The US Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) held its Fall Task Force Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the 26/27 of October. As JISC's International Liaison I had the opportunity to attend and did so despite reports of record low temperatures! Minneapolis is a very cold city (even by the standards of a Canadian) and I was grateful to CNI that they didn't decide to hold the Fall meeting at the beginning of December as they did in 1996. CNI Task Force meetings are held bi-annually in spring and 'fall' and are open to all members (both institutional and individual) of CNI.
In my view, full conference summaries can be quite dull so I will not endeavour to summarise the entire conference programme. Instead I will summarise the keynote address and a few of the project briefing sessions in order to provide an impression rather than a detailed picture.
This CNI meeting marked the first under the directorship of Clifford Lynch, the new Executive Director of CNI. Cliff opened the meeting on Sunday with a warm welcome to everyone including delegates from as far afield as the UK, Sweden and Australia. As CNI's new leader, Cliff outlined the CNI programme of work for 1997-98 which was to have been published in December. In October the document was still in draft form but even when it is finalised, Cliff emphasised that will not be a rigid or static document but an 'invitation to an ongoing dialogue with the community' and would therefore remain 'live'. The programme outlines the methodology and strategic framework for CNI's activities over the next 12 months. It is divided into work in three main areas:
Highlights of the proposed activities of particular interest to UK HE include:
The list above is simply a taste of a much larger programme of work proposed in the new strategy document. More information can be found at the CNI Web site. Although the programme focused on work which will have long term importance, Cliff Lynch stressed that the CNI would also focus on tangible activities of significant short term benefit to the community. When asked what he felt was the biggest challenge facing CNI over the next year, he simply answered that the range of opportunities for CNI work vastly outweighs the resources available. Sounds familiar? Certainly UK funding bodies such as JISC find themselves with the same dilemma as the exciting and ground breaking possibilities of information and communication technology continue to pull in a variety of new directions. According to Cliff Lynch, for CNI the key is to ensure resources were not spread too thinly. In order to do this he suggested concentrating on areas where CNI could get some 'traction' to allow for measurable substantial progress and offer a balance between short-term visible outcomes and long-term strategic work.
The proposed programme of work for CNI appears to be robust and not substantially altered by a new Executive Director. There is a well-considered balance between the obvious investment in long-term benefits and the necessary short-term solutions.
One issue which seemed to be in the back of most minds emerged when Cliff was asked what, if any, effect the merger between CAUSE  and EDUCOM  would have on CNI. He explained that the merger would have no significant impact on CNI except for a change in the Fall Task Force Meeting which would (as of 1998) be coupled with the Internet II conference rather than the CAUSE/EDUCOM event as it has been in the past .
Although not explicitly highlighted in the introductory session, implicit in much of the current work in networked information are the complex issues associated with intellectual property rights (IPR). In the meeting's first plenary session, keynote speaker Pamela Samuelson from the University of California Berkeley addressed this issue head on. Although her presentation focused primarily on three specific legislative initiatives in the pipelines for the US which were not directly relevant to the international audience, the general issues to which the legislation pertains were extensible to a worldwide audience.
The presentation began with an invitation to consider intellectual property rights and to do so seriously. Dr Samuelson expressed grave concern about the lack of influential champions for IPR issues. Digital preservation and other pressing issues in an electronic environment have champions where IPR as yet had none - at least none with a broad representation of viewpoint which included the interests of higher education (HE). She seemed to suggest that in the US Senate, debate on IPR issues was dominated by the interests of big commercial corporations like Disney and Microsoft whose interests were not necessary applicable or even helpful to higher education. The corporate vs HE viewpoint on IPR is a poignant illustration of the dichotomy of freedom to and freedom from. It is crucial that the IPR legislation balances these interests to represent both the corporate giants and the academic community.
The first of these issues is database protection legislation. The main issue in this arena seems to be lack of protection for database creators. Current copyright law does not protect database compilers unless there is recognised creative input into the selection and presentation of the data. Although this issue did not get much attention at the WIPO conference in Geneva in December 1996, it has resurfaced in the US after recent legislation in the Europe Union includes protection of database creators . There is cause for concern in the US because EU legislation includes a reciprocity clause which suggests that this legislation only applies to foreign databases where the country in question has also adopted this law. If (as is currently the case) the US does not adopt this law, US database content could be taken by European compilers, input into a database product and copyright under EC legislation.
