for Open Access if it’s too difficult to find out whether something is OA.

The supplier (BL, then the home library) have to be able to show a clear audit trail, including the original signature. Also, the supplier is required to demonstrate that the original requester (the academic researcher, here), has only received one copy of the requested article and that no permanent copy of the original article exists once it has been delivered to the original requester.

PMR Understood. In the past they had to trust the researcher not to copy it.

This archaic (in my opinion) law has held back the free flow of information from libraries to their patrons since the early days of e-publishing and digitisation. BL, along with many other libraries offering to share material via interlending, have implemented many systems that I would consider restrictive in order to be seen to comply with this legislation. Academic publishers in particular seem to be very loath to make any concessions in this area – in fact, it seems to me that many copyright owners have used the more traceable elements of a digital transaction to tighten up how their material is used and shared among library patrons.

PMR very well put and echoing my own views.

In my opinion (and it is very much my personal professional opinion, and doesn’t represent the views of any of my employers) librarians could best serve their patrons by challenging this legislation. But it would need to be a concerted effort, with support from higher levels and done as a large group. If a library, even BL, acted alone, then they could (and in my personal experience would) be prosecuted.

PMR: Again echoes my own views. I think this should be challenged – or rather should have been and now should be challenged. Yes, the BL might be prosecuted. It might be prosecuted for what? Sending a researcher a copy after the researcher has signed that they will not copy it? This is like putting microchips in people so they can’t vote twice.

I’d really, really LOVE to get academic researchers, BL staff and other interested librarians together to sort out an effective plan of action to take this on. It has always seemed mad to me that it is possible to move around vast sums of money, buy a house and manage shares online, yet a signature written on paper is required to request a copy of an article from an obscure academic journal. Equally, I see the point has already been made that once an individual has a copy of any material, they could make further copies (illegally) and distribute them – this was as true when people used photocopiers and faxes as it is today where email attachments can be forwarded.

The big problem is who is held responsible – and as long as responsibility can be laid at the door of an individual library, librarians are wary of challenging this law individually via direct action. Ultimately, it could be the job/career of an individual librarian on the line here. If we could act as a group, mass disobedience backed up by a reasonable strategy for lobbying for change, it would be for the benefit of everyone in the UK, in my opinion.

PMR: I am not a politician but it appears to me that the BL has been ultra-timid. I intend to pursue this with them. The problem is that they set the scene for everything else. It wouldn’t surprise me if they now DRM theses.

This is extremely useful for preparing my letter to them.

[In case you think I do nothing but blog, I am running a functional workflow over Nick Day’s Crystaleye fulltext feed for Acta Crystallographica E (which is OPEN ACCESS), extracting the chemistry using a series of make-like components and processes which will go into Lensfield, uses Daniel Lowe’s Opsin to translate chemical names, and Lezan Hawizy’s chemicalTagger for Natural Language Processing. It takes about 15 minutes per 1000 papers and comes up with the most semantic chemistry documents anywhere. I *could* run it all at once but I’m looking at the results as we go.]

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4 Responses to The BL’s position becomes somewhat clearer but additional comments welcome

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for The BL’s position becomes somewhat clearer but additional comments welcome - details emerge #bl #drm [] on

  2. Stephanie says “In UK law, the signature has to be obtained as a written signature, i.e. pen on paper”. This is not my understanding.
    CILIP (the professional body for librarians and other information professionals) have for several years advised that electronic signatures in the form of a login to a library (or other) system can be accepted for the purposes of ILL. This advice was first published in 2002, and the text (available at was updated in 2007
    However, despite this very clear (and sensible IMO) conclusion there is still some debate. I know of at least 5 Universities that accept e-signatures for ILL while I also know of 4 that have decided that only print signatures are legal. I am very strongly of the opinion that the CILIP advice is good, and that e-signatures for ILL are acceptable.

  3. It seems to me that the arguments for DRM for document delivery are just exactly the same as those made for DRM on Music/Video/E-books and other digital content – that the ease with which you can redistribute the copies means you need extra protection on the digital content to essentially increase the cost of redistribution.
    I do not support this argument! I’m just noting it.

  4. On the theses front I was the Project Director for the EThOSNet project, which was responsible for the collaboration between the BL and the HE community to establish the EThOS service (electronic theses) at the BL.
    EThOS works as an ‘opt-out’ system – the details are described in the accompanying toolkit but essentially the approach is to say that the risk of a copyright owner taking legal action is very low, and if the service is publicised properly (so authors have a good chance of being aware their thesis will go into the service) and a strong takedown policy so that theses can be removed from the collection if an author objects.
    Despite this clear advice, I know individual institutions have decided that they will contact authors before they supply theses to the British Library service.
    The EThOS toolkit also strongly recommends that institutions implement deposit agreements for theses, and that thesis authors sign these before depositing their thesis with the university – effectively making it part of the thesis submission process. Model wording for such agreements or licenses is also supplied in the toolkit.
    When a requester gets a thesis via EThOS they agree to a set of terms and conditions which cover the legal side – note that this is done electronically not in writing!
    What would drive the BL/HE community to move this to a DRM basis? The only real argument I’d be able to see here would be if the takedown or refusal to supply rate is extremely high and there is evidence that offering thesis authors a DRM option would reduce this – so essentially only if the authors of the theses are asking for DRM.
    Of course, never say never, but I would be suprised and personally extremely disappointed if the EThOS service was to step back from the progress it has made in this area.

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