Where did they come from? Educational background of people in scholarly communication

Scholarly communication roles are becoming more commonplace in academic libraries around the world but who is actually filling these roles? The Office of Scholarly Communication in Cambridge recently conducted a survey to find out a bit more about who makes up the scholarly communication workforce and this blog post is the first in a series sharing the results.

The survey was advertised in October 2016 via several mailing lists targeting an audience of library staff who worked in scholarly communication. For the purposes of the survey we defined this as:

The process by which academics, scholars and researchers share and publish their research findings with the wider academic community and beyond. This includes, but is not limited to, areas such as open access and open data, copyright, institutional repositories and research data management.

In total 540 people responded to the calls for participation with 519 going on to complete the survey, indicating that the topic had relevance for many in the sector.

Working patterns

Results show that 65% of current roles in scholarly communication have been established in respondent’s organisations for less than five years with fewer than 15% having been established for more than ten years. Given that scholarly communication is still growing as a discipline this is perhaps not a surprising result.

It should also be noted that the survey makes no distinction between those who are working in a dedicated scholarly communication role and those who may have had additional responsibilities added to a pre-existing position. These roles tend to sit within larger organisations which employ over 200 people although whether the organisation was defined as the library or wider institution was open to interpretation by respondents.

Responses showed an even spread of experience in the library and information science (LIS) sector with 22% having less than five years’ experience and 27% having more than twenty.  Since completing their education just over half of respondents have remained within LIS but given the current fluctuations in the job market it is not surprising to learn that just under half of people have worked outside the sector within the same period.

Respondents were also asked to list the ways in which they actively contributed to the scholarly publication process. The majority (72%) did so by authoring scholarly works or contributing to the peer review process (44%). Although not specified as a category a number of respondents highlighted their work in publishing material, indicating a change in the scholarly process rather than a continuation to the status quo.

LIS qualifications

Most of those (71%) who responded to the survey either have or are currently working towards a postgraduate qualification in LIS, an anticipated result given the target population of the survey. The length of time respondents had held their qualification was evenly spread in line with the amount of time spent working in the sector with 48% having achieved their qualification less than ten years ago whilst 49% having held their qualification for over a decade. Just over half of this group felt that their LIS qualification did not equip them with knowledge of the scholarly communication process (56%).

Around a fifth of respondents (21%) hold a library and information science qualification at a level other than postgraduate, with the majority of being at bachelor level. Of these there was a fairly even divide between those who have held this qualification for five to ten years (31%) and those who qualified more than twenty years ago (28%). Only 17% of this group felt that their studies equipped them with appropriate knowledge of scholarly communication.

Qualifications outside LIS

A small number of respondents do not hold qualifications in LIS but hold or are working towards postgraduate qualifications in other subjects. Most of this group hold/are working on a PhD (69%) in a range of subjects from anatomy to mechanical engineering.

This group overwhelmingly felt that what they learnt during their studies had practical applications in their work in scholarly communication (74%). This was a larger percentage than those who had studied LIS at either undergraduate or postgraduate level. These results echo experiences at Cambridge where a large proportion of the team is made up of people from a variety of academic backgrounds. In many ways this has proven to be an asset as they have direct experience of the issues faced by current researchers and are able to offer insight into how best to meet their needs.

So what does this tell us?

The scholarly communication workforce is expanding as academic libraries respond to the changing environment and shift their focus to research support. Many of these roles have been created in the past five years in particular within larger organisations better positioned to devote resources to increasing their scholarly communication presence.

Although results from this survey indicate that the majority of staff come from a library background a diverse range of levels and subjects are represented. As noted above this can provide unique insights into researcher needs but it also raises the question of what trained library professionals can bring to this area. Given that the majority of those educated in LIS felt that their qualification did not adequately equip them for their role this is a potentially worrying trend which needs to be explored further.

We will be continuing to analyse the results of the survey over the next few months to address both this and other questions. Hopefully this will provide insight into where scholarly communications librarians are now and what they can do to ensure success into the future.

