Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Proactive Enforcement of Terms of Use Agreements as Part of the Modern Academic Library’s Responsibility

The Ball State University Libraries are serious about protecting copyright and honoring Terms of Use agreements with vendors. A recent set of Terms of Use violations reminds us of the importance of this task. It also makes us happy that we have a protocol in place for responding immediately to a violation.

Recently, the vendor of one of the academic databases we license notified the University Libraries that their intrusion system detected the systematic downloading of content through the Ball State subscription. The purpose of their notice to us was to indicate a Terms of Use violation and to put us on notice that access to the resource was suspended for a short period of time.

Online content, which the University Libraries license, is valuable to our students and faculty as well as to the publishers who make it available. Its use is defined by the license and restricted to the persons who are authorized to access it. In Fall 2006, the University Libraries formalized the processes for reacting and responding to a violation of these Terms of Use.

The University Libraries use a number of tools to monitor, restrict, and protect licensed content that is included in subscription academic databases. For example, the Ball State computer username is the first level of control. That is, all Ball State community members have unique usernames that provides access to a number of important and sensitive information systems. Advising community members to be careful and to use hard-to-guess passwords is a deterrent and safeguard.

Another tool used to protect licensed content is part of the proxy service that provides a gateway for community members to access academic databases from off-campus computers. EZProxy, the proxy server software, can be configured to block specific Internet IP addresses, entire network segments, or individual users. In the most recent incident, usernames with easy-to-guess passwords were at the root of the Terms of Use violation.

The campus network firewall provides another layer of control and protection for licensed content. By carefully controlling what traffic flows onto and from the campus network, the firewall eliminates and prevents much malicious activity.

Lastly, the vendor systems have detection services that monitor usage and activity. Unusual spikes in activity from a single session, or use and systematic downloading of content, can trigger an automatic action that disables access until activity returns to normal.

A proactive stance regarding access to academic resources is valuable since it positions the University Libraries to minimize downtime and service interruption, and it ensures that students and faculty have maximum access to the online academic subscription resources that support teaching, learning and research.

For more information, contact Bradley Faust, Ball State University Libraries’ Assistant Dean for Library Information Technology Services, BFaust@bsu.edu, (765) 285-8032.

This newsletter article first appeared in The Library Insider 5(5): 3; May 2007.

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