Commentary: UC Libraries Control Public Access to Databases By RICHARD THOMPSON

Tuesday December 13, 2005

Mina Davenport asks: “How can UC libraries send letters to the public and alumni to ask for contributions? I used to pay the libraries at least $200 a year; however, I will not do so any more. It is simple: no services, no contributions. Perhaps the UC executives can contribute to the libraries out of that $871 million they paid themselves as bonuses. UC libraries should let the alumni and holders of library cards have access to the Internet via the library computers.” I think her request is reasonable. 

Judith Segard Hunt, who gave $100 to Cal in each of three years over a span some 15 years ago, advocates “ultra high taxes on the rich” in the same letters column. I would be satisfied with the reinstatement of the estate tax.  

I fall into the same category as Davenport and Hunt with regard to giving to UC: a total of $0 since Robert Dynes took over. Yet I did contribute $110 to the victims of the massive Oct. 8 earthquake in Pakistan. 

The July 2003 issue of Scientific American had a full-page ad: “Novartis And Rabbi Sklarz Drove His Cancer Into Remission In Just 56 Days! ‘When I was struck with cancer, I needed lots of help: Thanks to Novartis, I got it.’”  

A side panel intones that this experience has given the rabbi “even greater compassion and purpose.” One problem here is blasphemy. UC Berkeley had a partnership with Novartis. Dick Carter of the California Alumni Association (CAA) talked with the Cal library business managers and about the possibilities of changing their current policies. While CAA members can use libraries on all UC campuses, online use is restricted. By “online access” I am referring to the licensed databases and not to the library’s own online catalog and digital resources which are now available to California Alumni Association members. The reasons that the licensed databases are not available is that publishers absolutely: (1) require a finite set of on-campus IP addresses, and (2) limit access to university faculty, students and staff. Making online resources available beyond the boundaries of the campus is not part of the agreements between the University and the vendors. No publisher would sign a license allowing remote access by the nearly 100,000 additional CAA members. 

The library business managers to whom Carter talked could not imagine the price to permit alumni to use these databases, but that it would be far beyond what the university could afford. The campus libraries already pay some publishers several million dollars a year for access to their journals. Although alumni are a valued and important constituency, the library has no way now or in the foreseeable future of providing remote electronic access to journals to which they subscribe. Alumni have access via the Internet to all the UC-generated digital content that is on its servers. However, commercial journals are not likely to go public. Unlike the United States, most countries refuse patents that are published before an application is filed. Corporate sponsors may want research results withheld from the public indefinitely. So university researchers are under pressure to hold up publication of research results. UC Davis geneticists Royce Bringhurst and Victor Voth discovered a variety of strawberries that permitted year-round harvests. Each received $512,276 in 1995 alone. Are their signatures affixed to the petition demanding legislative review of the “overpaid” administrators? 

The College Blue Book, 29th edition (2002) has a volume of 1,000-plus pages devoted to distance learning. An article in the Wall Street Journal (June 24, 2003) quotes Cal computer-science professor David Culler on the merits of “overlay” networks in minimizing data congestion. Culler was on leave at that time to work at Intel, which donated 100 computers to Planet Lab, a consortium of more than 60 universities. California has a high stake in the global information society. Accordingly, California must retain its positioning of IT in the context of the state’s economic diplomacy.  

Therefore, Boalt Law School must participate positively in a number of international frameworks, including the wide range of approaches being taken through the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in such fields as taxation, electronic signatures, and cryptography.  

CAA members and others should persistently request the librarians to earnestly address the issue. 

While California’s unprecedented prosperity in the post-World War II years was the direct result of the diligent efforts of Californians, much was undoubtedly owed to the existence of an international order grounded in an open politico-economic system comprising respect for basic human rights, democracy, the market economy, and free trade. Access to electronic publications is necessary to tackle global issues. For example, the food problem is complexly intertwined with related factors such as conflicts, natural disasters, decertification, and population problems; and resolving food issues demands a comprehensive approach, including agricultural development, international trade, food aid, education, and technology transfers. In addition to the problems posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, with the frequent outbreak of regional conflicts and localized wars since the end of the Cold War, there has been an accumulation of small arms and light weapons, anti-personnel land mines, and other conventional weapons, which are being used in such hostilities and are claiming over a half million deaths per year. Stemming illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, infectious diseases, population and environmental problems, organized crime counter-measures, and also counter-measures against high-tech crime all require access to databases.  

Chinese nationals make up the majority of students at some graduate departments at Cal. Not much has been done to protect their rights to intellectual property, in part because it may be based on previous research and/or jointly developed. America’s “You’re either with us or against us” foreign policy has robust connotations. Intellectual property is subject to expropriation and may be whisked out of the laboratory or continent. Indian and Chinese firms could instead join up to provide state-of-the-art solutions at cost-effective prices, thereby also cutting out the middlemen. Call centers, medical transcription, data digitization, legal databases and animation are areas in which India already has an advantage.  


Richard Thompson is a visiting professor at Kyung Hee University in South Korea.›