OA to law in Southern Africa

Kerry Anderson, What is a Legal Information Institute?  VoxPopuLII, March 1, 2009.  (Thanks to Simon Chester.)  Excerpt:

At its most basic level, a legal information institute obtains primary legal information from the public bodies responsible for producing that information, and makes it available online for free, full and anonymous access.

But what is a legal information institute when the courts from which judgments must be acquired are not themselves always sure where the final copy of the judgment is – either in electronic or in hard copy format?

What is a legal information institute when the courts from which judgments are sourced do not take the responsibility for ensuring that private information, including the names of minors and victims in sexual abuse cases, are removed from the judgments?

What is a legal information institute when the legislation of a country is available only through the purchase of costly subscriptions from a commercial publisher contracted by the Parliament of that country?

What is a legal information institute when the last Law Reports available in a country date from more than 20 years previously? Or not at all?

What is a Legal Information Institute when the transcripts of judgments are refused for publication – even by the courts themselves – by the company contracted to provide the transcription service on some very shady grounds of copyright?

All of the above describe situations SAFLII (the Southern African Legal Information Institute) has encountered in its dealings with jurisdictions across Southern and Eastern Africa….

Even more concerning is the role we have found ourselves assuming of the primary – and only – publisher of legal materials for some countries. Zimbabwe has not been able to publish its Law Reports since 2003 owing to the devastating collapse of infrastructure resulting from the political situation.  Swaziland last published Law Reports in the 1980s. Many other countries have out-of-date Law Reports with no resources to continue the Law Reporting function. Others have written more eloquently than I on the necessity of having contextual law, particularly in common law jurisdictions. The point is singular and self-evident: how can the laws of a country be known if the laws of the country are not available?

In finding inventive and creative strategies for dealing with these situations, we have traveled quite far down the rabbit hole….

Of significance is the fact that we have never encountered resistance to the concept of Free Access to Law. The issues I have described relate to shortages of resources, skills and technical infrastructure – but not aspiration. Which is why it is critical that the strategies we employ do not undermine the self-sufficiency of nascent law reporting structures. It is perhaps in the subtleties of how assistance and support is offered that we can find ways to engage that are not overbearing. It takes just one person of vision and determination – a change agent – within a court, a university, a private practice, an NGO or a law reporting committee to unblock the system sufficiently that a legal information institute – whatever your definition – can develop. We therefore see our most important task as being to identify these change agents and to transfer our accumulated knowledge as well as that which we ourselves have been given by other legal information institutes….

Springer wants a partner, not a buyer

The UKSG LiveSerials blog is covering the annual UKSG Conference (Torquay, March 30 – April 1, 2009).  Some highlights:

Kirsty Meddings on Ahmed Hindawi

Ahmed Hindawi opened the afternoon plenary session by talking about the "three big changes" that will affect scholarly publishing in the next ten years….

Scholarly journals publishing doesn’t have [the] problems [of other sectors]: unlike newspapers, the content of scholarly journals is highly differentiated, and you’re unlikely to just go and read a different article if the one you want is too expensive or behind access control. Scholarly journals are bought by organisations, so there’s still a "middle man" in the sale as compared to author to reader trade book sales. And piracy isn’t a big issue.

The three changes that Ahmed predicts will affect scholarly publishing:

  • Open access vs toll
  • The journal as a brand on author side
  • The journal as a brand on the librarian side…

    Drivers for open access

  • Recognition of merits of OA by researchers
  • Serials crisis = difficult to expand toll publications
  • Green open access – publishers will realise gold is more secure and more financially viable….

    So, five possible futures for scholarly publishing….

  • Possible Future 4: Open Access

  • Journals still have a strong brand with authors, but libraries don’t need to purchase journals. High impact journals will be able to demand higher author publishing charges. Will be more competition between journals and publishers.

    Possible Future 5: Commoditization 2.0

    Open access and lost journal brand on author side. All journals are like PLoS ONE journals, publishing all rigorous artlcles. A&I databases will be only place to navigate content.

    What will materialize will be more complex than any one of these examples. Open Access is important, but isn’t the only issue. Commoditization can bring benefits. Scholarly journals have many stakeholders. It’s important to be as "humble and objective as possible" and consider all of the stakeholders. There will be winners and losers.

  • Ginny Hendricks on Derk Haank:

    …Haank’s view is that the major advancements in scholarly publishing have already taken place. For a revolution to occur people have to be very dissatisfied with the current situation and that is no longer the case since the shared publishing goals of 1998 have already been achieved. These were:

    1) improving access;

    2) seamless linking; and

    3) improving value for money.

    The CrossRef initiative has solved one of the biggest problems by providing pure linking to enable seamless access to everything, for everyone. The fear and excitement of the late nineties meant that publishers “invested heavily – too much in my view – in technology” and this resulted in having to charge much higher fees for publishers’ platforms, rendering content inaccessible to some users.