Published 9 March 2017
Written by Claire Sewell
Creative Commons License

Open Research Project, first thoughts

Dr Laurent Gatto is one of the participants in the Office of Scholarly Communication’s Open Research Pilot. He has recently blogged about his first impressions of the pilot. With his permission we have re-blogged it here.

I am proud to be one of the participants in the Wellcome Trust Open Research Project (and here). The call was initially opened in December 2016 and was pitched like this:

Are you in favour of more transparency in research? Are you concerned about research reproducibility? Would you like to get better recognition and credit for all outputs of your research process? Would you like to open up your research and make it more available to others?

If you responded ‘yes’ to any of these questions, we would like to invite you to participate in the Open Research Pilot Project, organised jointly by the Open Research team at the Wellcome Trust and theOffice of Scholarly Communication at the University of Cambridge.

This of course sounded like a great initiative for me and I promptly filed an application.

We had our kick-off meeting on the 27th January, with the aim of getting to know each other and somehow define/clarify some of the objectives of the project. This post summarises my take on it.

Here’s how I introduced myself.

Who are you?

Laurent Gatto, Senior Research Associate in the Department of Biochemistry, physically located in Systems Biology and the Maths Department. SSI fellow and Software/Data Carpentry instructor and generally involved in the Open community in Cambridge, such as OpenConCam and Data Champions initiative.

What is your research about and what kind of data does your research generate?

My area of research is computational biology, with special focus on high-throughput proteomics and integration of different data and annotations. I use raw data produced by third parties, in particular the Cambridge Centre for Proteomics (mass spectrometry data), and produce processed/annotated/interactive data and a lot of software (and also here).

What motivated you to participate in the Pilot?

Improve openness/transparency (and hence reproducibility/rigour) in my research and communication, and participate in improving openness (and hence reproducibility/rigour) more widely.

What kind of outputs are you planning to share? Do you foresee any difficulties in sharing?

My direct outputs are systematically shared openly early on: open source software (before publication), pre-prints, improved data (as data packages). Difficulties, if any, generally stem from collaborators less willing to share early and openly.

A personal take on the project

It is a long project, 2 years, and hence a rather ambitious one, of a unique kind. Hence, we will have to define its overall goals as we go. The continued involvement of the participants over time will play a major role in the project’s success.

What are attainable goals?

It is important to note that there is no funding for the participants. We are driven by a desire to be open, benefit from being open and the visibility that we can gain through the project, and the prospect that the Wellcome Trust will learn from our experience and, implement any lessons learnt. We get to interact with each other and with research support librarians, who will help us throughout the duration of the project. We also commit to sharing of research outputs beyond traditional publications and to engage with the Project, by participating in Project meetings and contributing to Project publications.

A lot of our initial discussions centred around rewards for open research or, actually, lack thereof and perceived associated risks. Indeed, the traditional academic rewarding system and the competitiveness in research leaves little room for reproducibility and openness. It is, I believe, all participants hope that this project will benefit us, in some form or another.

A critical point that is missing is the academic promotion of open research and open researcher, as a way to promote a more rigorous and sound research process and tackle the reproducibility crisis. What should the incentives be? How to make sure that the next generation of academics genuinely value openness and transparency as a foundation of rigorous research?

Some desired outputs

Ideally, I would like that the Wellcome Trust’s famous Research investigator awards to be de facto Open research investigator awards. There’s currently a split (opposition?) between doing research and supporting open science when doing research. In every grant I have written, I had to demonstrate that the team had a track record, or was in a good position to successfully pursue to proposed project. Well, how about demonstrating a track record in being good in opening and sharing science outputs? Every researcher submitting a grant should convincingly demonstrate that they are, have been and/or will be proactive open researcher and openly disseminate all the outputs. By leading by example in the frame of this Open Research Project, this is something that the Wellcome Trust could take away from.

