Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Access denied (2)

Invisible Adjunct relates a story [update 9/10/2003: IA expands her reflections here] from her university library involving tradeoffs they’re making in access to electronic resources. It makes me wonder what in the world publishers are up to.

It’s one thing for libraries to make tradeoffs between different subscriptions: they’ve always had to do that. But it sounds like this another example of the systematic closing of the intellectual commons that Larry Lessig and others have so rightly been worried about.

But just what is it that publishers think they’re protecting? Do they think that members of the general public could constitute a potential new revenue stream that can be tapped if only free public access to journals is eliminated? Were they thinking, “Gee, I would spend $9,000 a year for a subscription to Letters in Neuroscience, but since I can read it for free, I won’t”? And now they will?

The more I think about it, the more this strikes me as something that started as overprotectiveness of one’s IP, but collapses into something that’s just mean-spirited.

2 Comments

  1. In most university libraries that I’m familiar with, the password access is only for computers outside of the library (at RIT, it’s only for computers off campus). Library patrons using computers *in* the library still have access, in the same way that they have access to the print collections.

    The public access that most publishers are concerned about is when one university makes a journal available electronically, and their web site then becomes the “free portal” for other universities.

  2. “The public access that most publishers are concerned about is when one university makes a journal available electronically, and their web site then becomes the ‘free portal’ for other universities.”

    Exactly. It’s not the public that publishers are worried about, it’s academic institutions that haven’t paid for a subscription. With unrestricted access, if institution A buys a subscription, institutions B, C, D, etc. have no reason to buy a subscription; they can just access the journal via institution A.

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