US to join libraries' campaign

March 13, 1998

Top university libraries in the United States are expected next week to join European counterparts in condemning the rising control being imposed by publishers on the pricing and licensing of scholarly journals.

The move by the US libraries follows a statement from Dutch, German and British university library consortia last week warning that concentration of ownership in journals publishing is increasing. This threatens to restrict severely the ability of university libraries to negotiate fair licence terms for access to electronic versions of scientific and medical journals.

A statement next week by 30 consortia representing more than 1,000 US and European libraries, including those of most of the world's top universities, will urge publishers to address the concerns of institutions worldwide.

Fred Friend, director of scholarly communication at University College London, said: "We are entering an era in which a handful of publishers is in control of scholarly publications worldwide. The worry is not that it would stop publications but rather make it more difficult for academics and students to access them through prohibitive licensing and charging policies."

University library groups say publishers' terms prevent a library from cancelling titles for several years and demand a premium for access to text in electronic format.

Mr Friend, also chairman of the scholarly communication committee of Britain's standing conference of national and university libraries, said next week's statement will call for fair dealing in electronic publishing. "We have this for print through the Copyright Act 1988; other countries have equivalent statutes. We want a similar regime for the electronic environment."

Universities want an agreement with publishers on inter-library loans. "We want to be able to send electronic copies of journals to another library in another country, which is allowed for print," Mr Friend said. He said they could bring in safeguards to prevent further copying. Last week, top Dutch and German libraries warned that their copyright position in the digital age is being "threatened".

UK digital copyright deal, Multimedia page i

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