Cornell Library Rejects Non-Disclosures On Journal Pricing; Will Reveal All Prices

from the go-big-red dept

One of the more pernicious areas of locking up knowledge that we've seen and discussed involves academic journals. These tend to involve private publishers who get a tremendous amount of completely free labor in terms of content submissions and even reviewers/editors... and then demand the copyrights of the research, while charging universities ridiculously high fees. Those publishers have also gone to great lengths to try to block the US government from trying to make federally funded research available to the public at no cost after a limited amount of time. And, of course, the journals often rely on secrecy to get the most money -- including requiring universities to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that forbid them from revealing how much they're paying for a journal.

It's nice to see some universities really starting to push back, and it's even nicer when it's a university that I attended and from which I received two degrees. My sister informs me that Cornell University has decided to take a stand and is refusing to sign any NDAs from various journals, and will make the prices they're being charged for such journals public. As the University made clear in a statement about this policy, it feels these agreements go against the basic nature of openness and fairness:
It has become apparent to the library community that the anticompetitive conduct engaged in by some publishing firms is in part a result of the inclusion of nondisclosure agreements in contracts. As Robert Darnton recently noted, by "keeping the terms secret, ... one library cannot negotiate for cheaper rates by citing an advantage obtained by another library." For this reason, the International Coalition of Library Consortia's "Statement of Current Perspective and Preferred Practices for the Selection and Purchase of Electronic Information" states that "Non-disclosure language should not be required for any licensing agreement, particularly language that would preclude library consortia from sharing pricing and other significant terms and conditions with other consortia." The more that libraries are able to communicate with one another about vendor offers, the better they are able to weigh the costs and benefits of any individual offer. An open market will result in better licensing terms.

Additionally, nondisclosure agreements conflict with the needs of CUL librarians and staff to work openly, collaboratively, and transparently. This conflict increases the likelihood that the terms of a nondisclosure agreement would be inadvertently violated, posing a threat to the university
The next step is focusing more and more on truly open journals and increasing their acceptance in academia.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 25th, 2011 @ 2:49am

    There are no copyrights in "research"...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 25th, 2011 @ 3:37am

    The next step is focusing more and more on truly open journals and increasing their acceptance in academia.

    Why isn't that the first step? Oh, because on Techdirt it's easier and more emotionally satisfying to tear down the old instead of doing the hard work of building up the new. Creative destruction has two parts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Bill Jackson (profile), Mar 25th, 2011 @ 4:01am


    These parasitic organizations have grown entirely too large with an economic model based on blackmail. They are enabled by the researchers and their organizations who did not see the thin edge of the wedge being inserted 100 years ago - compares rates of those days with now -, and so here we are now - addicted to the publish - perish dichotomy. The fat mafia chieftains and their henchmen - copyright police - get set for the final battle - which they will lose.
    The researchers do not realize they can simply depart en-masse to the new online systems, and leave the old school over-ripe and dying on the vine.
    If they decamp en-masse, in 2 years it will have settled into the new way. This gradualism is a form of failing to grasp the nettle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Jose_X, Mar 25th, 2011 @ 4:34am

    Next step

    Apply this same reject NDAs approach to proprietary software firms.

    If they have leverage (as they do with their size and prestige), they should use it in the interest of openness and transparency to help their students, staff, and owners get a better deal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), Mar 25th, 2011 @ 5:23am

    Re: why isn't that the first step?

    Maybe it would be because Cornell chose to take a different first step instead?
    Rejecting NDAs for closed journals and supporting open journals are not mutually exclusive actions. Cornell simply chose to reject NDAs first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 25th, 2011 @ 5:57am


    Because signing NDAs while pushing for openness feels hypocritical?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Bill Jackson (profile), Mar 25th, 2011 @ 6:11am

    Outside looking in

    Unless the schools and other research organizations feel the risk of being on the outside looking in if they refuse the NDA, and all their people can not read or post articles.
    It seems to me that generations of lawyers can be enriched on this tussle...some criminal...
    Nontheless, the nettle must be grasped firmly and decisively by all the groups at once, only then will none get stung

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 25th, 2011 @ 6:25am

    This is a pretty ridiculous setup the journals have. The researchers do all the work and submit the work to the journals at *no cost*. This is like the whole Huffington Post issue, except that these works are not simply blogs people spent a few hours writing, these are very valuable works people will and do pay very good money for.