    The technology will not be important in the next decade….“The techies are back in the cellar where they belong”….[W]e’ve already achieved a lot and it will not be possible to invest much further anyway.

    We’ve talked about Open Access for ten years but only 3% of articles are published in the OA model – hardly a revolution. But of course OA will not disappear (noting his recent investment in BioMed Central!) but will build slowly alongside and in parallel to traditional publishing business models as an evolution, not a revolution.

    More content is produced each year than the previous year but library budgets do not increase so we just need to get much more efficient every year instead of looking for the next big development….

    PS – Haank was asked about the "elephant in the room" and said that Springer is not up for sale but looking for a third additional partner not replacing current shareholders.

    PS:  See our past post on last week’s rumors that Springer was for sale.

    Peer review at OA journals

    Uwe Thomas Müller, Peer-Review-Verfahren zur Qualitätssicherung von Open-Access-Zeitschriften – systematische Klassifikation und empirische Untersuchung, a doctoral dissertation at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, January 22, 2009.  (Thanks to David Solomon.)  In German but with this English-language abstract:

    The present work broadly discusses the problem of quality assurance in the field of scholarly publishing. It highlights the specific characteristics resulting from electronic publishing, business models based on Open Access, and particularly Open Access Journals. Out of the different approaches for quality assessment and its fundamental purpose – filtering relevant and audited information – mainly peer review processes are examined in detail. In this context weak points and basic criticisms on peer review are enumerated and subsequently discussed with respect to known studies in this field. As a major part the present work contains a classification of peer review processes regarding different properties and its potential values. Although it has been subject to fundamental criticism for decades peer review is still widely considered to be the method of choice for pre-publication quality assurance in scholarly publishing. Meanwhile, open access journals which increasingly appear within the scholarly publication market regularly raise suspicion to follow lower quality standards and to publish articles which have passed no or less rigorous editorial examination. Against this background the present work presents a comprehensive survey which aims at analyzing peer review processes of scholarly open access journals. Using the data provided by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) more than 3.000 editors have been asked to participate. With an overall return rate of about 40 % the resulting findings can be considered as highly representative. They clearly show that most open access journals actually apply peer review processes. Moreover, the analysis indicates that there exists a broad variety of different procedures and characteristics constituting peer review, including reciprocal anonymity between authors and reviewers, information flow, the reviewer selection process, and formal settlements as for conflicts of interest. Thereby, the nature of the applied peer review process strongly depends on the scholarly discipline of the respective journal and its publisher. In addition, correlations between external quality indicators and peer review properties could be observed.

    The “Great Conversation” Begins At Home: U. Michigan’s Open Access Week

    Following University of Michigan’s Library’s Open Access Week
    Molly Kleinman has blogged Lessons from Open Access Week

    Some Responses:

    Question: Surely there was some discussion of Michigan congressman John Conyer’s Bill HR 801 attempting to overturn the NIH OA mandate?

    Comment 1: Whether one accepts the definition of the two kinds of Open Access (“gratis” and “libre”) or one prefers to deny free access the honorific of “open,” the fact is that we do not even have free online access (whatever we choose to call it), and that asking nonproviding authors to do more, and asking institutions and funders to mandate that they do more is even more difficult than just getting them to provide the free online access, which only 72 institutions and funders — out of perhaps 10,000 worldwide — are so far doing. (Without even that, it’s all just a name-game.)

    (Whether there is really any burning need for “re-use rights” for the verbatim texts of peer-reviewed research journal articles (as opposed to research data, or Disney cartoons) is perhaps also worth giving some more thought.)

    Comment 2: For how students can help OA, see: “The University’s Mandate To Mandate Open Access.”

    Comment 3: Before getting too caught up in the theory of the “Great Conversation,” it might be a good idea to make sure free access (at the very least) is provided to its target content — by mandating OA (for example, at University of Michigan!)

    Stevan Harnad
    American Scientist Open Access Forum

    Coping with the financial crisis, without OA

    The Research Information Network (RIN) has released a two-page analysis of the effect of the economic meltdown on research access, Scholarly books and journals at risk, March 2009.  From the statement:

    Scholarly journals and publications play an essential role in communicating, recording, certifying, disseminating and preserving research findings. So researchers in the UK must have access to the fullest possible range of scholarly literature. Otherwise, the UK’s ability to support and undertake the research and teaching of the highest quality, for which it is internationally recognised, will be compromised….

    The current economic difficulties across the globe bring serious risks to scholarly books and journals. In the UK, the recent dramatic fall in the value of sterling has seriously damaged university library purchasing budgets….

    Savage cuts in journal subscriptions, with a consequent reduction – even reversal – in access to scholarly resources would run counter to all that has been achieved over the past decade in widening access for researchers and students. Restricting or rationing access to research in this way makes no sense….

