[ from Nick Thieberger, PARADISEC, Melbourne University branch ]
I am a firm believer in open access to information, especially research information that has been created by taxpayers’ funds. Thus it came as something of a surprise to find myself likened to the main man of the dark forces of corporate information ownership on a site formerly known as the ‘Stolen Grammars’ site.
Constructed by a linguist in Stockholm, the site offered downloadable versions of many grammars which had been copied from various locations (“Browse my collection of stolen .pdf reference grammars if you’d rather not pay.”)
In tandem with open access there has to be a mechanism for recognising creative effort, otherwise no-one will put their work online. ‘Stolen Grammars’ did not link to existing open access resources, but copied them without proper attribution. What kind of researcher wants data that is not properly attributed? If you want to cite an electronic grammar in a paper, then you want to cite its proper URL – citing ‘Stolen Grammars’ is not going to impress the average publisher.
David Nash and I both wrote to ‘Stolen Grammars’ and asked that our work, which was already in open access repositories, be linked to rather than copied. I was also concerned that the site had appropriated PARADISEC material from the Arthur Capell papers which we had painstakingly spent some effort to image (14,000 photos) and enter metadata for. While ‘Stolen Grammars’ had signed an access form stating that they would not further distribute this material, they did so, and did not link to or acknowledge the work of PARADISEC.
Linguistic archives rely on the good faith of those signing agreements about how they will use data from the archive. Depositors have a right to trust that the material they deposit will not be misused.
We encourage the use of open access repositories that provide proper infrastructure so that the collection is well described using standard descriptors (like standard language names) and will be available into the future (with persistent identification of the items in the collection). I also suggested to ‘Stolen Grammars’ that they could become an OLAC repository of links to exactly the same information that they had copied, but using a set of metadata and links that would make their repository add value to research efforts.
Anyway, on receipt of our unthreatening request to link to our work rather than appropriating it, ‘Stolen Grammars’ picked up their bat and went home (to use an Australian colloquial expression), closing down access to all items on their site, not just the ones we had queried, and putting the note on their sites that has since caused us to receive a message likening us to the Sheriff of Nottingham to ‘Stolen Grammar’ ‘s Robin Hood.
We hope that ‘Stolen Grammars’ may return in a new form, perhaps as ‘Found Grammars’ with links to resources on the web.