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Intellectual Property

ULC's essential tasks this year in this sphere revolved around ways of implementing the principles and resolutions adopted last year by ULC and the Faculty Senate on intellectual property issues. ULC has been particularly concerned about the growing degree of commercialization and monopolization within serial fields in some disciplines--a trend which has imposed a heavy financial burden on the university and its libraries. For instance, the 100 most expensive journals to which Wisconsin subscribed this year (ranging in cost from $2,019 to $15,635 for a year's subscription in 1996) cost the university a total of $478,000, and this cost is expected to rise by $74,000 next year alone (a 16 percent rise). Ninety-six of these 100 journals are owned by private, for-profit corporations, and 87 are owned by a single company (a $5 billion multinational corporation whose various marketed titles at present account for 17.2 percent of our total serial collection budget).
Last year, in an effort to address this problem, ULC and the Faculty Senate called on faculty to consider publishing their work with publishers whose interests are sympathetic to the academic enterprise and asked that the university encourage those institutions whose function is to make the results of research available on a nonprofit basis. ULC explored some of the possibilities and limits of mobilizing Wisconsin faculty toward these ends at a session with faculty users of some of these journals. We discovered several things. First, faculty are not fully aware of the degree to which institutional and personal subscription prices have diverged over time for many of these corporate-owned journals and the degree to which these have become a burden on our university library budget. Publishers are charging libraries $4,000-$5,000 for serials that have individual subscription prices of less than several hundred dollars. Second, we discovered that many of the faculty served by these particular journals believe that they should be part of the university collection irrespective of price because of the niches that these high-priced journals have established for themselves within their respective fields. Third, given the limits on faculty time and the difficulties faced by new journals in challenging the market positions occupied by established journals, the prospects for creating new, less costly publications that might compete with these journals and hold down their prices are poor. In short, ULC came to believe that the primary sources of the problem lie in the structure of the publishing industry and in its pricing policies, and that the most promising method of dealing with the problem may be to consider litigation. ULC has been exploring these possibilities with input from the UW Law School.
ULC and the Faculty Senate last year also called on faculty to use their influence within professional societies and journal editorial boards to focus concern on reducing the costs of publication and discouraging the proliferation of unrefereed journals and conference proceedings of ephemeral interest. ULC attempted to identify a target audience within our institution that might be mobilized toward these ends. Utilizing the responses to an E-mail survey sent to all department chairs in October, ULC compiled a list of 107 faculty who serve as members of editorial boards of professional journals or who are officers in professional societies. ULC is currently developing and will distribute to these faculty a short document describing the issues facing the university in the area of publication costs and the proliferation of serial publications and outlining the types of concrete steps that they might take in trying to address these problems.
ULC has also been planning a conference on issues of publication costs and intellectual property that would involve appropriate faculty and administrators from CIC institutions. It has been suggested that the conference be held in memory of the late Professor of Physics Henry Barschall, whose heroic efforts to focus attention on these issues won him the respect of the library community in the United States and abroad.
On ULC's initiative, the Faculty Senate last year cited graduate theses and dissertations as a potentially promising area for the use of electronic publication to disseminate research and called on the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee to investigate distributing graduate theses and dissertations electronically. Virginia Polytechnic Institute has created a model for the electronic distribution of dissertations that has already been adopted by several universities. It allows for access to the full text of dissertations. This development has been brought to the attention of the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee, and a library-led review and assessment of this new technology is providing recommendations to the Graduate School.
Finally, ULC and the Faculty Senate called last year on the University Committee to establish an ad hoc campus-wide committee to explore ways to inform, advise, and provide services to faculty and staff concerning copyright issues as they affect teaching and research. ULC continues to believe that such a committee would play an important role on campus at a time of great upheaval in intellectual property law and looks forward to its activity. In the meantime, ULC will also attempt to inform faculty about their intellectual property rights and has resolved to explore the creation of short information sheets that could be distributed widely to faculty on a series of fair use and copyright issues. The increased use of electronic course reserves and the World Wide Web for instructional purposes, for instance, raises a number of fair use issues to which faculty should be sensitized.


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Last modified July 7, 1998

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