A Game of Terms

By , April 2, 2013 5:51 pm

by Tal Noznisky

Library-publisher relations reappeared slightly in the tech news circuit last week. The Journal of Library Administration’s editorial board resigned amid a stalemate with their publisher, Taylor and Francis, over licensing terms. Tech-happy blogs inferred hacktivist intent behind the board’s decision. They vilified T&F and praised JLA’s editors as open access heroes. A thin parallel to Aaron Schwartz was also drawn into the narrative.

Members of the board, however, offered more measured commentary about their resignation. Speaking to Library Journal, Damon E. Jaggers, an associate librarian at Columbia University and JLA’s former head editor, explained that an impasse with T&F over untenable licensing terms forced the board’s resignation. Jaggers and company preferred a Creative Commons-type licensing that enlarged author’s rights of reproduction. T&F offered several options toward that license type, but none that the board found usable.

A particularly contentious license (apparently T&F’s best and final offer) was a relatively less restrictive license that cost authors $2,995 per article. On her own blog, Chris Bourg, another former JLA editor, wrote that this fee-based license and some “too confusing and too restrictive” alternatives scared off too many potential authors, ethically and financially. Most LIS professionals don’t conduct research under grants sufficient to splash out on T&F’s price tag.

Bourg makes a point to applaud Micah Vanderift, a librarian at Florida State University for circumventing a costly license agreement. Vanderift and co-author Stewart Varner submitted an article to JLA’s special issue on digital humanities. Once JLA accepted it, Vanderift edited and amended the terms of T&F’s publication contract line by line. By doing so, he won himself and every author in that issue the clarified control over publication rights he was seeking without buying them for $2995.

If Vanderift’s pro-author amendments were possible, why did the board resign? Tech blogs played up the board’s open access idealism. The board hoped to negotiate a more open and author-friendly model from within the traditional peer-reviewed journal system. When their traditional publisher would not give enough wiggle room in that direction, they resigned. That’s principled action, right there. But whereas Vanderift’s story resembled a carefully played chess match, this story evinces a stalemate.

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