[Taxacom] IPBES: a new challenge (not for cynics)

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Tue Jan 11 22:57:25 CST 2011

"If you don't have the copyright you cannot scan and extract data in 
a way that we could really work with it"

This is not true. The descriptions or treatments are not protected by
copyright law. So you can extract and reuse them. (see Agosti and Egloff,
2009. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1756-0500/2/53). Whether you are allowed
to make temporary copies to extract content is at least legal in
Switzerland, that's why one should run these operations from within

We can change the way we operate. Many of the natural history publications
from the developing world are open access. The journals from the American
Museum of Natural History are open access. Zookeys is open access and even
uses advanced xml technology so you can extract straight away the
treatments, and disseminate them as widely as you want.

This does not mean we have to change the laws - but we should and make
efforts to distinguish public funded science publication from other
commercial publications.

But what we can't is hide between the statement that there is copyright law
and thus we can not do anything. We can also not hide between the legacy
literature but must look forward to avoid this pitfall. The simplest is
right now to publish in open access journals or at least in those that allow
to self-archive. 

But the future, and the one where we might have a place is when we publish
right from begin in a way that machine can read and reason over what we
publish. This is when a connection between other fields and ours are being
made. Not when we have to read through a pdf and extract data by hand one
pdf after one pdf. You can see how examples of this
http://pensoftonline.net/zookeys/index.php/journal/announcement/view/18 ;
extracting data from legacy publication is either dirty and relatively fast
or very painstaking and slow.

This would save all these BHL operations, the endless discussion of
copyright and not least the decline of taxonomy. These way we could see
whether we find a place in the global biodiversity assessment that underpin
IPBES. And I think, we are a key player in this.


I can imagine that BHL libraries would easily obtain funds for 
digitising literature from the past decades, once this would be 
allowed. Including all present-day usual standards such as OCR and 
stuff. We do have the literature resources. Technically everything 
can be done with the technologies we have. We went through a hard 
school with all the old pre-1900 literature, we are in the possession 
of good tools, technically the best preconditions to start with the 
much easier (in terms of print quality) recent literature. Instead we 
are forced to sit around and do nothing, or spend enormeous funds for 
trying to negotiate with potential IP right holders of every single 
publication that appeared after 1920. 

And if there is no public pressure on right holders to release their 
stuff into the public domain, the job will not become easier.

If there is no public conscience that a scientific publication from 
1960 must by default be regarded as public domain, it will be 
extremely much more difficult to get Donat's dreams become true.

> Another lesson from our
> community is to make it mandatory to publish Open access. 

Dreams like these. Trying to change the system. Challenging basic 
rules of economic conditions in which we live and publish. 
Why not trying to change something within the system? 

Would be a completely different situation if there was an 
international convention proposed by a UN body that after 10 years 
all scientific publications would by default be released into the 
public domain. Or all biodiversity related scientific publications. 
Publishers can make their money in the first 10 years, which is 
what they usually do, and the rest is open.

As a taxonomist I personally would have no problem if I had no free 
access to papers younger than 10 years. Of most papers that appeared 
in this time I have the PDF anyway, and for the others waiting 10 
years would be tolerable in the light of the speed we are used to 
in malacology...

University of Goettingen, Germany

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