Why do libraries sign contracts forbidding mining? I ask under FOI and request them to stop

I intend to submit the following Freedom Of Information request to the 26 leading UK universities ("Russell Group"). The excellent http://whatdotheyknow.com makes this very easy as it gives the addresses and actually sends the request.  The Universities have to answer within 20 working days (most manage it in 19.9 days so don't hold your breath).

I ask whether any University has any policy on supporting researchers to carry out content-mining (Text and data Mining, TDM). Most universities seem to accede to any conditions laid down by publishers. This is strengthened by the total lack of any reaction to Elsevier's recent "click through" licence. It's easy to get the impression that universities don't care. Maybe this request will show they have been secretly fighting for us - who knows?

I'd be very grateful for comments ASAP. I will try to summarise answers and would certainly appreciate help here.

========================= Dear University ====================

Background and terminology:

This request relates to content mining (aka Text And Data Mining (TDM), or data analytics) of scholarly articles provided by publishers under a subscription model. Mining is the use of machines (software) to systematically traverse(crawl, spider) subscribed content, index it and extract parts of the content, especially facts. This process (abstracting) has been carried out by scholars ("researchers") for many decades without controversy; what is new is the use of machines to add speed and quality.

Most subscribers (universties, libraries) sign contracts provided by the publishers. Many of these contain clauses specifically restricting or forbidding mining ("restrictive contracts"). Recently the UK government (through the Intellectual Property Office and professor Hargreaves) recommended reform of Copyright to allow mining; a statutory instrument is expected in 2014-04. Many subscription publishers (e.g. Elsevier) have challenged this (e.g. in Licences 4 Europe discussions) and intend to offer bespoke licences to individual researchers ("click-through licences").

In many universties contracts are negotiated by the University Library ("library") who agree the terms and conditions (T&C) of the contract. At the request of the publishers some or all of the contract is kept secret.

Oversight of library activities in universities usually involves "library committee" with a significant number of academics or other non-library members.

Questions (please give documentary evidence such as library committee minutes or correspondence with publishers):

* How many subscription publishers have requested the university to sign a restrictive contract (if over 20 write "> 20")?
* When was the first year that the University signed such a contract?
* How often has the university challenged a restrictive contract?
* How many challenges have resulted in removal of ALL restrictions on mining?
* Has the university ever raised restrictions on mining with a library committee or other committee?
* How many researchers have approached the university to request mining? How many were rejected?

* How often has the university negotiated with a publisher for a specific research project? Has the publisher imposed any conditions on the type or extent of the research? Has the publisher imposed conditions on how the research can be published?

* How often has an researcher carried out mining and caused an unfavourable response from a publisher (such as removal of service or a legal letter)?

* How often has the university advised a researcher that they should desist from mining? Have any researchers been disciplined for mining or had subscription access removed?
* Does the university have a policy on researchers signing "click through licences"?
* Does the university have a policy for facilitating researchers to carry out mining after the UK statutory instrument is confirmed?
* Does the university intend to refuse to sign restrictive contracts after the statutory instrument comes into force?

 

Your immediate comments will be very valuable asa I shall start sending these out very soon.

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3 Responses to Why do libraries sign contracts forbidding mining? I ask under FOI and request them to stop

  1. Glyn Moody says:

    Good stuff, as ever. My only concern is that there are so many questions they might claim it would cost too much to answer them all - and use that as an excuse not to answer at all. Any way to slim down the list?

  2. Chris says:

    I'm close to the subscription process in our library (non-russell but still 'research-intensive'), but not directly involved, all comments are personal.

    To play devils advocate to start with, with limited staff time and energy, we negotiate on licence areas based on our perceived University/researcher priorities. There are: cost (university wants vfm), and access to read as many journals as possible (researchers). On the rare times we've (potentially) lost access due to use negotiating over a sticking point, the message from the Schools is: we want our access back, full stop.

    When we sign a licence we pull out (and store in a db) various common allowances: does it allow visitor access, post cancelation access, able to upload to VLE, and so on, data mining is not currently one (it is arguable it should be, i agree). So answering the first would be tricky. though knowledgebase+ and elcat may help with this.

    When did we first sign one. Difficult, would mean someone going through a filling cabinet and looking through every e-resource and working back through every licence signed.

    I'm not aware of us challenging based on data mining, nor am i aware of any researcher asking for it (the latter leads to the former), we challenge on a lot of things, we succeed on a number. Especially with smaller publishers you can find wording that stops things we take for granted: that everyone on campus should have access, that authorised students/staff should have access off campus as well, etc.

    I'm aware of the statutory instrument, it's a good question you raise, this (checking and querying licences) will be something we should consider.

    Of course, to some extent our hands are tied, our only weapon is to not subscribe, and publishers know (and can help stir up) outrage in researchers should we not renew a subscription.

    Chris

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