The battle is heating up! Now Elsevier, Springer and a smaller third publisher are suing a major university in Switzerland, the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, or ETH Zürich for short. Why? Because this university’s library is distributing copies of their journal articles at a lower cost than the publishers themselves.
Aren’t university libraries supposed to make journal articles available? Over on Google+, Willie Wong explains:
My guess is that they are complaining about how the ETH Library (as well as many other libraries in the NEBIS system) offers Electronic Document Delivery.
It is free for staff and researchers, and private individuals who purchase a library membership can ask for articles for a fee. It is a nice service: otherwise most of us would just go to the library, borrow the printed journal, and scan it ourselves (when the electronic copy is not part of the library’s subscription). This way the library does the scanning for us (so we benefit from time better used) and the library benefits from less undesired wear-and-tear and loss from their paper copies.
The publishers probably think the library is illegally reselling their journal articles! But here’s an article by the head of the ETH library, making his side of the case:
• Wolfram Neubauer, A thorn in the side for science publishers, ETH Life, 17 February 2012.
He says the delivery of electronic copies of documents is allowed by the Swiss Copyright Act. He also makes a broader moral case:
• More or less all scientifically relevant journals rely on the results of publicly funded research.
• The brunt of evaluating scientific findings (i.e. peer reviewing) is borne by the scientific community, with the publishers playing only a supporting role.
• By far the most important customers for all major science publishers are academic libraries, the vast majority of which are themselves supported by public funding.
In the legal proceedings, the aim must therefore be to strike a balance between the services provided by the ETH-Bibliothek for the benefit of science and research on the one hand and the commercial interests of the publishers on the other.
It’ll be interesting to see how this goes in court. Either way, a kind of precedent will be set.