May 24, 2007

The Mixed Blessing That Is SAE

.: About a month ago I reported that SAE had done a "180" regarding the DRM and licencing issues surround their SAE Digital Library. I noted the following:

As a result of the concerns brought forward by some of its membership, the word is that SAE has committed to rescinding its DRM policy, and change its licencing options to allow for an unrestricted number of downloaded papers and standards per educational site. Potentially this could happen within the next few weeks.
Subsequently, DRM was removed from University/Academic customers, but it seems little else has changed. Further, the removal of DRM is a temporary suspension.

To wit, this is what appeared in an e-mail on 20 April 2007:

  1. Removal of DRM only applies to the University/Academic Digital Library Tech Paper customers. All Corporate DRM-enabled customers are not affected. Access to subscription Standards via the SAE Digital Library also requires DRM.
  2. Removal of DRM is a Temporary Suspension. SAE is convening a task force to discuss DRM policies (see Press Release below). It is important that IHS continues to indicate SAE is still planning to implement some sort of content protection strategies to uphold their corporate Intellectual Property policy. At the end of 2007, DRM could be reactivated, it could be modified or it could be removed permanently; depending upon the outcome of the special task force discussions.
  3. There is no change to the Download Pricing Model. Academic/University accounts continue to have the following download options available to them: 3,300 downloads (maximum set), 2,500 downloads, 1,800 downloads and 850 downloads.
SAE (and IHS as a partner with SAE) are committed to delivery a quality product resulting in complete customer satisfaction. Thanks to those of who provided feedback from the academic community regarding the SAE DL DRM policy.

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April 20, 2007

SAE Publications Board Does A 180 Regarding Its Digital Library DRM and Licencing Issues

.: I am happy to report the following news. I was on the phone a few moments ago with a reliable contact here at the University of Alberta, who returned today from attending the SAE Congress in Detroit this week. According to my source (who remains anonymous until the "official" word gets out), the SAE Publications Board heard from many of its academic members regarding the SAE Digital Library (DL). A number of professors read SAE the Riot Act regarding both its airtight DRM restrictions as well as the DL licensing options, which are currently based on the estimated number of downloads per year. Having been made aware of how restrictive these policies are to its members and customers working in educational settings, SAE has apparently recognized the error of its ways.

As a result of the concerns brought forward by some of its membership, the word is that SAE has committed to rescinding its DRM policy, and change its licencing options to allow for an unrestricted number of downloaded papers and standards per educational site. Potentially this could happen within the next few weeks.

That is what I know so far. Stay tuned.

March 21, 2007

MIT Faculty and Libraries Refuse DRM; SAE Digital Library Canceled

.: This is making the rounds quickly. MIT has cancelled its subscription to the SAE Digital Library because of its severe DRM restrictions. Excerpt:

At a time when technology makes it possible to share research more quickly and broadly than ever before, and when innovative automotive research is a matter of global concern, SAE is limiting access to the research that has been entrusted to the society. In addition to imposing DRM on access to the papers for paid subscribers, the SAE also prevents information about its papers from being found through any channel other than the ones they control.

What does this mean? In contrast to information about research published by other engineering societies, which can be found in databases such as Google, ISI’s Web of Science, or the Compendex engineering database, information about SAE papers is only made available through SAE’s proprietary database. Such policies severely limit access to information about SAE papers, and are out of step with market norms.

August 2, 2006

SAE and Digital Rights Management - Commentary by Larry Thompson, Virginia Tech

.: What follows is a commentary by Larry Thompson, Engineering Librarian at Virginia Tech, regarding the sever restrictions SAE is imposing on accessing its Digital Library. This is especially frustrating for those who have subscribed to the hard copy of the SAE Handbook, no longer available in print, requiring subscribers to either purchase online access to the Ground Vehicle J-Standards, or buy it on CD-ROM. CD-ROM? That is SO last century. Seriously, I have zero interest in buying reference tools in CD-ROM anymore, it's not a sustainable media, requires maintenance and updating, and unless networked, restricts the user to a single station. Completely ineffective in 2006. My take on this is that SAE has little interest in its educational and institutional customers, suchg as academic libraries. This is unfortunate, because it is we who are teaching SAE's future customers. - Randy

Larry Thompson writes:

During the past few months the new SAE DRM has caused me some concern. I've been peppering SAE with questions, and I think I've gotten the final word on most of the issues, although some are still hanging.

