Mitch Allen, a publisher that I greatly respect, commented on my blog posts about Aaron Swartz and scholarly communications in archaeology. His comments got me thinking again about the issue in some depth, and I want to take the opportunity to write about it in preparation for the SAA conference in Hawaii.

Allen thought I was probably overstating the legal issues associated with sharing logins and sharing files to get scholarly publications. Sadly, I don’t think my statements were hyperbole:

  • Sharing logins to gain access to university library systems can involve grave legal risks. It violates the same sort of violations of terms-of-service that made Aaron Swartz face 50 years in prison. For instance, JSTOR’s terms of service (that Swartz allegedly violated in his felony charges) specifically prohibited actions like sharing logins.
  • Sharing papers (mainly in email, but also social networking sites) also carries risks, mainly in civil and not criminal law (but that could change if something like SOPA passes). Mass copyright lawsuits with financially ruinous penalties happen- even involving 100,000 people at a time, including children.
  • Litigiousness has entered the scholarly domain. University presses are suing universities over e-reserves to curtail “fair-use” (limitations in copyright law to allow research, instruction, critique, free speech).
  • Law Prof. John Tehranian published a study where he calculated a jaw-dropping $4.5 billion in potential copyright liability involved in routine academic research and instructional activities over the course of a single year.

I think the evidence is clear that current intellectual property rules carry significant legal risks for everyone. It’s worse for researchers at the margins of the profession who lack their own institutional logins.

Normative Publishing Practices and Antiquities Trading

Network security laws and copyright laws are unjust because they carry such disproportionate penalties. Huge commercial scientific publishers like Elsevier push to further strengthen these draconian laws. Elsevier lobbied in favor of SOPA, a bill that would have made even non-commercial infringement a felony offense. That would have put many routine library activities at risk. Copyright has expanded in scope into a more or less absolute and perpetual property right. No US copyrighted works entered into the public domain last year.

Like it or not (and I don’t), this legal context shapes academic communication and shapes its ethics. Regarding my point about the antiquities trade, yes, that was purposeful polemic to highlight these ethical issues. To expand on this point, if archaeologists only communicate their results as all-rights-reserved intellectual property, they’re clearly engaged in a form of appropriation. The (more or less) absolute (no fair use) and perpetual (de facto unlimited copyright terms) nature of these property rights increasingly excludes all uses, save commercial transactions. Doesn’t that reduce the scholarly record of the past into commodities?

Status quo publishing practices also carry similar destructive externalities as the antiquities trade. In the antiquities trade, only beautiful or rare objects get valued and contextual information is neglected and destroyed because it has no market value. How different is Academia then, when researchers think that only the final polished article or monograph has any value? What happens to all of that rich contextual information that can’t be squeezed into a 10 page paper? While researchers have very different and much more pro-social goals than antiquities traders, publishing incentives and practices clearly need to better align to those goals.

Open Access and Commerce

Lastly, the open access and open data movements are not anti-commercial. The public good that comes from public financing of research means making information resources that can be used commercially. The normative definitions of “Open Data” explicitly allow for commercial uses, as do open access publishers like PLoS. With Open Context, we happily work with commercial publishers to try to build incentives for the better treatment of primary data.

While Open Data and Open Access are not (usually) anti-commercial, these movements are anti-monopoly. They grew in response to the increasing absurdities of global intellectual property regimes that perpetuate monopolies of big media conglomerates. My objection to the status quo is not that publishing involves commerce, I object to fact that we’re largely failing to make any public goods (despite public funding), since the vast majority of academic communication happens in a monopolistic and exclusionary way.

Getting Past the Dysfunctional Status Quo

Something is obviously very screwed-up when university presses sue universities over e-reserves and many researchers lack the means to legally participate in their discipline’s communications. I don’t think the current situation works to anyone’s interest, except for large conglomerates like Elsevier. It certainly doesn’t help small publishers like Left Coast Press, since the cost escalations of the big commercial science publishers mean less budget to buy humanities and social science books (as eloquently noted by Cathy Davidson). It is self-defeating for archaeology’s professional societies to fight (or avoid) open access, since they are simply helping to perpetuate cost-escalations in the areas of scientific publishing (chemistry, biology, computer science) that university administrators prioritize over the humanities and social sciences. Our professional societies need to consider this larger economic reality when determining their positions on open access.

The work of publishers like Mitch Allen are important to the health of archaeology. His efforts add value and quality to archaeological communications. I am very open to debate about what constitutes the right balance between public and private in archaeology’s information resources and also a debate about how we finance quality publishing. However, I stand by my point that our current policy of investing almost nothing in public (open) information resources hurts our discipline and puts many of its practitioners in legal jeopardy.


Lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation just posted a piece about the issues of felony violations of terms of service. Look at Point 4, substitute Pandora with JSTOR or a university library and you’ll see how all this applies to scholarship. See also this discussion of library licensing terms, since:

It is, however, very clear that licensing terms, which govern an increasingly large proportion of our collections, are a fundamental issue in the present and future usability of library resources by our campus populations.



I’m pleased to announce that the National Science Foundation (NSF) archaeology program now links to Open Context (see example here). Open Context is an open-access data publication system, and I lead its development.  Obviously, a link from the NSF is a “big deal” to me, because it helps represent how data sharing is becoming a much more mainstream fact of life in the research world. After spending the better part of my post-PhD career on data sharing issues, I can’t describe how gratifying it is to witness this change.

Now for some context: Earlier this year, the NSF announced new data sharing requirements for grantees. Grant-seekers now need to supply data access and management plans in their proposals. This new requirement has the potential for improving transparency in research. Shared data also opens the door to new research programs that bring together results from multiple projects.

