Thursday Threads: RDA Test Results, Author’s Rights Denied, Future Copyright Scenario

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This week we got the long-awaited report from the group testing RDA to see if its use would be approved for the major U.S. national libraries. And the answer? An unsatisfying, if predictable, maybe-but-not-yet. This week also brought new examples of the tensions between authors and publishers and libraries. The first example is an author's story of an attempt to navigate an author's rights agreement and coming to an insurmountable barrier. The second example tries to look in to the future of teaching and learning in a world where fair use has been dramatically scaled back from the existing status quo, and it is a frightening one.

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Implementation of RDA Contingent on Improvements

Contingent on the satisfactory progress/completion of the tasks and action items below, the [U.S. RDA Test] Coordinating Committee recommends that RDA should be implemented by [the Library of Congress], [National Agricultural Library], and [National Library of Medicine] no sooner than January 2013. The three national libraries should commit resources to ensure progress is made on these activities that will require significant effort from many in and beyond the library community.

To achieve a viable and robust metadata infrastructure for the future, the Coordinating Committee believes that RDA should be part of the infrastructure. Before RDA is implemented, however, the activities below must be well underway. In order to allow sufficient lead time for these actions to occur, the Committee recommends that RDA implementation not proceed prior to January 2013. Timeframes in these recommendations assume a start date of July 1, 2011 and represent the Coordinating Committee’s best estimates.

Over three years in the making, the work of the U.S. RDA Test Coordinating Committee is starting to be published. "Resource Description and Access" (or RDA) is the name of the standard that has been under formal development since 2005 to "provide a comprehensive set of guidelines and instructions on resource description and access covering all types of content and media." From the foundation of the existing standard, the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR), work on this standard has been delayed and debated quite a bit in the past half-decade, and this mixed report from RDA Test Coordinating Committee casts both light and doubt on the viability of RDA in the U.S. All told, it is hard to separate the issues with the text of the standard from those of the lack of flexibility of the underlying carrier (MARC) and the tool to access the standard (

An Author's Rights Horror Story

Now, let me really conclude by saying this: I hereby boycott all [Taylor & Francis] journals. T&F publishes a fair number of journals in ILS (Journals by Subject > Information Science), and I shall not publish in any of them ever again. And, furthermore, I would encourage you, whether you are in ILS or not, to not publish in T&F journals either. Because, let’s face it, the only way publishers will change their restrictive copyright policies is if authors refuse to publish with those publishers. Give ‘em hell.

- My Copyfight, PomeRantz, 14 Jun 2011

This is the last paragraph of a detailed story from a tenured faculty member that agreed to write an article in a special issue of the journal The Reference Librarian only to run afoul of the authors rights agreement. The points brought up by Jeffrey Pomerantz in the post are something I suspect we are going to see more of as copyright conflicts between authors, publishers, and libraries remain unresolved.

It sounds preposterous, right? This is what Kevin Smith has called a nightmare scenario, one that doubles down with new guidelines for interlibrary loan (which in his terms opening are opening "a second front" of attack on education).

But this is our future if publishers prevail. We may have to adhere to a strict and highly conservative interpretation of old guidelines drawn up by – you guessed it – publishers, who back in 1976 were troubled by that disruptive new technology, the Xerox machine. If they call the shots, we will have to create a bureaucracy to enforce copyright compliance or face litigation. We will have to reserve interlibrary loan for journal articles only for rare instances and in a manner controlled by "rightsholders" - which, by design, are publishers, not the authors. Where would we get the lines to staff compliance mechanisms? And the money to pay permissions for everything we use in teaching and research, every time we use it? Out of our existing budgets. The ones that keep getting smaller.

Librarians have been Cassandras for long enough. It’s time for the rest of the academy to wake up before they have this nightmare and stop treating research as a commodity we naturally give away in exchange for personal advancement, assuming it will always be available, somehow. Otherwise, get ready for a future that will not be a hospitable place for that old-fashioned pursuit, the advancement of knowledge.

- Dispatches from the Future, Barbara Fister's Library Babel Fish blog, Inside Higher Ed, 13 Jun 2011

Speaking of copyright, this post describes what could be a worst-case scenario of publishers's desires to control copyrighted academic content come to fruition. We can see some of it coming in cases like the author rights story above, in the Georgia State University copyright case, and in the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers' Statement on Document Delivery. And the crystal ball is too murky to try to make out which direction this is going.


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