electronic "publishing"

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Sun Sep 18 14:50:46 CDT 1994

Hi. For those of you who also subscribe to Biodiv-l or biodicen-l, I
apologize for this crossposting, but this seems to be a hot topic, and I
believe it deserves a lot more serious attention *now*, as we all may be in
a position now to help establish future policy. To wit:

>Date: Fri, 9 Sep 1994 16:11:05 EDT
>From: Leonard Krishtalka <krishtalkal at CLP2.CLPGH.ORG>
>To: Multiple recipients of list TAXACOM <TAXACOM at HARVARDA.HARVARD.EDU>
>Subject: Faster-track publication?
>Perhaps the fastest track is the electronic one, namely, "publishing"
>in an electronic database, which can then be disseminated widely and quickly,
>and can be updated as taxonomic prowess and knowledge proceed.  The taxonomic
>database (e.g., every species or genus is a record, with fields for
>morphological characteristics, etc) could also be linked to specimen databases
>(holotypes, hypodigms, etc.), so that information and its voucher(s) are
>accessible as a relational unit.


The problem with this is that formal standards have yet to be adopted by
which databases would *actually* be considered "published" - there are
legalities involved, but until these legalities are worked out, we need
some interim standards. I'll get back to this in a moment...first, let me
include the text of a message I posted to biodiv-l a few days ago:

        Greetings, fellow Netters. This afternoon I attended a seminar on
"Intellectual Property in the Digital Era" which covered some points that
should *definitely* be of interest to anyone involved in management or
distribution of electronic resources, and thus include many people on this
list. Of particular significance is what I found out regarding things like
- of specific concern - databases one might be putting on-line that contain
original data. In a nutshell: to the extent that they have an author, they
*are* automatically copyrighted material once they have been created, but
this has little standing in a legal sense without a hard copy. However, the
specific subdivision of copyright law that pertains to electronic media (at
least at present) is that which pertains to things like TV or radio
broadcasts, which is not entirely illogical, if you think about it. That
means that, legally, anyone using data from an on-line database, or using
any other sort of information accessible through a WWW site or gopher
server, must (at the very least) get permission from the author(s) in order
to do so for anything beyond personal use - exactly as if you were trying
to do something with a video or audiotape you'd made of a TV or radio
broadcast (the most notable consequence of which is that it is a violation
of copyright law to forward a piece of e-mail without the original sender's
permission!!). However, there is apparently no LEGAL obligation for them to
*cite* the source of the data or even acknowledge it, as long as they
obtained approval in advance. In other words, it is the author's
responsibility to negotiate conditions with the user (that the data can't
be used unless a full citation is credited in the final published product,
for example). What's more, an electronic resource is apparently NOT
considered a proper published entity, or to have full copyright privileges
(that would hold up in court) unless there is a hard copy residing in the
U.S. Library of Congress. If a citation were to be given, then, it would be
cited as "unpublished". This may all change if the folks who gave the
seminar (John R. Garrett, Director of Information Resources, Corporation
for National Research Initiatives, and Patrice A. Lyons, a copyright
attorney) manage to help establish a system they are developing which would
allow for a legally-rigorous method of establishing "electronic
copyrights", in which case - presumably - the electronic resources would
achieve the same formal status as published resources. But I think that's
still some way off, and I'm not sure what the international implications
may be.
        A colleague and I discussed this some, and we think there may be a
way around this, insofar as there *is* such a thing as CD-ROM publication
available at present. In short, it appears that if an institution puts
databases on-line, it may be worthwhile and desirable to first "publish"
them on CD-ROM, which would give the author(s) a formal publication, and
give users something concrete to cite if they end up using any of the data
in their own publications. I think the only hurdle that won't be easy to
overcome is the fact that a *collections* database will, by its very
nature, be constantly updated - sometimes even on a day-to-day basis.
[end of original message]
Since I first posted this, there have been some responses, making it clear
that - to a large extent - *we* define what is considered a published
resource by how we cite it ourselves. If we, as a community, decide to make
it standing policy that databases *have* authors, and are citable
references (rather than just resources to be acknowledged), then we should
start NOW and set the precedent. There are some of us - myself included -
whose *major* research products are databases, and if they are not
considered citable, authored resources, then we're going to have one hell
of a time convincing our funding agencies that their money was well spent:
NSF wants to see a list of publications, and if we want NSF to fund
database development, databases are going to have to be considered
publications. What this will probably require on the part of database
*developers* is an "authorship page" which goes along with the database
itself, that informs users as to all pertinent details that would normally
appear in a printed paper: formal title, authors, acknowledgments
(including granting agency), date of most recent update, etc. Whether peer
review is appropriate or necessary for databases is perhaps something that
needs to be discussed, as is appropriate format for citing a database
[e.g., Jones, R.G. (1994) Database of the Types in the Fictitious Museum
Collection, update 1994-3]. The time has come where a consensus is badly
needed, and I think we should look to the Golden Rule: cite unto others as
you'd have them cite unto you. If you make use of a publicly-accessible
database, give the degree of credit you'd like someone to give *you* if
you'd spent your last NSF grant producing it. Out of curiosity, is there
anyone out there who *has* already had occasion to cite databases in their
work, and how did you go about it??
I do think this is an important, timely issue, and would hope to stimulate
some constructive discussion.

Doug Yanega      Illinois Natural History Survey, 607 E. Peabody Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820 USA     phone (217) 244-6817, fax (217) 333-4949

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