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Negotiating Use, Persistence, and Archiving

A Study of Academic Library and Publisher Perspectives on Licensing Digital Resources

Subject Law.


Licensing of digital information products, governed by state contract law and enforced through a combination of legal and technological controls, emerged in the late 1990s and has resulted in licensees such as libraries being required to negotiate with content owners, on a case-by-case basis, not only over the price of information products, but also for rights that had been previously guaranteed by federal copyright law. While there has been much discussion about the growing volume of proprietary information due to the impact of copyright law and patent law, the effect of licensing on long-term access and use of digital library content such as electronic journals and databases has been understudied. This dissertation explores the phenomenon of licensing digital content by publishers and its implications for libraries, based on the results of a three-part research study that documents and analyzes the current licensing landscape and identifies key issues, trends, and challenges from the stakeholders' point of view. The study includes a survey of 196 major U.S. academic libraries, in-depth interviews with major commercial, scholarly society and university press publishers, and an analysis of standard publishers' license agreements. Findings of the study indicate that libraries are acquiring increasing percentages of licensed digital resources with little guarantee that the material will be available to or affordable by them and their users over time; that both libraries and publishers identify their top challenges as cost concerns related to licensed content; that licensing, as currently practiced, prohibits libraries from preserving and archiving licensed material; and that current technology is widely perceived as not being able to provide adequate functionality for long-term preservation of digital content. The study's findings also indicate that licensing not only restricts users access to and use of library materials over and above that which is allowed under federal copyright law, but that it also explicitly disclaims warranties of the accuracy, reliability, integrity, usability, or affordability of licensed content over time, which consequently calls into serious question whether or not the knowledge we create and rely upon today will be available for future generations.