    Then these works are peer reviewed *for free* by other esteemed researchers in the field.

    So the journals receive article and proofreading at zero cost, so their marginal cost is literally zero. They just need to support a small staff to collect and publish this content.

    Then they go out and charge several hundred dollars for a yearly subscription and probably a lot more to a school library, but it's hard to get a number on that with the NDAs. I'm sure this started out as a simply economic equation with such a small audience that they needed high prices simply to do printing, but I think they have leveraged this into quite the nice cash cow for themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    JustMe (profile), Mar 25th, 2011 @ 7:24am

    Re: Teal A/C at @ 3:37am

    Why the hate toward Techdirt dude? Mike encourages healthy discussion but your post wasn't even on topic. Methinks you are just coming here to troll, and that is kind of sad. Want a hug?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Julian Knight (profile), Mar 25th, 2011 @ 7:39am

    I guess US schools and colleges are not public organisations then?

    If they were, don't they have a requirement to publish spending? I'm pretty sure that in the UK, you could at least ask for this information under Freedom Of Information rules?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Pål Lykkja, Mar 25th, 2011 @ 7:48am

    Publishing periodicals is the third most profitable industry

    Measured in net profit margin, it ranks before weapon, sigarettes and medical equipment industries. Of course the publishers want secret negotiations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 25th, 2011 @ 8:55am

    DMCA violation?

    Is sharing that Chronicle of Higher Education link a violation of the DMCA (due to the key=... portion of the URL)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    econ minor, Mar 26th, 2011 @ 12:34pm

    publishing prices

    While it sounds horrible & all that these big organizations are taking advantage of poor scientists, publishing prices aren't actually going to solve the problem. In fact, economic theory & historical evidence (car industry before 1970, steel industry, electric industry) show that publishing prices allow big organizations to maintain a cartel & charge even higher prices for a lower output.

    So I guess "yay Cornell" for taking a stand, but the consequences aren't going to be all that helpful

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Bill Jackson (profile), Mar 26th, 2011 @ 5:37pm

    Wheels have fallen off

    This entire publishing model is now dead, the wheels are off, and it runs down the road at high speed, soon the undercarriage will hit the road, and sparks will fly. The driver will not know what is going on. He will ask the engineers,(writers) and the technicians(accountants) and they will obfuscate and say 'sally forth', keep going, and yet the driver will see the scenery stop going by and others pass him and yet others will say carry on, all is well.
    In the analogous manner the current journal publishing method does not see it is dead, but by dinosaurlike inertia, keeps on going down the road.

    By the time they see it, will their bones be lying by the road, picked clean? Or will they adapt to this new model and adapt? Greed and avarice are alive and well, as is stupidity in these cartels, in my opinion, their future is bleak.
    They will be unable to adapt to the dramatic changes in their funding model. Too many grazers on the hitherto lush grass - what will they eat in the desert to come?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    J, Mar 26th, 2011 @ 6:02pm

    Response to: Julian Knight on Mar 25th, 2011 @ 7:39am

    The public budgets show total spent on all subscriptions. They are not broken out to per title costs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2011 @ 10:49am

    Linked to paywall

    The linked article ("is refusing to sign any NDAs from various journals") is behind a paywall. This is inconsistent with the praise for openness of this posting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Nom du Clavier (profile), Mar 27th, 2011 @ 3:36pm

    Re: Linked to paywall

    Try this one at instead? It was also mentioned in the article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 9:56am


    Actually there is a cost - to the SUBMITTER. Journals often require "page charges" from the researcher when submitting an article!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Mike Raffety (profile), Mar 28th, 2011 @ 12:55pm

    State FOIA

    For state schools, at least some states (like Illinois) have a Freedom of Information Act which would take precedence and require disclosure of this business contract.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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