Thoughts on the Value of Collective Licensing to the Scientific and Scholarly Publishing Communities

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Editor’s note: CCC recently published an ebook, “Creating Solutions Together: Lessons to Inform the Future of Collective Licensing” to introduce some of the “whys & hows” of collective licensing. You can read and download the ebook here. Today we’re sharing a concise sidebar from ebook contributor Mark Seeley on the specific value voluntary collective licensing solutions provides to the scientific and scholarly publishing ecosystem.

Scientific, technical, medical and scholarly journal publishing (sometimes referred to as “STM” publishing) is a natural market for collective licensing solutions such as those offered by CCC, and STM publishers strongly supported the formation of CCC and of the collective licensing programs of other CMOs around the world. The reasons for this strong support by STM publishers continue to this day.

First, the content published by STM publishers is valued highly by researchers, scholars and educators. Given that individual specialized journals may be considered expensive (somewhere between $1,600 to $2,000 on average annual subscription price, as noted in the April 2020 annual Library Journal survey), there is a strong demand for copies of individual articles for particular needs at reasonable “by the piece” prices.

Second, the STM market is large and diverse. Although there are four or five major publishers with portfolios of more than 500 journals, there are many thousands of scholarly publishers, including some which publish only one or two journals (some of which are the leading journals in their fields). This size and diversity make permissions processes quite complicated, and collective licensing solutions can help to remove much of the friction involved.

Finally, scholarly publishing is so closely aligned with — truly part and parcel of — scholarly research and education that publishers are highly incentivized to support efficient and effective licensing mechanisms.

There are some advocates who would argue that “fair use” copyright principles in the U.S., and other research-oriented copyright exceptions in other countries, mean that users should be able to copy STM journal articles without obtaining permission or the payment of licensing or transaction fees if they have a scholarly or educational purpose. In fact, such research- or teaching-oriented uses address only one of the four factors for determining fair use under U.S. law — and all four factors must be considered in any fair use analysis. Fair use is specifically intended to balance the interests of both the users and the copyright holders and not to simply deliver “free use” rights to a user who falls into a particular category.

Mark Seeley

Author: Mark Seeley

Mark Seeley consults on science publishing and legal issues through SciPubLaw LLC (http://scipublaw.com), and comments regularly on publishing, licensing and copyright issues. Seeley retired as of January 2018 from his position as Senior Vice President & General Counsel for the science publisher and information analytics provider Elsevier. Currently he serves on the Board of Directors for the Copyright Clearance Center, and is a member of the Copyright Society of the USA and the Society for Scholarly Publishing. Previously Seeley served on the Copyright Committees of both the International STM Association (from 2004-2016 as chair) and the Association of American Publishers. He is currently teaching international copyright law as adjunct faculty at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

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