Georgia Harper

Georgia Harper, UT Liberian and copyright law attorney, talks about issues with open access related to academic journals during the “Open Access & The University” panel hosted by UT Libraries on Tuesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

A panel of open access experts asked attendees to consider why open access should be an issue on the forefront for university faculty and students Tuesday as a part of UT’s Open Access Week.

Since the National Institutes of Health implemented an open access policy for its research in 2008, similar policies have become more widely adopted and there has been a stronger push for open access research journals. At the Open Access & The University panel, hosted by UT Libraries, discussion was structured to help students and faculty understand their options for open access publishing and why this issue should be brought to the forefront at the University.

“We’re definitely in a transition period,” said Georgia Harper, UT librarian and copyright law attorney. “Publishers have realized [public access] is not the end of what we do, but a transition of what we do. [Public access] has so much value for not just academics, but for people who are on the front lines, like engineers. Same with nursing, same with law, same with any field.”

Many researchers are faculty employed by universities. These researchers often apply for funding from public institutions, which taxpayers – who cannot access the research without a subscription – indirectly support. Once research is completed and submitted to a journal, the researcher must sign away their copyright rights to the journal. Editors and peer reviewers then volunteer their time to the journals for free. Despite all of the free labor and obtained work, journals then sell their publications at consistently inflated prices, Digital Repository Librarian Colleen Lyon said.

“That’s the issue that a lot of people have with the current publishing system,” Lyon said. “It’s inherently unfair. When you do public access, the research becomes accessible by everybody, not just people with subscriptions.”

Panel members also noted the value of open access in accommodating people at universities or in other countries without the same access to the amounts of information that is available through UT libraries and databases.

“I understand that we need to publish in peer review journals, but the dissemination process is difficult when not everybody has access to expensive publications,” Maria Esteva, a Texas Advanced Computer Center research associate, said in the panel. “Especially when you work with people of other countries.”

One way to make public access a reality for research journalists might be to shift from the selling of publications to creating submission fees for researchers. To accommodate this, many universities, including Texas A&M, have created funds to support faculty in publishing to open access journals. Such a fund does not exist at UT at this time. Meanwhile, each year UT libraries must subscribe to less research content because of rising research journal costs, Lyon said.

“The thing that’s most sad about the situation is how few people know anything about it,” Harper said. “Be an advocate. Tell other people who don’t know. And there’s so much that has been given freely of people for us to use. Take advantage of it. Search for it.”

Photo Credit: Hannah Hadidi | Daily Texan Staff

Open-access journals haven’t had an easy go of it lately. In its current special issue, the esteemed journal Science has published an article detailing how Harvard biologist John Bohannon duped more than 100 of the freely available online scientific journals into accepting a completely bogus study that should have been thrown out by any competent reviewer. Bohannon’s implication is clear: Traditional print is still superior to open access.

However, there are several flaws with Bohannon’s experiment, the most glaring of which is that he didn’t submit his study to any traditional print journals like Nature or Cell. Without a control group, how can Bohannon say that open access journals are any more likely than traditional ones to let junk science slip through the cracks?  

Even if Bohannon had found a statistically significant difference, it wouldn’t change our view that open access represents an important step forward for the greater dissemination and democratization of knowledge. 

Open-access journals certainly aren’t perfect, but there are good reasons to support their growth.

The most obvious of these is the ballooning subscription fees of traditional print journals.

According to data provided by Susan Macicak, interim collection development officer for UT Libraries, EBSCO, the University’s serials agent, posted price increases of at least 20 percent across all disciplines from 2009 to 2013. Even more distressingly, a report put out by EBSCO on Oct. 4 predicted a continuation of this trend, with an expected increase of 6 to 8 percent from 2013 to 2014.

According to Macicak, UT has seen similar price increases in recent years.

“Those titles we get through [EBSCO] have inflated at an average of about 5.25 [percent] over the last five years, for a total increase in what we paid of approximately … 26.26 [percent] between 2007 and 2012 — which doesn’t figure in both serials cancellations and new titles started,” Macicak said. 

Ronda Rowe, UT’s head librarian for acquisition services, said that the most recent figure, for FY12-13, is around $9.8 million.

Any hope of change through price reductions is ill-founded, according to Georgia Harper, scholarly communications adviser for UT Libraries.

