An injunction filed by Elsevier to block release of information included in a licensing contract between the publisher and Washington State University (WSU) was denied by a court in the state of Washington last week. A public-records request for contract terms had been submitted to the university by researchers gathering data on the terms of large-publisher bundled contracts.
Whitman County Superior Court, State of Washington, ruled Friday, June 19, 2009, in favor of full disclosure for a public-records request submitted to Washington State University by Ted Bergstrom, Paul Courant, and Preston McAfee for license information regarding the WSU-Elsevier contract. On June 9, Elsevier had filed a Motion for Injunction against release of the data. According to court papers, the plaintiff argued that disclosure of the Elsevier-WSU contracts would "disclose aspects of Elsevier's pricing methods and formula so as to produce private gain and public loss. Such disclosure would violate Elsevier's rights under Washington statutes…to preserve the confidentiality of its proprietary pricing methods and formulae."
“We could see no reason why the open-records request should not be fulfilled in this case,” said Jay Starratt, Dean of Libraries, Washington State University. “As a member of ARL's Scholarly Communication Committee, I am interested in the results of the data analysis being conducted by the researchers.”
Researchers Ted Bergstrom, Professor of Economics, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Paul Courant, University Librarian, Dean of Libraries, and Professor of Public Policy, Economics, and Information, University of Michigan, said, "We believe that state open-access laws serve the public interest by requiring full transparency of contracts that involve millions of taxpayer dollars. We will continue to collect and analyze the terms of ‘Big Deal’ contracts signed by a large number of universities and to share this information with the library community. We appreciate the efforts of university librarians who have helped us to collect contract information and we are grateful for ARL’s support and encouragement.”
It is not enough for institutions to assume that public-records requests will ensure that information about contracts and licenses can be made publicly accessible. Last month, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Board of Directors supported a resolution to encourage its members to refrain from signing nondisclosure agreements with publishers and to share information about their agreements, insofar as possible, with each other. Tom Leonard, President of ARL and University Librarian, University of California, Berkeley, said, “By responding to an open-records case in this manner, Elsevier has only increased our resolve to push for both open contracts and public disclosure of terms in our negotiations. This case is a telling example of why we should not be signing these nondisclosure agreements.”
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 123 research libraries in North America. Its mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the Web at http://www.arl.org/.