I have attached documents explaining the SAE position, which SAE has said are OK to release.

A conference call between librarians and SAE took place on June 20th. I was supposed to take part in the call, but wasn't available because I was at the ASEE conference. I was given a transcript of the conversation, although I don't include it here because SAE asked me not to release it.

I can say that many of the issues I was concerned with were raised by librarians during the call, such as:

  • the difference in research methodology between corporate and academic users
  • the annoyance of not being able to save SAE documents to a computer; online access is necessary to view
  • the difficulty, or impossibility, some institutions have of excluding walk-in traffic from accessing SAE
  • the concern about the license with respect to limits on the number of downloads
Here at Virginia Tech, our license will come up for renewal in October, and we're beginning to wrestle with what to do.

Do we want to spend thousands of dollars on digital format papers that users can't save to their computers? The professor who wants to read an SAE paper while jetting to Europe for a conference will need to print out the paper. He can't save it and read it on his laptop. If one publisher does this, it may not be too bad. But what if every publisher adopts this policy, and the professor wants to take 50 papers to read during the flights? It quickly becomes burdensome.

Do we want to pay roughly double the cost for a corporate license, in order to legally cover the walk-ins who might use the product, because as a land-grant university our library computers are open to the public? Many other publishers have a clause in their licenses which gives walk-ins access to material. SAE has chosen to take the opposite approach, and say that if you can't guarantee that walk-ins will be excluded, then you should get the higher priced corporate license.

Do we want to go through the hassle of loading the plug-in on computers? It's not just the ones in the library, but it will be necessary for every computer in every lab in the university that the engineering students might use. We'll also need to get the engineering faculty machines updated.

I'm still waiting to see what's happening with the SAE CD-ROM product. Up until 2002 we used that, and were quite happy with it. I was told that the CD would use something called Hexalock for DRM. I don't know what this is, or how restrictive it is.

One other observation. Elsevier tried this same technology a while back with their reference collection, and got so many complaints that they abandoned the idea. Why is it that Elsevier "gets it", and SAE doesn't? And, if SAE succeeds in implementing it with not much objection from libraries, will Elsevier (and others) be looking at the possibility of implementing the same thing?

Have fun.

Larry Thompson 540-231-8693 (Voice)
Engineering Librarian 540-231-7808 (Fax)
Virginia Tech

The documents of which Larry writes are:

January 10, 2006

SAE Drops Print Publication of SAE Handbook

.: In a move I find shortsighted, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International, has decided to no longer issue the print edition of its very important, three-volume SAE Handbook. The Handbook includes the complete set of J-reports, also known as the Ground Vehicle Standards (GVS). The 2005 edition, released in June 2005, was priced at US$595. The 2006 edition will be available in CD-ROM only, at the same price, according to our EBSCO Canada representative.

The options left to libraries who need the SAE Handbook in their collections include subscribing to the SAE Digital Library, where the GVS are available for a US$7,500 annual subscription price. SAE also issues "JPaks", an online service designed to give access to J-Reports, Recomended Practice, and Information Reports, which comes with a customized subscription plan, based on the number of downloads and the number of users - great for a company with a fixed number of employees, not necessarily good for an educational institution. The SAE Ground Vehicle Standards on CD-ROM is the only other option I can find, priced at US$1,850, with more than 1,700 documents included. It is not clear to me what the difference is between this CD-ROM, and the SAE Handbook on CD-ROM, which also includes the full set of GVS.

The CD-ROM format is of little to no use to most educational institutions, which are moving or have migrated completely away from offering any and all major reference works in CD-ROM format to their users. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this format served library users well, even if it did limit them to using one terminal at a time. For over ten years, all our major indexes and abstracts, and now handbook, manuals, encyclopedias, etc., are online, as is the SAE Handbook, via the SAE Digital Library. But for many of us with strained budgets, we cannot afford a 1,260% increase in subscription price to anything, let alone a major reference tool like the SAE Handbook.

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