My FOI request to the University of Glasgow has left me speechless; They do not know anything about publishers or the licences they sign

I have have sent out ca 10 FOI requests to UK Russell Group Universities (see this blog). IMO these are reasonable requests, given the imminent change in statutory instrument on Copyright. [My questions are appended at the bottom - I hope you agree they are polite and clear and deserving of answers. Basically I have asked them what their practice and policy is about restrictive licences which they sign with publishers about Text and Data Mining.

The University of Glasgow is the first to respond (other than acknowledgments). Their response is

"we don't hold the information you have requested".

I am speechless. I expected a variety of responses but not this.

Very, very, simply. The University of Glasgow has legally signed contracts with publishers. They tell me that they do not have the contracts they have signed.


If you sign a contract you should keep it. I'd assume they have to keep copies of contracts for seven years. But apparently Glasgow throw them away after signing.

That's  most charitable explanation I can put on this.

To summarize , their response taken at face value says:

  • we don't have a clue what goes on in our university and we don't care
  • we don't keep records of what the library does
  • we don't care when the library runs foul of publishers

Yes - I was expecting "it's too much work" - "it's secret because the publisher won't let us" - "we can't issue personal data about employees or users" .

But not:

  • We don't take your request seriously

I'd like confirmation from readers that I'm not overreacting. And if so, what should I do? Write to the University Rector? Or the local MP?

Because we live in a democracy where part of the process is to treat people courteously even if they ask uncomfortable questions. Because uncomfortable questions often lead to better ways of doing things. I'll sleep on it and read your responses.

But if this is common over UK Universities - that they don't care about new legislations and don't care about answering questions - we start to have problems with Universities.


Peter Murray-Rust

4 March 2014
Our Ref: FOI 2014/51 – F0360445

Dear Mr Murray-Rust,

Re: Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 – Request for Information

Thank you for your email which was received by the University on 19 February 2014 timed 05:23 hours, requesting the following information:

University’s Response

The University of Glasgow does not hold the information that you have requested and is not aware of any other public authority that could respond to your request. Section 17 of FOISA states that where public authorities receive requests for information that they do not hold, they must issue a notice advising that they do not hold the requested information.

The supply of documents under the terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 does not give the applicant or whoever receives the information any right to re-use it in such a way that might infringe the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (for example, by making multiple copies, publishing or otherwise distributing the information to other individuals and the public). The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2004 ensured that Section 50 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (“CDPA”) applies to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (“FOISA”).

Breach of copyright law is an actionable offence and the University expressly reserves its rights and remedies available to it pursuant to the CDPA and common law. Further information on copyright is available at the following website:

page1image13992 page1image14416 page1image14576 page1image15000 page1image15160 page1image15320 page1image15480

See attached extracted request

page1image16208 page1image16368 page1image16528 page1image16952 page1image17112 page1image17536



Main Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ
Data Protection: Telephone: 0141-330-3111 E-Mail: Freedom of Information: Telephone: 0141-330-2523 E-Mail: The University of Glasgow, charity number SC004401

Your right to seek a review

Should you be dissatisfied with the way in which the University has dealt with your request, you have the right to require us to review our actions and decisions. If you wish to request a review, please contact the University Secretary, University Court Office, Gilbert Scott Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland G12 8QQ or e-mail: within 40 working days. Your request must be in a recordable format (letter, email, audio tape, etc). You will receive a full response to your request for review within 20 working days of its receipt.

If you are dissatisfied with the way in which we have handled your request for review you may ask the Scottish Information Commissioner to review our decision. You must submit your complaint in writing to the Commissioner within 6 months of receiving the response to review letter. The Commissioner may be contacted as follows:

The Scottish Information Commissioner Kinburn Castle
Doubledykes Road
St Andrews

KY16 9DS
Telephone: 01334 464610
Fax: 01334 464611
Website E-mail:

An appeal, on a point of law, to the Court of Session may be made against a decision by the Commissioner.

For further information on the review procedure please refer to ( ) All complaints regarding requests for information will be handled in accordance with this procedure.

Yours sincerely,

Data Protection and Freedom of Information Office

page2image13848 page2image14008

======== PMR's questions =========

Extracted request for call F0360445

Dear University of Glasgow,

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 requiring mining? 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?

