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Licensing Electronic Resources

Harry Youtt and Laurie Thompson discussing negotiating and licensing issues at the Licensing Electronic Resources conference held at the College of the Holy Cross on March 3, 2008.

On March 3rd, I attended the Licensing Electronic Resources Conference at the College of the Holy Cross.  The speakers were Harry Youtt, a former litigation attorney who specializes in intellectual property issues and Laurie L. Thompson, Assistant Vice President for Library Services at Texas Southwestern Medical Center.  The librarians who attended ranged from heavy weights like Harvard and MIT all the way down to small colleges such as my institution, Springfield College.

We spent the first part of the day talking about tactical issues, specifically how to cultivate a good working relationship with your college’s counsel so that you can call on them for help when deciphering licenses.  Other negotiation strategies were discussed as well.  The bulk of the day, however, was spent analyzing an actual license clause by clause so that we could learn to identify potential trouble spots.  One of the key things that I learned is that many companies use a lot of open-ended language in their licenses either because they are sloppy or they are trying to tilt the playing field to their advantage.  Libraries have to be very careful and make sure that they understand what they are agreeing to before they sign.  We wrapped up by discussing some best practices that libraries should follow so that they will be prepared to negotiate when the time comes.

I wanted to attend this conference because I am responsible for managing my library’s databases and I know that we’re not doing as good as job as we should be.  While it’s true that we don’t probably do not have enough clout to force a vendor to substantially rewrite a contract, I learned that there are things that we can do to protect ourselves.  For instance, we need to create a set of profiles that describe our users and how they access our online resources.  This will help us to avoid forgetting something important, such as the fact that we provide library services to students in other states, that might contradict a clause in the license.  I also learned that managing our licenses is not something that we do once a year and then forget about it.  Many contracts have clauses that allow changes to be automatically incorporated into the agreement and we need to be aware of these changes so that we do not accidentally violate some provision.  Creating these profiles is on my to-do list for this spring.

All in all, I have to say that this was one of the better conferences that I’ve attended.  I think that’s in large part due to the fact that it was designed more as a course and not a series of presentations.  I am so pleased that I had an opportunity to attend and look forward to applying what I learned to the management of our electronic resources at Springfield College.

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