I am a graduate student in Chemistry. This involves keeping up with the primary literature, which is generally published in peer-reviewed journals. For those who don't know, "peer-review" is a process by which researchers volunteer their time to judge the quality of the journal submissions. This process is 2-way anonymous - the reviewer's don't know the author's names, and the authors don't know the reviewer's names. Every peer-reviewed journal has a great deal of volunteer work involved in its publication.
One of the most prestigious journals is the British magazine Nature. Our University library carries subscriptions to many journals, both as physical magazines, and as electronic access.
One day, I was sitting at a computer in the library trying to read an article in Nature. It wouldn't come up. The librarian and I tried every login/pass combination that the school had possessed - but it stubbornly refused to allow access. It was gone.
Yes indeed, they had cut us off deliberately. Here's an excerpt from Nature's web site about their new online-access policy:
This superID facility is now being discontinued as of 28 February 2001, now that site-licenses have been available for some time. E-mail notifications of this were sent to all institutions who were making use of this facility, on 01 February 2001.
In other words, they want all institutional libraries to purchase their new online access plan. It is no longer included in the regular subscription. They just went
and took it away, just because they felt like it, and they could. Tough guys, aren't they?
Anyway, to make a long story short, our library is not giving in. Nature wants a five-figure amount of money for this service, on top of the already five-figure amount that we are already paying for the print magazines! Bear in mind that an individual can purchase a years subscription to Nature for about $150. However, they have a special price for "institutions" such as libraries. I don't know if this is legally enforceable, or if the librarian could just subscribe in his name and put the magazines on the shelf, but our library does not want to rock the boat and confront them. It seems to me that many private citizens purchase books and magazines and donate them to libraries, and that this is even considered a good and praiseworthy act, but I really don't know the law.
Not only do they want a big pile of $$$, but the online access is crippled. There are two big problems with it.
- They delay the publication of review articles by 3 months. Review articles are not primary publications of scientific results, but rather are summaries of the current work in a particular field. As these are often very long, it makes sense that they might not have the online version up right away.
- Nature refuses to guarantee access to issues that have been published during an electronic subscription after the subscription has lapsed. In other words, these are like books that spontaneously combust if the yearly payments aren't made. We don't buy them, we only get to rent them.
Our library has therefore decided that we won't have online access to Nature publications anymore. Other school's libraries have joined in this boycott. Some of the schools currently involved are Harvard, Princeton, University of Michigan, University of Iowa, and the University of Chicago.
This seems like good news to me. There's only so far that copyright holders can push their customers before they find that they no longer actually have any. Nature is one of the best journals because they are highly respected in the scientific community, and consequently receive the most groundbreaking submissions. But if nobody read Nature, they wouldn't get paper submissions any more, and would soon lose their edge. They may have forgotten that they don't exist to make money - they make money to exist and continue doing what they do, which is publishing excellent scientific research. It's not right for them to live off of the free labor of their customers to maintain their quality, and then turn around and squeeze these same people for every last penny that they can.
Let's hope that these schools teach them a lesson!