The downside is that grant seekers will now have additional work to create a data access and management plan. Many grant seekers will probably lack expertise and technical support in making data accessible. Thus, the new data access requirements will represent something of a burden, and many grant seekers may be confused about how to proceed.

That’s why it is useful for the NSF to link to specific systems and services. Along with Open Context, the NSF also links to Digital Antiquity’s tDAR system (Kudos to Digital Antiquity!). Open Context offers researchers guidance on how prepare datasets for presentation and how to budget for data dissemination and archiving (with the California Digital Library). Open Context also points to the “Good Practice” guides prepared by the Archaeology Data Service (and being revised with Digital Antiquity). Researchers can incorporate all of this information into their grant applications.

While the NSF did (informally) evaluate these systems for their technical merits, as you can see on the NSF pages, these links are not endorsements. Researchers can and should explore different options that best meet their needs. Nevertheless, these links do give grant-seekers some valuable information and services that can help meet the new data sharing requirements.

I sent out an email call for nominations to the ArchaeoInformatics advisory board to the 800 or so people on the DDIG email list. The response to the email was truly overhelming, with 20 nominations coming in within 18 hours of my email (sent at 9:00 PM, PST).

In contrast, I heard 1 response to the weblog post made the day before. It’s an interesting observation about communication in the scholarly / research / and maybe larger professional world. There’s something about an email that provokes a response. It is personally directed, it sits in your inbox highlighted as unread until you do something about it, and once you’ve responded, you feel like you’ve earned a little bit of your pay check. An inbox is like a little to-do list that fills up everyday.

A website like this blog contrasts greatly. One can visit anonymously and not get the same “to-do” list incentive to act on it. At least that’s my impression of how things work for many professional researchers and scholars.

All of this probably has some bearing on the success and failure of collaborative systems for scholarly communication. If you want participation, and want people to feel like they are acting productively, it seems important to leverage the psychology of the inbox.

I’ve been traveling and coding so much that I haven’t had time to keep up with news in the Open Access world. It turns out that there are two important developments just in the past few data that I should alert to DDIG members.

Self-Interested Data-Sharing:
First off, Peter Suber recently noted a recently article published by Heather A. Piwowar, Roger S. Day, and Douglas B. Fridsma in PloS One that shows an impact advantage for people who publish primary data. The demonstrate a 69% increase in citation for articles associated with publicly available data. For those of us interested in encouraging comprehensive and open publication of archaeological research data, this is very good news. We no longer only have to make appeals to ethics, preservation, transparency, or the possibility for new modes of inquiry (through reanalysis and reuse of shared data). We can now appeal to enlightened self-interest. Publishing your data makes your research more cited and more influential. That’s a much more persuasive and personally meaningful case for data sharing.

NSF Cyberinfrastructure Report:
A second post noted by Peter Suber linked to a new NSF report “Cyberinfrastructure Vision For 21st Century Discovery“. Suber highlighted text in the report calling for open access to scientific data, an important and needed policy direction. Dan Atkins, head of the NSF Cyberinfrastructure office, spoke about this report at the recent Hewlett/Rice conference on Open Educational Resources. He discussed how the report makes clear recommendations for US cyberinfrastructure to not only support enhanced research and research communication, but also to meet increasing training and educational needs.

It seems clear that we should work toward open data sharing and accessibility so that content can be made to serve multiple needs, from “cutting-edge” research, to instruction, and also (but not often discussed) the needs of the greater public, both to stimulate life-long learning and creativity. These latter issues are important (and noted needs in the NSF report, see page 39), but easy to forget. We often overlook the important and growing place of life-long learning in our society, and too often think of education as something that solely takes place in established institutions.

Thus, we have our work cut out for us. There are many balls to juggle, ranging from IP practices, technical interoperability, ease of use, outreach, and following the dizzying array of developments taking place across the web, in education and in the commercial sector.

The International Congress for Archaeozoology (ICAZ) and the Alexandria Archive Inst. (AAI) announced winners of the first “Junior Researcher Open Zooarchaeology Prize”. Five prominent zooarchaeologists reviewed all eleven entries and have determined the following winners, based on the conference papers’ scholarly merits and their potential for reuse in research or teaching. To encourage the widest possible dissemination and reuse of this scholarship, all of the entries are licensed under open Creative Commons. copyright licenses.

This winners are:
Christian Gates St-Pierre (1st Prize)
Ana Belen Marin Arroyo (2nd Prize)

Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to the five judges for volunteering to participate and for their careful review and evaluation of the entries. Finally, special thanks go to all those who entered into the competition.

All of the entries provide valuable resources for the zooarchaeology community in a variety of ways. Many of these conference papers demonstrate important contributions to zooarchaeological understanding of the past. Students now have access to good, professionally evaluated examples of conference presentations. Looking at these examples can help prepare young scholars on preparing for their first professional conferences. Secondly, some of the contributions provide invaluable reference material for research. For example, Krish Seetah developed an impressive set of materials that will help zooarchaeologists better document and understand ancient butchery practices.

Additional Note:
It looks like the prize winners are already receiving some wider recognition from their home institutions! This is an important step in establishing professional rewards for open scholarship. Again, congratulations to the winners and all those who participated!

The Alexandria Archive Institute (AAI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and developing open resources of world cultural heritage, has just announced an “Open Archaeology” prize competition.

The “Junior Researcher Open Zooarchaeology” prize will be awarded the best open-access, open-licensed, digital contribution to zooarchaeology from papers presented at the ICAZ 2006 meeting in Mexico City. This competition is open to all ICAZ meeting participants who are graduate students or have received their PhD within the past 10 years. The best contribution will be determined by a panel of judges, based on its scholarly merits and its potential for reuse in research or teaching.

The AAI will organize a series of other “Open Archaeology” competitions in the next few months. Please check back for future announcements.