Panlibus Blog

Archive for September, 2008

Thoughts on the Thomson Reuters / Zotero case

Reuters-Zotero My Thomson Reuters Sends Zotero a $10 Million EndNote post yesterday, attracted several comments and ping-backs.

The thoughts seem to drop in to a couple of themes.  Firstly there is the legal position – Have Thompson Reuters got a case, was it presented correctly, which bit of EndNote licensing does it depend upon, of what relevance is the GMU license to use EndNote, etc., etc.  My colleague Rob Styles, who has a far better understanding of these things, has published an excellent post over on our sister connecting  knowledge blog,  Xiphos, reviewing some of the legal issues.

At first glance it seems the case would be specious. Reverse engineering file formats in order to allow interoperability has been settled on several occasions.

In this case, however, GMU have a site license for EndNote. In Bower vs Baystate the courts upheld an anti reverse-engineering clause in the case where it had been knowingly and voluntarily entered into.

Rob also references James Grimmelmann’s post – Thomson Reuters: The Gang That Couldn’t Sue Straight – in which he questions the quality of the case that Thomson Reuters has presented.

The other theme that has emerged from the comments and other posts, is the corporate approach to things like this. As Bruce D’Arcus commented:

If there’s a problem here with corporate academia, it’s the fact that they mindlessly support companies like Thomson with expensive site licenses with ridiculous terms who are prone to litigate when things don’t go their way.

The flippant answer to Bruce’s point is that “they’ve always done it that way, so it’s hardly surprising”.  The corporate approach to the licensing, distribution, and protection of software intellectual property, has evolved over the last forty years or so.  It is only in the last few years that broad open source distribution of functionality, such as is at issue here, has even been possible.   It is therefore unsurprising that corporate monoliths, and especially their legal departments, appear to be way behind the curve of the Open Source and Open data movements.

As I said in my previous post – I predict that this will only one skirmish in a series of battles that will ensue as the information and knowledge publishing and distribution industry morphs into something new.  I stand by this.  We didn’t get from buying CDs in our local store to the current online, pay-as-you-go, take-it-wherever-you-go, iTunes world, without a few battles like this one.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Thomson Reuters Sends Zotero a $10 Million EndNote

Reuters-Zotero George Mason University is being sued by Thomson Reuters to prevent the distribution of the excellent Firefox plugin, Zotero.  As reported via the Courthouse News Service:


Thomson Reuters demands $10 million and an injunction to stop George Mason University from distributing its new Web browser application, Zotero software, an open-source format that allows users to convert Reuters’ EndNote Software. Reuters claims George Mason is violating its license agreement and destroying the EndNote customer base.

Subject of a Talking with Talis podcast last year with Trevor Owens, Zotero is an impressive free open source tool for capturing, organising and citing research resources, that has been building a successful community of users around it.

Thomson Reuters is complaining about the 1.5 preview release of  Zotero, announced on July 8th, which introduces several new features including:

Support for thousands of existing Endnote® export styles.

Following that link to Endnote export styles you end up on a page containing the following words:

EndNote output styles are provided solely for use by licensed owners of EndNote and with the EndNote product.

That seems to be the bit that is behind the legal action taken.  The question is can they, or should they, enforce such a restriction – not being a legal expert I’ll stop ruminating further in that direction.

The folks in the Center for History and New Media at George Mason, must be wondering what has hit them, but you can’t go rattling the current business model of a someone the size, history and market position of Thomson Reuters without expecting some form of backlash.

I can imagine the cries of outrage that will emanate from the Open Source and Open Data communities because of this.  They will no doubt be matched by indignation and litigious thoughts from the commercial sector as other publishers check to see how Zotero is helping to distribute their output but not necessarily in a way they would like.

It’s ironic then that somewhere else in the Thompson  Reuters organisation there is a site/service with the following ambition:

We want to make all the world’s content more accessible, interoperable and valuable. Some call it Web 2.0, Web 3.0, the Semantic Web or the Giant Global Graph – we call our piece of it Calais.

Calais (Powered by Thomson Reuters) is a semantic web technology based project which in simple terms provides an API to information about people, organisations, geographies, books, authors, events, facts about them, and links between them.  It is a free API service can be used openly, for commercial and non-commercial use, to enrich applications.  (For an insight in to Calais and how it fits with Reuters’ business, I can recommend the podcast Paul Miller recorded with Barak Pridor of ClearForest, the technology with which Calais has been built).

The action being taken against Zotero is symptomatic of the classic growing pains as technology and distribution mechanisms move on.  Just like the scribes complaining  about movable type in the 1400’s, or  the music industry complaining about the mp3 download culture that emerged some 600 years later.

I predict that this will only one skirmish in a series of battles that will ensue as the information and knowledge publishing and distribution industry morphs into something new.  Will actions like this prevent it happening? – of course not.  Will it slow it down? – possibly.   If I was part of the Zotero project would I be worried? – yes, I might be;  some of the early vanguards of the music download revolution were forced out of the race by such legal challenges.  Nevertheless, be it the opening of access to newly created knowledge or providing useful open access to traditionally controlled data, things are a changing.  We will look back on actions like the one against Zotero, viewing them as inevitable battles to try to preserve rapidly outdating business models – anybody read the Innovator’s Dilemma recently!

I hope  that the Zotero folks survive to reap the rewards of their pioneering efforts.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,

Conference Chairman Adrian Dale looks forward to Online Information 2008

online-information-logo-2008 adrian-dale As Conference Chairman, there is no better person than Adrian Dale to kick off this short series of Talking with Talis podcasts produced in association with Online Information Conference 2008.

