A license agnostic ACM digital library?

Most authors transfer their copyright to the ACM when having their papers published and archived in the ACM Digital Library. While the ACM allows authors to provide their papers on personal servers for non-commercial purposes, the goal recognizably is to make the DL not only the primary source of such material, but also the only source.

A second less well-known option for authors is to sign the “permission release” form, granting the ACM the right to publish the work, but without loosing the copyright to it. Authors keep the rights to their work while still having the paper published and archived in the DL. Then, the DL becomes one source of the paper, but not the only one. This option is typically made available only under special circumstances, for example, if you are working for the Canadian government.

The recent publication of the Proceedings of the 2006 Conference on Pattern Languages of Programming may signify an important change in this regiment.

For this proceedings, (almost) all authors chose to keep the copyright to their paper. This is in line with the patterns community tradition of building on prior written work and being able to easily incorporate it into future works. Some authors took the next step and decided to provide their work under an open content license. For example, for my Value Object pattern paper, I chose the Creative Commons BY-SA license. Many of these papers are now free to be posted on further servers and to be incorporated into other collections.

I hope that this collection is not the last of its kind but rather signifies a shift towards a license agnostic ACM Digital Library, where the DL may be an important provider of papers, but not the only one. If so, the DL’s business model has to change, as competing services like Google Scholar may try to displace it as the go-to place for researching prior and related work. I think the DL is well on its way with new and added services, but of course it will be a tough fight against a corporate behemoth like Google.

To this end, we should help the ACM figure out a new open access business model. One option, of course, is to subsidize the DL through membership fees. However, this is a rather tricky solution as subscription rates are always fickle. The ACM has been friendly and supportive of its community and it will need our help on this one. As a non-profit its goal is not to make a profit but rather serve its membership and its larger mission. A license agnostic digital library is an important step, but we need to help the ACM to make it stick.



  1. Dirk Riehle Avatar

    @Ted Young: The big commercial publishers are definitely drawing some ire from their material providers, i.e. the academic community.
    If the ACM and IEEE move faster and figure out their (open access) business model quicker than Elsevier, Springer, etc. then those will be really hard pressed to catch up. By some perspective, they already look like dinosours today.

  2. Ted Young Avatar

    As a member of both the ACM and the IEEE Computer Society, I pay upwards of $200 per year for access to their respective digital libraries.
    It’s worth every penny and I’d even pay a bit more if it means PLoP papers and the like would be accessible through them as well. Personally, I’d love to see the multi-thousand dollar subscription fee journals (Software: Practice and Experience) become more accessible to those working for small- to medium-sized companies.

  3. Dirk Riehle Avatar

    I have an aversion against having to pay to see my paper published 🙂 It just doesn’t sound right.
    So I think the main option for the ACM DL is to become a comprehensive service that provides information and services beyond just providing a stack of papers. Maybe they should collaborate with Citeseer/Scholar for this?
    Assuming micropayments in the future, a reduced price for papers would also make one-time usage without subscription easier. $5 is probably still steep depending on where you live.

  4. James Avatar

    One option, of course, is to subsidize the DL through membership fees.
    Hmm – it seems there are two separate issues here. ACM may (or may not) subsidise the DL from memberships, but you sure do have to pay to access the DL content. If there is a core of paid content, then well the DL fees for exclusive material subsidise the more widely available stuff – and the DL benefits by having a greater holding. And, I presume (I haven’t checked) that you still have to subscribe to the library to access its content — even content freely available elsewhere. That’s certainly the situation now.
    I think google will point people back to the DL as its highest priority links (it should do anyway) – it indexes the library. And the first button you press will want the DL subscription.
    Rather than storing things, though, which Google can do for free, the other thing the DL does is provide a level of quality control, and an imprimatur on papers that isn’t there if you just stick the things on Google or citeseer. That must be paid for by someone: either by volunteers donating their time (and trust me: this is not feasible in the long term); by readers (the current DL model); or by authors.
    So, I could imagine a DL where authors can put whatever license they like on papers – perhaps even forbidding a whole bunch of uses we now take for granted – but they have to pay to get their paper in
    Would you pay an extra $100 for PLOP to have your paper in the DL? or $50? or $20 (say $10 to the DL and $10 to Joe 🙂

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