Unfortunately, it is a fact that open science is not on the agenda of many (most?) more senior researchers and that they are neither in a position to be open nor that open science is a priority at all. I find it particularly disheartening that many senior academics (i.e. those that will sit on the panel deciding if I’m worth my next job) consider investing time in open science and the promotion of open science as time wasted of actually doing research. A bit like time for outreach and promotion of science to the wider public is sometimes looked down at, as not being the real stuff.

Another desire is that this project will enable us to influence funders, such as the Wellcome Trust, of course, but also more widely the research councils.

As a concrete example, I would like all grants that are accepted to be openly published beyond the daft layman summary. Published grants after acceptance should include data management plan, the pathway to impact, possibly more, and these could then be used to assess to what extend the project delivered as promised.

This serves at least two purposes. First, it is a way to promote transparency and accountability towards the funder, scientific community and public. Also, it is a great resource for early career researchers. Unless there is specific support in place, writing a first grant is not an easy job, especially given the multitude documents to prepare in addition to the scientific case for support. And even for more experienced researchers, it can’t harm to explore different approaches to grant writing.

Another concrete output is the requirement for a dedicated software management plan for each grant that involves any software development. I certainly consider my software to be equivalent to data and document it as such in my DMPs, but there seems to be a need for clarification.

I believe that I do a pretty decent job in conducting open science: pre-prints, open access, release data, … In the frame of this project, I shall do a better job at promoting open science for its own sake.

I also hope that by bringing some of my projects under the umbrella of the the Open Research Project, I will benefit from a broader dissemination that will, directly or indirectly, be beneficial for my career (see the importance of benefits and rewards above).

Next steps

It is important to make the most out of this unique opportunity. We need to create a momentum, define ambitious goals, and work hard to reach them. But I also think that it is important to get as much input as possible from the community. Nothing beats collective intelligence for such open-ended projects, in particular for open projects.

So please, do not hesitate to comment, discuss on twitter or elsewhere, or email me directly if you have ideas you would like to promote and or discuss.

Published 08 March 2017
Written by Dr Laurent Gatto
Creative Commons License

‘Be nice to each other’ – the second Researcher 2 Reader conference

Aaaaaaaaaaargh! was Mark Carden’s summary of the second annual Researcher 2 Reader conference, along with a plea that the different players show respect to one another. My take home messages were slightly different:

  • Publishers should embrace values of researchers & librarians and become more open, collaborative, experimental and disinterested.
  • Academic leaders and institutions should do their bit in combating the metrics focus.
  • Big Deals don’t save libraries money, what helps them is the ability to cancel journals.
  • The green OA = subscription cancellations is only viable in a utopian, almost fully green world.
  • There are serious issues in the supply chain of getting books to readers.
  • And copyright arrangements in academia do not help scholarship or protect authors*.

The programme for the conference included a mix of presentations, debates and workshops. The Twitter hashtag is #r2rconf.

As is inevitable in the current climate, particularly at a conference where there were quite a few Americans, the shadow of Trump was cast over the proceedings. There was much mention of the political upheaval and the place research and science has in this.

[*please see Kent Anderson’s comment at the bottom of this blog]

In the publishing corner

Time for publishers to raise to the challenge

The conference opened with an impassioned speech by Mark Allin, the President and CEO of John Wiley & Sons, who started with the statement this was “not a time for retreat, but a time for outreach and collaboration and to be bold”.

The talk was not what was expected from a large commercial publisher. Allin asked: “How can publishers act as advocates for truth and knowledge in the current political climate?” He mentioned that Proquest has launched a displaced researchers programme in reaction to world events, saying, “it’s a start but we can play a bigger role”.

Allin asked what publishers can do to ensure research is being accessed. Referencing “The content trap” by Bharat Anand, Allin said “We won’t as a media industry survive as a media content and putting it in a bottle and controlling its distribution. We will only succeed if we connect the users. So we need to re-engineer the workflows making them seamless, frictionless. “We should be making sure that … we are offering access to all those who want it.”