“In my opinion, the solution is unlikely to come from lower rates from the journal publishers,” Harper said. “The journal subscription market can be fairly described as dysfunctional. It does not operate according to the normal market forces that would keep prices low. These forces include, among others, competition and low barriers to entry into the market. Instead, the journal subscription market is characterized by, first and foremost, a monopolistic good — copyright. Copyright is a federally-sanctioned monopoly that allows those who possess a copyright to charge more than the market would ordinarily bear for a good or service.”

Less practical, but just as important, is the symbolic nature of free access to information. While we understand the need for scholarly publications to fund their operations, we can’t ignore the incalculable benefits that accompany the wide availability of knowledge. Not only does it allow research to reach more people, but it also provides an invaluable check against the sort of bogus science that Bohannon tried to pass off as legitimate. 

While open-access journals certainly suffer from their own problems, the benefits outweigh the risks and official measures should be taken to promote their growth. Such initiative must start at the university level, where the vast majority of scholarly output originates. Many American universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of North Texas in Denton, have adopted official policies in favor of open access. UT-Austin has a digital repository where student and faculty work is stored.

Policies alone, however, won’t be enough to swing the balance in favor of open access. The well-entrenched reputations of traditional journals will keep them in positions of power and influence over the future of the academic publishing world as long as researchers continue to attach greater prestige to them than to open-access journals.

Curt Rice, a UT alumnus and current professor in the department of languages and linguistics at the University of Tromso in Norway, recently wrote an article for The Guardian in which he criticized both the methodology and conclusions of Bohannon’s experiment

Rice expanded on his views in an email to the Daily Texan editorial board on Wednesday by offering some ideas for how open-access journals could entice more researchers to publish in their pages.

“One strategy [to enhance the prestige of open-access journals] would be to try to get some of the high prestige traditional journals to switch to the [open-access] model,” Rice said. “Then the prestige of that journal would just be exported to the [open-access] domain, and people would still want to publish there.”

“Another strategy is that people who are fairly far along in their careers start using more [open access] ... But these are all on the ‘carrot’ side of the equation. One has to ask if part of the impediment is also inadequate use of the ‘stick.’ It sounds simple-minded in some ways, but [the National Institutes of Health], [the National Science Foundation], the [European Union], and lots of national research councils are now saying that publicly funded research must be freely available. That will force people to [open access], which in turn should contribute to raising the prestige and start leading others there [willingly].”

Harper agrees with this assessment.

“Prestige is a big factor in the individual decision of where to publish,” Harper said. “That factor is theoretically under our control, of course. We could determine the value of our faculty-author’s research without relying on journals to tell us what’s good and what’s not, but we seem unable to unlink an analysis of the worth of a faculty member’s research from the journal that accepts it for publication.”

However, Harper cautions that while there were definite flaws with Bohannon’s study, there is some basis to the perception that open-access journals aren’t quite up to the same standard as traditional print journals.

“Of course, [open-access] journals and subscription journals both rely on peer review, but many [open-access] journals still lag behind the established ones in their prestige,” Harper said. “I think it will take time for [open-access] journals to establish themselves as reliable indicators of the value of the research they publish.”

Admittedly, some open-access journals still need to make improvements before they can attract the sort of work that will bring them up in esteem. As Rice said, it’s going to take a carrot-and-stick approach to solve this problem. Someone is going to have to give researchers that initial nudge to make the switch. Luckily, there are events here on the 40 Acres that are helping to further that effort. Open Access Week 2013, which is being put on by UT Libraries later this month, attempts to “[promote] the movement for unimpeded accessibility to scholarly research.” Hopefully,  through this and other similar efforts, open access can find the acceptance that it needs to thrive. 

As the nation awaits case decisions on affirmative action and same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in another case that impacts libraries nationwide, including those at UT.

In late March, the nation’s highest court ruled in the Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons Inc. case that the first-sale doctrine applies to all lawful copyrighted works, including those made abroad. The doctrine allows consumers of copyrighted material to give away, loan or sell that copy without the permission of the copyright owner.

While attending college, plaintiff Supap Kirtsaeng imported cheaper textbooks from abroad and resold them domestically at higher prices. Wiley & Sons, a global publishing company, discovered the acts and sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement.

