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Licensing isn’t working

The sinking of the RMS Lusitania
Image from Wikipedia

Starting in 2012, the British Library replaced its interlibrary loan service with a license document delivery agreement with the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM) and the Publishers Association.  Perhaps to improve turnaround time to provide better service, perhaps to save money by outsourcing, or perhaps because of fear of infringement, the British Library agreed to switch to the International Non-Commercial Document Supply (INCD) service. Their previous interlibrary loan service was extremely popular and apparently lawful because UK copyright law has interlibrary loan copyright exception similar to the one we have in US copyright law – that libraries could send journal articles to other libraries to meet the request of a user. But did it cover international ILL?

The abandoned interlibrary loan service provided resources to 59 countries that did not have the materials requested by faculty, researchers, and students at their own libraries. Being one of the largest research collections in the world, interlibrary loan from the British Library was naturally, heavily relied upon.  After moving to the INCD service however, the popular interlibrary loan service deteriorated in spectacular fashion, detailed by Teresa Hackett from Electronic Information for Libraries) (EIFL). In her blog post entitled “Licensed to Fail,” Hackett describes the swift demise of INCD service, and, through a freedom of information request, has the data to bolster her argument. You must read it, although you likely will not be surprised.

Back in 2012, when announcing the INCD partnership, Michael Mabe, CEO of the STM said that “the British Library framework license (INCD) will give publishers, including our members, contractual control over the international cross-border delivery of copies from their material via an established and respected document supply service. It will also allow the British Library to improve the service, and delivery times, available to its authorized users.” Alas, the British Library cancelled the service this month. It did not fit the bill, dramatically reducing the access to research materials (while delivering on publisher contractual control).

One wonders. Maybe this explains the popularity of Sci-Hub.

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Carrie Russell

As of November 2018, District Dispatch is no longer being updated. It is now being archived for future use. Please visit for the latest news.

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