Allin raised the issue of access, noting that ResearchGate has more usage than any single publisher. He made the point that “customers don’t care if it is the version of record, and don’t care about our arcane copyright laws”. This is why people use SciHub, it is ease of access. He said publishers should not give up protecting copyright but must realise its limitations and provide easy access.

Researchers are the centre of gravity – we need to help them spend more time researching and less time publishing, he says. There is a lesson here, he noted, suppliers should use “the divine discontent of the customer as their north star”. He used the example of Amazon to suggest people working in scholarly communication need to use technology much better to connect up. “We need to experiment more, do more, fail more, be more interconnected” he said, where “publishing needs open source and open standards” which are required for transformational impact on scholarly publishing – “the Uber equivalent”.

His suggestion for addressing the challenges of these sharing platforms is to “try and make your experience better than downloading from a pirate site”, and that this would be a better response than taking the legal route and issuing takedown notices.  He asked: “Should we give up? No, but we need to recognise there are limits. We need to do more to enable access.”

Allin called the situation, saying publishing may have gone online but how much has the internet really changed scholarly communication practices? The page is still a unit of publishing, even in digital workflows. It shouldn’t be, we should have a ‘digital first’ workflow. The question isn’t ‘what should the workflow look like?’, but ‘why hasn’t it improved?’, he said, noting that innovation is always slowed by social norms not technology. Publishers should embrace values of researchers & librarians and become more open, collaborative, experimental and disinterested.

So what do publishers do?

Publishers “provide quality and stability”, according to Kent Anderson, speaking on the second day (no relation to Rick Anderson) in his presentation about ‘how to cook up better results in communicating research’. Anderson is the CEO of Redlink, a company that provides publishers and libraries with analytic and usage information. He is also the founder of the blog The Scholarly Kitchen.

Anderson made the argument that “publishing is more than pushing a button”, by expanding on his blog on ‘96 things publishers do’. This talk differed from Allin’s because it focused on the contribution of publishers.

Anderson talked about the peer review process, noting that rejections help academics because usually they are about mismatch. He said that articles do better in the second journal they’re submitted to.

During a discussion about submission fees, Anderson noted that these “can cover the costs of peer review of rejected papers but authors hate them because they see peer review as free”. His comment that a $250 journal submission charge with one journal is justified by the fact that the target market (orthopaedic surgeons) ‘are rich’ received (rather unsurprisingly) some response from the audience via Twitter.

Anderson also made the accusation that open access publishers take lower quality articles when money gets tight. This did cause something of a backlash on the Twitter discussion with a request for a citation for this statement, a request for examples of publishers lowering standards to bring in more APC income with the exception of scam publishers. [ADDENDUM: Kent Anderson below says that this was not an ‘accusation’ but an ‘observation’. The Twitter challenge for ‘citation please?’ holds.]

There were a couple of good points made by Anderson. He argued that one of the value adds that publishers do is training editors. This is supported by a small survey we undertook with the research community at Cambridge last year which revealed that 30% of the editors who responded felt they needed more training.

The library corner

The green threat

There is good reason to expect that green OA will make people and libraries cancel their subscriptions, at least it will in the utopian future described by Rick Anderson (no relation to Kent Anderson), Associate Dean of University of Utah in his talk “The Forbidden Forecast, Thinking about open access and library subscriptions”.

Anderson started by asking why, if we’re in a library funding crisis, aren’t we seeing sustained levels of unsubscription? He then explained that Big Deals don’t save libraries money. They lower the cost per article, but this is a value measure, not a cost measure. What the Big Deal did was make cancellations more difficult. Most libraries have cancelled every journal that they can without Faculty ‘burning down the library’, to preserve the Big Deal. This explains the persistence of subscriptions over time. The library is forced to redirect money away from other resources (books) and into serials budget. The reason we can get away with this is because books are not used much.

