Key delivery (longish)

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Tue Jun 20 14:25:40 CDT 1995

>From: "MICHAEL A. IVIE" <ueymi at>
>Subject:      Key delivery
>To change the direction a bit, I think we can all agree that any key is
>better than none  (with a few infamous exceptions), and that for users with
>internet access, any free delivery is better than paper you have to buy.
>However, how do you 1) make internet publications permanently available, and
>2) how do we get credit for them from  the people who pay our salaries?
>The problem I have is how would someone using these resources cite them?  Since
>they could be updated, how would any future user know what that citation
>to?  Any how is an administrator to evaluate these unrefereed "publications"
>in considering a scientist's productivity?  Are there any plans to have a place
>for permanent deposition of such electronic publications?  Perhaps in the
>Tree of Life we could have a place where keys that have met peer reviewed
>status could be deposited.  This would, of course, require a rather large
>financial input for someone, which could put us back to the pagefee problem,
>but it would presumably be much smaller?
>There must be thousands of unpublished keys out there in exactly the same
>situation I outlined above.  I would like to hear thoughts about solutions
>and ideas like this.

Actually, this discussion took place a few months back on Taxacom and
elsewhere, and at the time I found out that there were people publishing
CD-ROMs and using them as citable resources. It's actually a cheap process
to have a CD-ROM made, and as long as you can deposit it in a library,
you're covered. Since they can't be edited after they're made, there's no
worry about post-author alteration. Most importantly, there is work in
progress to establish "electronic clearing houses" that WILL serve as
repositories of purely electronic publications. If anyone would know, it
would be folks who work in physics, where electronic publication is common
practice. At any rate, here's the older postings I still could find in my
files, the first is from Sept. 10th of last year (fairly long and
convoluted), the second is from Sept. 17th:

>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:

        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.

[post-facto note: I have yet to find anyone who could clarify whether this
is considered a global standard]

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 message to Biodiv-L}
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??

[post-facto note: I received three or four such responses, so the precedent
has been set]

Date: Sat, 17 Sep 1994 08:28:54 -0700 (MST)
From: pricej at
Subject: Re: Electronic resources and copyright laws
To: BIODICEN-L Distribution List <biodicen-l at ucjeps.Berkeley.EDU>

There are two points I would like to address.  The first is to point out
that data collected by the U.S. Government is in the public domain.  This
raises its own set of issues because, apparently, data provided TO the
U.S. Government may also become public domain.  Case in point would be
the National Geophysical Data Center.  All data they make available is
public domain.  This includes databases obtained from other users.
Before they make the data available to their user community, the NGDC
ensures that the proper permissions are obtained for putting the data
into the public domain.  Will the NBIC be a Smithsonian Trust or a U.S.
Government entity?  This is an important consideration for groups which
might want to contribute data.  If the NBIC is a U.S. Government entity
then the data providers (for HELD data) could lose their 'proprietary'
rights to the data.

The second has to do with databases being 'published'.  Perhaps this was
covered at the symposium. At what point is something a database versus an
electronically searchable and retrievable text?  I would THINK that a
printout of each daily update to a database would be part of the museum
collection BOOK and thus electronic text.  The copyright should hold for
the book and thus the electronic text (hence the database).  I'm
certainly no legal expert so would like to know when something is a
database and when something is electronic text in an easily searchable
form (from a LEGAL standpoint).

Jeff Price
National Biological Survey
Northern Prairie Science Center
PriceJ at

Doug Yanega      Illinois Natural History Survey, 607 E. Peabody Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820 USA     phone (217) 244-6817, fax (217) 333-4949
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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