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8 Responses to My FOI request to the University of Glasgow has left me speechless; They do not know anything about publishers or the licences they sign

  1. Chris Rusbridge says:

    Peter, I'm not sure the University's response is as bad as you fear. It is, of course, unhelpful to you. However, AFAIK the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act is really about making recorded information (ie documents) available; it does not require the public body to create information that does not already exist (in document form). I should mention, I'm not a lwayer, but I was Director of Information Services at Glasgow at the time FOISA came into force, and was party to many of the discussions about it.

    Looking at your questions (and numbering them 1-12), several of them (1, 3, 4, 6-9) are "how many" or "how often" questions that would require the university to create information that likely does not currently exist in document form, ie carry out searches and count things. Q12 is not asking for information, but intention, which is pretty much unanswerable. Q2 should be answerable, except that in its reference to the first year, it is likely referring so far back in the past that it would be difficult to find that first contract (which would almost certainly not be current).

    I'm not sure Q5 has any real meaning, in the sense that it appears to view the university as separate from its parts. It might make sense if it asked whether the Principal (or Secretary, or Court, or any academic staff) had asked Library Committee about mining, but unless it was a substantive item it might be hard to find out. Q10 and Q11, I would have thought are answerable, in a spirit of openness, although they may not strictly be FOI questions.

    All the above is as best I understand it; I'm sure practice in FOI has moved on since 2005 when I last cared about it much.

    I do remember a JISC report on Copyright in academia that suggested that universities clarify the question of Copyright ownership. I raised this with a couple of senior officers; their response at the time was that it had never raised itself as a significant issue and they would deal with it if it did, rther than as a speculative exercise.

    One possibility would be to return with a different request, asking for copies of policies on copyright, and perhaps on text and data mining. I suspect the latter won't exist, but the former might. There is an exemption for information that is confidential, so you are unlikely to get copies of the contracts themselves. Yu might ask for copies of minutes of any Library Committee meetings where the impact of contracts and oicences on use of information by academics was discussed, but unless someone had made it a major issue it might again be not held or hard to find.

    Another approach might be to ask for a review. Under section 20 (1) of FOISA an applicant who is dissatisfied with the way in which the university dealt with their request for information has the right to require it to review actions and decisions in relation to that request.

    • pm286 says:

      Two replies. First FOI.
      Very useful. In one sense you are correct. On Sir Humphrey logic I need to know what documents exist and ask for them, but since I don't know what documents there are I can't know what to ask for. Maybe all library committee minutes?

      This is a first trawl. I have done 10/25 of the Russell group and will amend next phase in light of what I get. It's been suggested that I should include JISc as they negotiate contracts.

      But on a more political level this is the Libraries organising their own demise. Unless they relate to the issues of the day they will be obsolete. What's their role when scientist sign individual contracts with Elsevier. Next step is buy journals directly. I asked an FOI because the Libraries individually have done NOTHING in the public space. If, as you sayt they work in a reactive manner, then their reaction will simply to become poodles for publishers (they aren't far off this at present). Only the inter/national orgs (SPARC, LIBER, BL) are doing anything. I've written to David Porsser in RLUK - have they thought about it?

      The question is not:
      " how can we help Elsevier make their contract work?"
      "how do we fight for reader freedom?"
      because at the moment it's just a few fringe activists

    • pm286 says:

      Copyright ... thanks this is useful. I shall compose a careful letter to JISC.

      I clearly have to write
      "please send copies of any documents where policies on TDM have been discussed"

      rather than expecting pro-active thought.

      I note BTW that one university costed it's FOI at 15 GBP per hour - that's quit a lot of work

  2. ajsp says:

    Hello from sunny Glasgow,

    Maybe our new rector can help you out....

  3. Charles Oppenheim says:

    Chris Rusbridge makes good points, but I don't agree with him on the one about the counting business. When I was at Loughborough University, we received an FoI request "how much money has been spent on staff parties in the last academic year?". The information was not in a single document, but could be calculated from a series of receipts held by various Heads of Department/Units. Loughborough University got the Heads to supply figures, and then gave a total figure back to the requestor. Loughborough "held the information" (to use the legal term) in a series of documents, and was therefore obliged under FoI law to respond providing that information.

    Loughborough would have been entitled to charge for the time involved in totting up the numbers - but as it happens, chose not to. So, Glasgow should have replied: yes we can get the numbers for you, but it will take time and this will cost you £x, do you want us to proceed? I agree with Peter that Glasgow's reply was therefore inadequate.

    • pm286 says:

      Many thanks - yes this was my feeling. I think they *do* hold the info and I'd be happy to have a subset - up to the limit of a day or two work - whatever is allowed by the limit.

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