The wolf seems to be well and truly upon us. There have been lots of cancellations and reduction of library budgets in the USA (a claim supported by a long list of examples). The number of cancellations grows as the money being siphoned off book budgets runs out.

Anderson noted that the emergence of new gold OA journals doesn’t help libraries, this does nothing to relieve the journal emergency. They just add to the list of costs because it is a unique set of content. What does help libraries is the ability to cancel journals. Professor Syun Tutiya, Librarian Emeritus at Chiba University in a separate session noted that if Japan were to flip from a fully subscription model to APCs it would be about the same cost, so that would solve the problem.

Anderson said that there is an argument that “there is no evidence that green OA cancels journals” (I should note that I am well and truly in this camp, see my argument). Anderson’s argument that this is saying the future hasn’t happened yet. The implicit argument here is that because green OA has not caused cancellations so far means it won’t do it into the future.

Library money is taxpayers’ money – it is not always going to flow. There is much greater scrutiny of journal big deals as budgets shrink.

Anderson argued that green open access provides inconsistent and delayed access to copies which aren’t always the version of record, and this has protected subscriptions. He noted that Green OA is dependent on subscription journals, which is “ironic given that it also undermines them”. You can’t make something completely & freely available without undermining the commercial model for that thing, Anderson argued.

So, Anderson said, given green OA exists and has for years, and has not had any impact on subscriptions, what would need to happen for this to occur? Anderson then described two subscription scenarios. The low cancellation scenario (which is the current situation) where green open access is provided sporadically and unreliably. In this situation, access is delayed by a year or so, and the versions available for free are somewhat inferior.

The high cancellation scenario is where there is high uptake of green OA because there are funder requirements and the version is close to the final one. Anderson argued that the “OA advocates” prefer this scenario and they “have not thought through the process”. If the cost is low enough of finding which journals have OA versions and the free versions are good enough, he said, subscriptions will be cancelled. The black and white version of Anderson’s future is: “If green OA works then subscriptions fail, and the reverse is true”.

Not surprisingly I disagreed with Anderson’s argument, based on several points. To start, there would need to have a certain percentage of the work available before a subscription could be cancelled. Professor Syun Tutiya, Librarian Emeritus at Chiba University noted in a different discussion that in Japan only 6.9% of material is available Green OA in repositories and argued that institutional repositories are good for lots of things but not OA. Certainly in the UK, with the strongest open access policies in the world, we are not capturing anything like the full output. And the UK is itself only 6% of the research output for the world, so we are certainly a very long way away from this scenario.

In addition, according to work undertaken by Michael Jubb in 2015 – most of the green Open Access material is available in places other than institutional repositories, such as ResearchGate and SciHub. Do librarians really feel comfortable cancelling subscriptions on the basis of something being available in a proprietary or illegal format?

The researcher perspective

Stephen Curry, Professor of Structural Biology, Imperial College London, spoke about “Zen and the Art of Research Assessment”. He started by asking why people become researchers and gave several reasons: to understand the world, change the world, earn a living and be remembered. He then asked how they do it. The answer is to publish in high impact journals and bring in grant money. But this means it is easy to lose sight of the original motivations, which are easier to achieve if we are in an open world.

In discussing the report published in 2015, which looked into the assessment of research, “The Metric Tide“, Curry noted that metrics & league tables aren’t without value. They do help to rank football teams, for example. But university league tables are less useful because they aggregate many things so are too crude, even though they incorporate valuable information.

Are we as smart as we think we are, he asked, if we subject ourselves to such crude metrics of achievement? The limitations of research metrics have been talked about a lot but they need to be better known. Often they are too precise. For example was Caltech really better than University of Oxford last year but worse this year?

But numbers can be seductive. Researchers want to focus on research without pressure from metrics, however many Early Career Researchers and PhD students are increasingly fretting about publications hierarchy. Curry asked “On your death bed will you be worrying about your H-Index?”

