Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Roadblocks and what not to do

"Who owns our work?" - simple words but a vexed question, says Dorothea Salo of the University of Wisconsin. Whose work are we referring to? Lots of people are involved in creating journal articles. There's no one owner, but lots of stakeholders. And the "who" might not be a "who" but a "what". But Dorothea's ultimate point is that, in protecting our various roles in 'creating' 'work', we must avoid putting roadblocks in the path of the work's ultimate goal - usage. (All this talk of roadblocks is pretty apt, given the state of Edinburgh's roads while they work towards an access-friendly tram system...)

Credit where it's due
Researchers are keen to keep ownership of their work to ensure their ideas are protected. But even at this embryonic stage of the publication process, lots of other people are involved in the work - research assistants and lab partners and so on. These people look not for monetary compensation but for credit in the form of prestige. Author lists are a blunt tool for addressing this, so publishers are involved in trying to solve the problem even though it starts way before they become a part of the process. Publishers are perceived as having a "hold on career credit and career prestige" that needs to be broken.

Different stakeholders
The early 'content' that researchers create - conference presentations, for example - are indisputably owned by them, since publishers, librarians etc have not had a role at this point. In open notebook science, the online posting of lab notebooks (methods, equipment lists, preliminary data etc), people are 'publishing' and claiming ownership of their content much earlier in the process. Dorothea warns publishers who plan to extend their services to include research data to be careful how they claim ownership of this. There are many more stakeholders in the process, who want to do different things with research results - peer reviewers, funders etc. "But ownership is only a proxy for what these people really want." The researcher establishes primacy over his ideas by publishing them, and doesn't generally mind relinquishing ownership to the publisher - but in doing so he can start to prevent others from reusing his work. Publishers feel that they should be paid for the work they contribute to the process, but libraries and their users should be able to [use content for learning] without fear of a lawsuit.

Funders are primarily interested in impact, and may also be keen to encourage wider access to the research they fund. Are they doing enough to help researchers achieve the level of ownership they seek? Publishers and libraries conflict over "appropriate ownership in the copies that we purchase", and digital preservation is a key issue here. Librarians are starting to get more radical in their expectations. "Learn to engage in public, online, on these issues." says Dorothea. "Don't use proxies, don't use sock pockets .. don't use private email and don't use workplace chains of command. It will look like you have something to hide, and are trying to intimidate your protractors."

Changing expectations
"Being a roadblock is a poor business model." Librarians are instinctive gatekeepers but "our patrons do not want us getting in their way." The same is true of publishers: when you use ownership rights to get in the way of access and reuse, you're damaging your own brands. There are beginning to be other options for content distribution (repositories, OA publishing), and "closing off access is going to become a liability for publishers who want to make arguments about impact and prestige."

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