By Anton Angelo

Academic research works by explicitly free sharing of information, and any friction introduced into the process decreases its efficiency, in turn reducing the return on investment we make into any kind of research.

I don’t have a sophisticated position on the harmonisation on the various reuse provisions “Fair Dealing” and “Fair Use” within the TPPA actors. As librarians we are expected to have a clear understanding on practical issues around this, and the current situation means we are unable to offer advice and guidance for the medium term. It is not just uncomfortable for us personally; it could lead to a position of liability for our organisations as we make research outputs available.

As librarians we are the sharp end of the balance between providing adequate protection for copyright holders to exploit their creations, and access to research to our community, and the wider academic world for material that they have paid for through taxes.

I am concerned that there will be more corporate interference in access to publicly paid-for research, just as business models are starting to change to an Open Access model where organisations sponsor and patronise profit and not-for-profit businesses to provide publishing platforms for research analysis and data. Corporate organisations have a responsibility to provide a maximum return for their shareholders, but not at the cost of reducing access to tax-payer funded research. Library budgets are at such low levels that they cannot afford to purchase the research outputs of record their own organisation has funded in the first place.

This is one element of the friction against efficient research I was talking about above.

The second issue is not one of established objective regulation, but the chilling effect of extended copyright provisions has on sharing research in the minds of researchers themselves. Copyright is not well understood by researchers, even with the best efforts of librarians and records offices. It is a tangential field to research proper, part of the game of scholarly publishing. As (mostly media) businesses protect their output more and more closely, to the point of employing third party bounty hunters to find infringements to prosecute, researchers become more concerned about protecting their property, to the point of being overly sensitive. This adds yet more friction to research efficiency for no reason other than fear of breaking some misunderstood rule. “Because copyright” has become the standard response for a number of perverse behaviours, including supervisors recommending to students to hide their postgraduate research for a number of years, not to make work available on institutional repositories even though it is legitimate to do so, and stifle sharing and collaboration between institutions.

Ensuring strong provisions for Fair Dealing are fundamental to be able to criticise, review and expand on previous work. Any uncertainty on the ability to do so is not just a blow to the high minded ideals of academic freedom, but a sheet anchor on research and innovation in a very practical sense.

A good response to these concerns is a policy change for all NZ funded research to be mandated to be published immediately as Open Access. This would create a level, clear and unambiguous regulatory platform which would remove fear, uncertainty and doubt over access to publicly funded research. In some cases extra funding for research institutions would be required to sponsor commercial platforms, but the reduction in the price of subscriptions through libraries would offset that to some extent.

This model has been developed and is operating in the UK, and for all state funded research over a certain amount in the US. NZ will be at a considerable disadvantage if it does not follow suit.

Anton Angelo is the Repository Manager at the University of Canterbury Library, and a member of the NZCommons editorial board.

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