Under this directive, database products will be copyright for 15 years. Each time an update to the database occurs the 15 year copyright period is renewed. An interesting point was raised during the question session which asked what constitutes an 'update'. Is simply changing or adding hypertext linking considered an update worthy of renewing the copyright for the database?
Other concerns addressed by the keynote pertained to the interpretation and implementation of the WIPO copyright treatises agreed in Geneva in 1996. Prof. Samuelson stressed that these treaties are not self-implementing but require considerable initiative. In this sense the keynote address took the form of a "wake up call" to the academic community to ensure appropriate and effective action on IPR issues at local, national and international levels. Something we would all do well to bear in mind.
More information about these and other IPR issues can be found on the Web at the Digital Future Coalition Web site .
As is the case with all CNI Task Force meeting the majority of sessions are parallel and take the form of Project Briefings. These sessions were of high quality and relevance and I will attempt to capture some of this in my descriptions below. Where possible I will also provide links to relevant Web sites (not all of these mentioned directly in the presentation).
The first session I attended was most certainly not uncontentious. I hadn't realised quite how stirred up an audience could get about Digital Object Identifiers! The session was led by Ed Pentz from Academic Press and he confessed to me later that he should have realised it wouldn't be easy to speak about the Digital Object Identifier (DOI)  to a room full of those who were involved in developing it.
The presentation focused on the need for change to keep pace in an electronic information era. He suggested there were several factors which were evidence of a changing industry. These included:
In this new electronic environment, links are needed to present a coherent service. Linking can be within the same system, external linking to another source, database linking to full text.
The standards which allow for this linking include the SICI (the Serial Item and Contribution Identifier), the PII (Publishing Item Identifier), and now the DOI.
In general, the DOI is a dumb number meaning one can determine nothing about the content from interpretation of the number. However, other identifiers can be used within the DOI and these need not be dumb numbers. For example, in practice several publishers (such as Academic, Wiley and Springer) plan to use the SICI as part of the DOI which will therefore give basic information about the content. Other publishers intend to use the PII as part of the DOI, but unlike the SICI, the PII is also a dumb number. Some discussion ensued about the usefulness of a 'derivable' number like the SICI which may be helpful to users.
Links to DOIs will be kept in a centralised database by the DOI Foundation which acts as an agency to promote use of the DOI, provides guidelines for usage and works to maintain the integrity of the system. The DOI system is a number of computers which form a distributed system that resolve any DOI to its associated URL. The system is based on the CNRI Handle system. Ideally from a users point of view the DOI will remain invisible, hidden behind a clickable button which will taken them directly to the digital object.
DOIs will be assigned by publishers but in order to do so they will have to join the foundation at a cost of $1000 per publisher. During the question session, concern was expressed about this fee to join which might exclude or discourage small publishers or individual authors adopting the DOI.
The bone of contention for the group focused on the DOIs ability to achieve consistent naming, resolution of URLs and permanence. The speaker emphasised that the DOI allowed for a central registry which didn't rely on a particular URL for identifying an object. A great debate ensued about whether there was value in developing a DOI when a permanent URL could achieve the same degree permanence. But can it? A senseless debate in my view. The DOI has a permanent registry which is kept separate from the object itself and can therefore be controlled and maintained. A URL is linked inextricably to the object on the Web and can be changed at any time.
However, it was apparent that the tension in the room stemmed from something deeper than just a pointless debate over the value of the DOI vs a URL. The contention stemmed from what appeared to be an inherent scepticism (on the part of the largely academic audience) of a standard which is being developed and advocated by the publishing industry. If we are to adopt a standard for access to electronic objects (in this case specifically journals) there must be consensus and uniform acceptance and use. The DOI is an emerging standard in which publishers feel an ownership. They have been involved in the development of the standard: it is therefore something they will employ and they will encourage other publishing companies to do the same. There is value in this which shouldn't be underestimated. The DOI marks an important step forward because it is a standard which our publishing colleagues might actually implement. The fact that they may have helped to steer the development should not detract from the obvious benefits.