There is a greater pressure to publish rather than pressure to do good science. We should all take responsibility to change this culture. Assessing research based on outputs is creating perverse incentives. It’s the content of each paper that matters, not the name of the journal.

In terms of solutions, Curry suggested it would be better to put higher education institutions in 5% brackets rather than ranking them 1-n in the league tables. Curry calls for academic leaders and institutions to do their bit in combating the metrics focus. He also called for much wider adoption of the Declaration On Research Assessment (known as DORA). Curry’s own institution, Imperial College London, has done so recently.

Curry argued that ‘indicators’ would be a more appropriate term than ‘metrics’ in research assessment because we’re looking at proxies. The term metrics imply you know what you are measuring. Certainly metrics can inform but they cannot replace judgement. Users and providers must be transparent.

Another solution is preprints, which shift attention from container to content because readers use the abstract not the journal name to decide which papers to read. Note that this idea is starting to become more mainstream with the research by the NIH towards the end of last year “Including Preprints and Interim Research Products in NIH Applications and Reports

Copyright discussion

I sat on a panel to discuss copyright with a funder – Mark Thorley, Head of Science Information, Natural Environment Research Council , a lawyer – Alexander Ross, Partner, Wiggin LLP and a publisher – Dr Robert Harington,  Associate Executive Director, American Mathematical Society.

My argument** was that selling or giving the copyright to a third party with a purely commercial interest and that did not contribute to the creation of the work does not protect originators. That was the case in the Kookaburra song example. It is also the case in academic publishing. The copyright transfer form/publisher agreement that authors sign usually mean that the authors retain their moral rights to be named as the authors of the work, but they sign away rights to make any money out of them.

I argued that publishers don’t need to hold the copyright to ensure commercial viability. They just need first exclusive publishing rights. We really need to sit down and look at how copyright is being used in the academic sphere – who does it protect? Not the originators of the work.

Judging by the mood in the room, the debate could have gone on for considerably longer. There is still a lot of meat on that bone. (**See the end of this blog for details of my argument).

The intermediary corner

The problem of getting books to readers

There are serious issues in the supply chain of getting books to readers, according to Dr Michael Jubb, Independent Consultant and Richard Fisher from Something Understood Scholarly Communication.

The problems are multi-pronged. For a start, discoverability of books is “disastrous” due to completely different metadata standards in the supply chain. ONIX is used for retail trade and MARC is standard for libraries, Neither has detailed information for authors, information about the contents of chapters, sections etc, or information about reviews and comments.

There are also a multitude of channels for getting books to libraries. There has been involvement in the past few years of several different kinds of intermediaries – metadata suppliers, sales agents, wholesalers, aggregators, distributors etc – who are holding digital versions of books that can be supplied through the different type of book platforms. Libraries have some titles on multiple platforms but others only available on one platform.

There are also huge challenges around discoverability and the e-commerce systems, which is “too bitty”. The most important change that has happened in books has been Amazon, however publisher e-commerce “has a long way to go before it is anything like as good as Amazon”.

Fisher also reminded the group that there are far more books published each year than there are journals – it’s a more complex world. He noted that about 215 [NOTE: amended from original 250 in response to Richard Fisher’s comment below] different imprints were used by British historians in the last REF. Many of these publishers are very small with very small margins.

Jubb and Fisher both emphasised readers’ strong preference for print, which implies that much more work needed on ebook user experience. There are ‘huge tensions’ between reader preference (print) and the drive for e-book acquisition models at libraries.

The situation is probably best summed up in the statement that “no-one in the industry has a good handle on what works best”.

Providing efficient access management

Current access control is not functional in the world we live in today. If you ask users to jump through hoops to get access off campus then your whole system defeats its purpose. That was the central argument of Tasha Mellins-Cohen, the Director of Product Development, HighWire Press when she spoke about the need to improve access control.

