"Open Access" publications: address and phone number, please

You may well think I am a bit of a grump in writing this. That's fine, because this did make me grumpy.

You might think I am ungrateful. I don't think I am ungrateful, just eager to reduce barriers to access of the plethora of amazing and scholarly academic work as much as possible.

And, for 100% avoidance of doubt, this is not a criticism of any author whose publisher has chosen to publish something as "open access" in this way. It's a publisher thing, not an author thing.

Open access is a great thing

Let me first say that I welcome all efforts to make academic literature more readily available, as open access.

Open access is - IMHO - about breaking down barriers, and making valuable works available freely(ish) and easily.

(Contradiction which perhaps I should remedy: I do peer reviews for, and sit on the professional board of a first class journal, "Computer Law and Security Review", which is not open access, and which does not pay its reviewers.)

So I was delighted to see that what looks like a really useful, valuable book, "Digisprudence: Code as Law Rebooted" by Laurence Diver, was to be made available electronically under some kind of open access terms, in addition to the £85 hard copy textbook.

I am particularly pleased about this because Lessig's "Code 2.0" was, alongside the writings of Benkler, and Murray, inspirational to me, in my early days in thinking about computers and networks and the law.

Digisprudence looks like an excellent book, right up my street, and I am pleased and grateful to see it being made available open access.

Well, open access ish.

"Code as Law"

The gist of the "code as law" school of thinking is that, whatever the laws of the land might be, what one can do within any computer system is limited by the software which one is able to run, or, when using someone else's computer, the constraints of the platform, as embodied in its code.

The law may not restrict you from doing something, but if the code which forms the service you are using restricts you from doing it, you're restricted.

(I think this is also why I have a long history with Free / open source software, and being less than enamoured with centralised platforms.)

"Code as Law" applied to downloading a copy

So it was slight surprise, and it made me slightly grumpy, to find that the open access version of this book was not just an electronic file one could download.

Wouldn't that be easier?

Wouldn't that remove more barriers?

But no. To download it, you need to:

  • add the book to your basket
  • check out your basket
  • create an account with Edinburgh University Press
  • provide your address (no explanation given; I don't see how this is consistent with the UK GDPR)
  • provide a phone number (for "delivery questions" - I don't see how mandating this is consistent with the UK GDPR in the context of a free electronic book)

and then you can download it.

I guess the only saving grace is that you don't need to put payment details on file.

The irony is that the book is licensed "under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence".

(Lawyerly note: wouldn't it be wise to specify which "Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence"? Version 4.0? Version 4.0 or any earlier or later version?)

So rather than jumping through the hoops of Edinburgh University Press's system, which requires far more data than, in my opinion, can be legally justified for a free ebook, couldn't someone just host the book for easy download, consistently with the licence?

Yes.

Perhaps there's a good reason for the hurdles?

The electronic copy is provided without charge, and under a reasonably permissive Creative Commons licence, so perhaps I am being churlish raising this at all.

But perhaps there is a good reason? After all, academic has a "publish or perish" culture, and researchers need to demonstrate the impact of their scholarly activities.

Perhaps having a numbers of people who have downloaded it is useful, in support of that?

Does that mean they need my name and address and phone number? Of course not. And my guess is that, rather than being anything nefarious, it's because that is how their system is set up, and deviating from it would be an unwanted cost.

And, after all, once someone has an account, they might be tempted to buy something...

For these reasons, while I could, legally, just upload the PDF for you, I've chosen (for now, at least), not to do so.

It's a PDF, but here's an ePub

The version you get from Edinburgh University Press is a PDF. Fine for those who like reading PDFs, but a pain if you plan on reading this on an eReader, since PDFs don't let you control the font face, or font size, and don't reflow text.

So here's a very quick and dirty ePub version.

I created it using Calibre's "heuristic" processing, in conjunction with some regex which strips out page headings, to make it a little less disjointed.

It is far from perfect because of the footnotes. I've yet to find a way (if there is a way) of handling those well in PDF-to-ePub conversions.

I have, obviously, made no other changes to the text.

Note that I have not added the "nice" cover page, since this does not form part of the CC-licensed PDF.


Author: neil

I'm Neil. By day, I run a law firm, decoded.legal, giving advice on Internet, telecoms, and tech law. This is my personal blog, so will be mostly about tech stuff, cycling, and other hobbies.