The three day conference held at Olympia in London from 2nd – 4th December will have a wide range of speakers of broad interest to all information professionals from all sectors – libraries, academia, government, and commerce.

Adrian describes how this year’s programme builds on last year’s conference and how the conference committee were impressed with the large number of case studies that were submitted for practical implementations of the subjects talked about a year earlier.   With those case study presentations supporting a quality list of informative, inspirational, and entertaining keynote speakers, the 2008 conference looks like being a high spot.

Technorati Tags: ,,,

Can RFID get it together to jump the chasm?

171587228_f78f978bd8_o_d After what seems an age of working from home and in the office over the summer, I’m out on the road again.  This post is coming from the departure lounge of the airport serving the wonderful city of Glasgow.  I’m on my way back from speaking at a one day conference – Introducing RFID – Are you on the right wavelength? – jointly organised by JISC and the Scottish Library & Information Council.

RFID that wonderful technology that makes self-service so much more an engaging and simple process for library users,  has been around for many years.  Yet for many libraries it is still new technology to be concerned about, not least because of the substantial financial and time investment required to deploy it.  It is telling of where we are with the general take up of this technology that almost without exception every speaker [including yours truly] felt the need to provide the audience with their description of what RFID is and the potential future benefits that may come from adopting it.

The best simple description of what RFID is today came from JISC’s Gaynor Backhouse – RFID is barcodes on steroids.  A way of attaching a machine readable identity to a physical item, that is easier to handle than a barcode and also can act as an overt security device.  Being able to read multiple items, without the need for contact or direct line of sight, has revolutionised the self-issue & return processes; finally realising the benefits for library staff and customers that were banded about many years ago when self-issue was first promoted.  Many of the speakers also emphasised the extra benefits for staff, undertaking mind-numbing labour intensive tasks such as stock taking/weeding/finding/checking, with the introduction of RFID reading wands and smart shelving.

There was much agreement as to these benefits, which are available to all libraries.  There were a few mutterings about interoperability issues between the offerings from different RFID system suppliers, but I get the impression that these concerns are rapidly fading.

Where there was far less clarity and agreement was the future of RFID beyond being just a better barcode.  An RFID chip is not only capable of storing far more data than just an identifier, but also it has the capability for that data to be changed and added to. 

As a techie at heart, the prospect of having the equivalent of a radio accessed memory stick stuck to every book cover, gets my creative juices running: the item’s loan history could follow it around; the book could arrive from the publisher with it’s catalogue record on board; it could attract the attention of an RFID enabled phone to tell it’s owner that is overdue and needs taking back to the library – to mention just a few of the more sensible ones.

There is a major blockage to the adoption of what could be described as these RFID 2.0 visions.  Nobody can agree on how to store the data on the RFID chips – as of today there is no standard for this.  In the standards less vacuum each supplier is doing their own incompatible thing.  That is not to say that there are no standards for RFID.  As independent RFID consultant Mick Fortune testified, there are more standards in this area than is wise to display on a single PowerPoint slide, but none of them address the issue of how to store this extended book/library data.

Adoption Curve For a technology to become generally adopted, crossing that chasm between the early adopters to the take up by the early majority of users, there needs to be a standardised market in operation, reducing costs and risks.  Would the CD have been widely adopted if each record label, or equipment manufacturer, used their own proprietary encoding format?

Mick Fortune went on to describe some light on the horizon in the form of a proposed standard – ISO 28560-1  – a standard which codifies 25 data elements.  The adoption of this would be a major step forward.  Unfortunately, as always it seems in the world of standards, ISO 28560-1 is not the whole story.  There are also two competing, and apparently mutually exclusive, standards ISO 28560-2 & ISO 28560-3 which describe how these elements would be encoded on a chip –  that’s the trouble with standards, there are so many to choose from!.

If these standards are agreed, ratified and adopted by the industry I believe we will have removed a substantial barrier to the wider use of RFID for things beyond barcode replacement. The next problem will be to gain some agreement as to what those uses might be.   I may be short sighted but from my current point of view RFID 2.0 (I know I’m going to regret calling it that) looks like a great solution searching for a problem to solve.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,

Talking to Herbert van de Sompel about repositories

Over on our Xiphos blog, I’ve just published a podcast conversation I had with Herbert van de Sompel earlier this week.

It’s a nice example of the synergies between issues discussed here on Panlibus and those we’re exploring within Project Xiphos. Have a listen, and see what you think.

John Blyberg Talks with Talis about SOPAC 2.0

Johon_Blyberg September 1st is launch day for the new library web site and catalogue for Darien Public Library – John Blyberg has been working hard over the last few months to get things ready.   It is more than just the launch of another good looking library web site and catalogue though.  John has been working on a total rewrite of his SOPAC (Social OPAC) that had it’s first outing at Ann Arbour, one of the poster children of Library 2.0 OPACs.. %007C It_s for You! As John explains in this Talking with Talis podcast, SOPAC 2.0 has been produced so that he can release it’s component parts under an Open Source license so that others can take advantage of it.   The components, as he describes in his blog ‘SOPAC 2.0: What to Expect’ post on the subject, includes a separate social repository layer (Insurge) which not only could be used in most any OPAC, but also enables the sharing of social data between libraries.

This conversation was recorded a few days before the launch.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,,,,