Some students are hopeful that changes to increasing textbook prices will occur domestically. Computer science sophomore Chance Raine said he paid more than $300 for textbooks this past semester.

“It would be great if textbook prices would decrease,” Raine said. “It would be that much more money to spend on other things such as housing and food because everything else is going up.”

But Stephen Wolfson, law lecturer and reference librarian at the University’s Tarlton Law Library, said even after the court’s decision, he does not anticipate a big change in domestic textbook prices.

“I think that it’s more likely we will see a drop in textbook prices because of greater electronic textbook uses,” Wolfson said. “Textbook rentals will probably continue to increase. I think that you will continue to see these $120 textbooks for a while. I am not sure if Kirtsaeng will make a giant impact into that — it could — but I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

The court’s decision impacts more than the case’s litigants. Georgia Harper, scholarly communications adviser for UT Libraries, said the case was important to libraries across the nation as it gives libraries certainty to lend international works.

“All libraries, especially at research institutions like the University of Texas, contain books that are manufactured and published all over the place,” Harper said. Harper wants to make certain that lending their collection becomes legal, something libraries have done for centuries.

If the court had sided with Wiley & Sons, Harper said libraries would have been in trouble.

“Books don’t always indicate where they were printed or manufactured,” Harper said. “That means we wouldn’t even know which of our books for sure were legal to lend and which weren’t, and that was the biggest part of the problem.”

The Association of American Publishers said the decision will discourage the active export of U.S. copyrighted works and reduce the ability of educators and students in foreign countries to have access to U.S. produced educational material.

Wolfson said the issues raised by both sides have sparked new debates about overhauling intellectual property laws such as the Copyright Act of 1976.  

“It was good for its time, but of course time moves on,” Wolfson said. “It was based on an analog world, but that doesn’t make sense anymore in the world we live with digital technology. I feel copyright holders need some ability to protect their works, but we as users need our rights to use things protected as well. There’s a balance here that needs to be figured out.” 

Copyright attorney Georgia Harper talks in the Fine Art Library Wednesday.
She discussed copyright law and its effects on academic work and fair use.

Photo Credit: Yaguang Zhu | Daily Texan Staff

The concept of fair use often allows students to include copyrighted material in their academic work despite laws that might otherwise prohibit its use.

Georgia Harper, scholarly communications advisor for UT Libraries, said students can use copyrighted material for a different audience than the original copyright holder intended which includes research material used in dissertations or theses. Despite legal allowances, she said scholars should not overuse work and should only use the amount of work necessary to make a point.

Harper held a lecture Tuesday about the process of obtaining permission to use copyrighted material in the Fine Arts Library titled “Fair Depends on Context.” Her lecture focused on fair use, a doctrine that permits the use of copyrighted material without gaining permission from the rights holders.

“Fair use is flexible and has an ability to adapt to a number of circumstances,” Harper said.

Harper said students still need to consider the risks when determining if a work is fair to use. Copyright holders can sue if material is not properly attributed or used inappropriately. She said if the copyright holder of a work does not reply to the person trying to obtain copyright permission, risk decreases from a practical perspective.

“Fair use is not black and white,” Harper said. “It is deeply intertwined with risk tolerance.”

Harper said works with an expired or inapplicable copyright, which includes all work published before 1923, fall under public domain and can be used freely. She said work published between 1923 and 1964 are in the public domain if the copyright has not been renewed.

Laura Schwartz, head librarian for the Fine Arts Library, said ARTstor, a digital library available to UT students, makes images available for students to use for dissertations as long as the dissertation will not be freely available on the web. She said ARTstor images may not be used for any commercial purpose that may be distributed by the press, regardless if it is commercial or non-profit.

“I think students are afraid to make copyright decisions while writing their dissertations, and listening to Georgia Harper speak allows them to feel more comfortable with their final product,” Schwartz said.

Krista Kateneva, musicology and ethnomusicology graduate student, asked specific questions about her dissertation during the lecture to clarify whether she can legally use certain material.

“I am in the middle of writing my dissertation and it is confusing to know what I can and cannot use,” Kateneva said. “It is helpful to have someone lay out the guidelines.”

Printed on Thursday, October 18, 2012 as: Fair use helps scholars, must be used cautiously