Licenses for digital media Fuel for Science

Strong together: consortia for license negotiations
Strong together: consortia for license negotiations | Photo (detail): © pichetw -

The licensing of electronic media still confronts academic libraries with major challenges. These are easier to cope with when the libraries are organized in an alliance, yet a satisfactory solution is still not in sight.

The use of databases, electronic journals and e-books is today a matter-of-course for researchers and students. But for libraries the provision of electronic resources is still often bound up with a great deal of organizational effort. For the licensing of databases must be negotiated, often in tough bargaining sessions.

Germany has no central institution that carries out such license negotiations for the libraries. So that not each library and academic institution has to bargain for conditions as a lone fighter, they have joined forces in consortia.

The work of the consortia can be variously oriented, ranging from regional and supra-regional to the national level. From this cooperation they expect to achieve a better negotiating position with providers and a minimization of administrative burdens. There is now such a consortium in each federal state. As in the case of the city states of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen each state is part of such an alliance. In addition, there are institutional consortia of the Frauenhofer Society, the Helmholtz Association and the Max Planck Society.

Race to catch up: national licenses

Licenses for electronic media are variously financed. Part is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). From 2004 to 2010, the DFG financed one-hundred per cent of the so-called “national licenses” in a large funding programme. At the time it was a matter of closing supply gaps in electronic media. There was a lot of catching-up to do with digital text and works editions, digitalization of back issues of periodicals offered by academic publishers and specialist databases.

The DFG invested over 100 million euros in these national licenses, which applied to completed holdings - for example, journal archives. The licenses were good for all German universities and all publicly funded German research institutions. And not only scientists and students who were members of these institutions could use the licensed databases and text collections, but also all interested persons.

Current demand: alliance licenses

Today the DFG is engaged in licensing current journals and database extensions. One of the special collection libraries – these are the Bavarian State Library, the German Central Library of Medicine, the German Central Library of Economics, the Lower Saxony State and University Library Göttingen, the State Library of Berlin, the German National Library of Technology and the Johann Christian Senckenberg University Library – negotiates an offer with a publisher and makes a funding application. If the DFG approves the application, the negotiating library invites all other academic libraries in Germany to join in this contract. The participating libraries pay 75 per cent of the licensing costs and the DFG pays the remaining 25 per cent.

These licenses are called “alliance licenses”. They apply initially only to the participating institutions. But a so-called “moving wall” is included in contracts for current journals. This means that after a certain period, usually one or two years, the licenses become valid nationwide for all institutions, in accordance with the national license model.

Nationwide contracts: the DEAL project

In spite of the libraries’ amalgamation, license negotiations with the big, international academic publishers like Elsevier, Springer Nature and John Wiley & Sons have proven to be extremely difficult in the past. The acquisitions budgets of the academic libraries have long not kept pace with the sometimes drastic price increases.

In order to obtain fairer conditions, the Alliance of German Scientific Organizations, the association of the most important scientific and research organizations in Germany, has launched the DEAL project. Its ambitious goal is to gain nationwide license contracts for the entire portfolio of electronic journals of the major scientific publishers from the licensing year 2017 onwards.

But after the first several months of intense negotiations with one of the major publishers, under the direction of the President of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), Prof. Dr. Horst Hippler, this goal seems to be a long way off. The offer presented by the publisher in December 2016 is, in the view of the Alliance of German Scientific Organizations, at variance with the principles of Open Access and fair pricing. The Alliance has asked the publisher to submit a transparent and sustainable proposal. After all, the Alliance argues, it is the work of researchers that contributes decisively to the publishing house’s reputation. This fact should therefore be taken into account in business dealings. We may thus expect licenses for electronic media services to remain on the agenda in the foreseeable future.