    To avoid compromising the scope and quality of research and teaching in higher education, and consequent damage to the UK economy, everybody involved – universities, funding bodies, researchers, librarians, and publishers – must work together. Collectively, we must do all we can to minimise the risks arising from the current economic difficulties. We call on all the key stakeholder groups to work together to find creative, practical and sustainable ways to ensure that the scholarly publications link in the chain from genius to wealth creation is not damaged beyond repair.

    Comment.  The topic is important and the analysis timid.  The statement doesn’t mention OA once, in any context, let alone as a possible solution, or partial solution, to the loss of access to priced research.  For an analysis of the same problem willing to speak the unspeakable, see the ARL Statement to Scholarly Publishers on the Global Economic Crisis from last month:

    …Libraries serving research organizations are increasingly receptive to models that provide open access to content published by their affiliated authors in addition to traditional subscription access to titles. This kind of model can form a bridge from subscription models to models incorporating author-side payments….

    For my own analysis, that the economic crisis strengthens the case for OA, much as the climate crisis strengthens the case for wind, solar, and geothermal energy, see my open letter to Obama and McCain from last November and my predictions for 2009 from last December.

    Three winners in Elsevier’s Article 2.0 contest

    Elsevier has announced the three prize winners in its Article 2.0 contest.  From the announcement:

    …The panel of seven distinguished judges, drawn from academia, publishing, policymaking and media, considered how each application improved on the existing online presentation of research articles. Special attention was paid to contestants’ ability to ‘think outside of the box’ as well as ease of use and the overall quality of the application.

    The $4,000 first prize was awarded to Inigo Surguy whose idea demonstrated how Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0/Semantic Web approaches can be combined to add value to article content. His application enhances content navigation, facilitating commentary on specific paragraphs, and assertions about the article and its contents.

    The $2,000 second prize was awarded to Jacek R. Ambroziak. His mobile application enables reading Elsevier articles on an Android Smartphone. Stuart Chalk, the $1000 third prize winner, submitted an idea operating on the premise that research articles are inherently non-linear and that researchers view articles in a random fashion, depending on their interests….

    PS:  There isn’t a strong OA connection.  But we blogged the contest at earlier stages (1, 2), and I wanted to blog the results as well.  Congratulations to Surguy, Ambroziak, and Chalk.

    Three lessons from Michigan’s OA week

    Molly Kleinman, Lessons from Open Access Week, Molly Kleinman, March 30, 2009.

    As most of you already know, last week was Open Access Week at the University of Michigan Library….

    Over the course of the week, I learned a few valuable lessons, and even changed my mind about a couple of things. Before I forget it all, I wanted to share them here.

    Lesson #1: A formal definition of open access should include re-use rights

    The Budapest, Bethesda, and Berlin definitions of open access all require not just free online access to the work for all users with an internet connection, but also a license that permits copying and redistribution of the work. Prior to Open Access Week, I believed that a definition of open access that required usage rights was sacrificing the good for the sake of the perfect, and that therefore all three of these founding documents were deeply flawed. In an environment where scholarly authors must often haggle mightily just to keep the right to deposit their articles in an institutional repository, such a requirement was asking too much. We shouldn’t disparage those who do the valuable and important work of promoting subject and institutional repositories just because in an ideal world we’d have something even better.

    Discussions at the Open Access and the Academy panel have convinced me that the difference between a work that is freely available and a work that is freely reusable is tremendous, and that true openness does require the possibility of future adaptation and use. We can draw a distinction between free access and Open Access without demeaning those who have only been able to achieve free access. In very many situations, free access is enough….

    Lesson #2: Undergraduates have an important role to play in advocating for Open Access

    This is the second thing about which my mind has been changed. In the past, I have argued that Open Access outreach programs targeting students are misguided, because undergrads have nothing to do with any part of the publishing process….

    While nobody spoke directly about undergraduate engagement during OA Week, the week made me think about it because it reminded me that it’s damned hard to get faculty into a room they’re not contractually obligated to be in….

    So now imagine what a little undergraduate activism can do. The high cost of purchasing scholarly journals contributes to the rising cost of education, and the rising cost of education is a hot topic in these dire economic times. If we can get students riled up about open access – and that’s still a big if – they might have more luck influencing the behavior of their professors than librarians have. While before I thought that targeting students for open access outreach was a waste of time, now I believe it’s worth a shot. Some infrastructure for it already exists, and in the coming months I plan to look into how I can promote student participation here at Michigan.

    Lesson #3: Never lose sight of the Great Conversation

    Jean-Claude Guédon, one of the panelists on Tuesday, spoke of the importance of open access in facilitating what he called “The Great Conversation.” The Great Conversation is the purpose of all scholarship. It signifies engagement with knowledge, ideas, and a worldwide community of scholars. To frame the issue this way, open access is not about money or fairness or social justice, it’s about something more romantic. Perhaps the way to win over the hearts and minds of faculty is to put open access in loftier, more idealistic terms. People who do not have access to scholarly output cannot participate in the Great Conversation, and neither can people whose works are not widely accessible….

    Update (3/31/09). Also see Stevan Harnad’s comments.