Mellins-Cohen started with the comment “You have one identity but lots of identifiers”, and noted if you have multiple institutional affiliations this causes problems. She described the process needed for giving access to an article from a library in terms of authentication – which, as an aside, clearly shows why researchers often prefer to use Sci Hub.

She described an initiative called CASA – Campus Activated Subscriber-Access which records devices that have access on campus through authenticated IP ranges and then allows access off campus on the same device without using a proxy. This is designed to use more modern authentication. There will be “more information coming out about CASA in the next few months”.

Mellins-Cohen noted that tagging something as ‘free’ in the metadata improves Google indexing – publishers need to do more of this at article level. This comment was responded with a call out to publishers to make the information about sharing more accessible to authors through How Can I Share It?

Mellins-Cohen expressed some concern that some of the ideas coming out of RA21 Resource Access in 21st Century, an STM project to explore alternatives to IP authentication, will raise barriers to access for researchers.

Summary

It is always interesting to have the mix of publishers, intermediaries, librarians and others in the scholarly communication supply chain together at a conference such as this. It is rare to have the conversations between different stakeholders across the divide. In his summary of the event, Mark Carden noted the tension in the scholarly communication world, saying that we do need a lively debate but also need to show respect for one another.

So while the keynote started promisingly, and said all the things we would like to hear from the publishing industry, there is still the reality that we are not there yet.  And this underlines the whole problem. This interweb thingy didn’t happen last week. What has actually happened  to update the publishing industry in the last 20 years? Very little it seems. However it is not all bad news. Things to watch out for in the near future include plans for micro-payments for individual access to articles, according to Mark Allin, and the highly promising Campus Activated Subscriber-Access system.

Published 27 February 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

Copyright case study

In my presentation, I spoke about the children’s campfire song, “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” which was written by Melbourne schoolteacher Marion Sinclair in 1932 and first aired in public two years later as part of a Girl Guides jamboree in Frankston. Sinclair had to get prompted to go to APRA (Australasian Performing Right Association) to register the song. That was in 1975, the song had already been around for 40 years but she never expressed any great interest in any propriety to the song.

In 1981 the Men at Work song “Down Under” made No. 1 in Australia. The song then topped the UK, Canada, Ireland, Denmark and New Zealand charts in 1982 and hit No.1 in the US in January 1983. It sold two million copies in the US alone.  When Australia won the America’s Cup in 1983 Down Under was played constantly. It seems extremely unlikely that Marion Sinclair did not hear this song. (At the conference, three people self-identified as never having heard the song when a sample of the song was played.)

Marion Sinclair died in 1988, the song went to her estate and Norman Lurie, managing director of Larrikin Music Publishing, bought the publishing rights from her estate in 1990 for just $6100. He started tracking down all the chart music that had been printed all over the world, because Kookaburra had been used in books for people learning flute and recorder.

In 2007 TV show Spicks and Specks had a children’s music themed episode where the group were played “Down Under” and asked which Australian nursery rhyme the flute riff was based on. Eventually they picked Kookaburra, all apparently genuinely surprised when the link between the songs was pointed out. There is a comparison between the music pieces.

Two years later Larrikin Music filed a lawsuit, initially wanting 60% of Down Under’s profits. In February 2010, Men at Work appealed, and eventually lost. The judge ordered Men at Work’s recording company, EMI Songs Australia, and songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert to pay 5% of royalties earned from the song since 2002 and from its future earnings.

In the end, Larrikin won around $100,000, although legal fees on both sides have been estimated to be upwards $4.5 million, with royalties for the song frozen during the case.

Gregory Ham was the flautist in the band who played the riff. He did not write Down Under, and was devastated by the high profile court case and his role in proceedings. He reportedly fell back into alcohol abuse and was quoted as saying: “I’m terribly disappointed that’s the way I’m going to be remembered — for copying something.” Ham died of a heart attack in April 2012 in his Carlton North home, aged 58, with friends saying the lawsuit was haunting him.

This case, I argued, exemplifies everything that is wrong with copyright.