Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Private sector and long term responsibility for scholarly work? Nonsense!

In a recent letter opposing the U.S. Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), Martin Frank writes: "Copyright is essential to protecting these works and to preserving incentives for the private sector to continue to invest in peer review, editing, publishing, and maintaining the electronic record of vetted scientific journal articles".

One issue with this sentence that I would like to highlight, for now: it is nonsense to suggest that the private sector has a meaningful role in long-term maintenance of scholarly articles.

A private sector publisher is completely within its rights to cease to exist, or change business operations, at any time. The public has no rights to ask a private sector entity to undertake a responsibility with an infinite time span. Has anyone asked publishers to undertake this role? If so, what were they thinking? This is not the traditional role of publishers, but rather the traditional role of libraries as a memory institution.

One of the benefits of the National Institutes of Health's Public Access Policy is that it moves the traditional role of the U.S. National Library of Medicine in preserving the medical research literature into the internet age, as well as sharing the burden globally through the developing PubMedCentral International network (with the UK and Canada up and running already). Academic libraries everywhere are busy ensuring the preservation of electronic collections, just as they have preserved print collections in the past (and present, of course).