Reality Check Time for "Terms and Conditions." (Database Industry)

Article excerpt

Database producer "Terms and conditions" (or "Ts and Cs," as they're known in the trade) constrict searchers and their clients. God only knows what restrictions producers hash out with vendors, but let's trust vendors can take care of themselves. All too often professional searchers struggle with restrictions that are unclear, overly complex, impractical, and inequitable. Fortunately, they are sometimes also invisible; unfortunately, professional searchers have better eyesight than their clients or end-user searchers. What really bemuses searchers, however, is the barrier effect "Terms and Conditions" imposes on marketing database usage.

"Terms and Conditions" warnings often do exactly what they are designed to do: discourage usage. They intimidate users from finding new and exciting roles for data and stifle the urge to spread the word far and wide about wonderful new information available and usable in magical new ways. Unfortunately for the industry, and often its clientele, "protecting" a database producer's or search service's "rights" in its data can also "protect" the customer's budget. Discouraging misuse of data also discourages usage-based revenue to information providers.

Impractical

How many renditions of the "contraception concept" are there? "No part of this database may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without permission from ...." "Any reproduction of material without permission of ... is prohibited." "No part of these databases may be duplicated in hard copy or machine-readable form without written authorization." "Copying in machine readable form is not authorized." Or, my personal favorite, "These databases may not be reproduced, stored in machine-readable form, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher." What do they want us to do with the printout? Eat it?

Time out for a reality check. What does this "no reproduction" phrase mean in the real world? Strictly interpreted it could mean that data which flows past the screen should not be printed out simultaneously, much less downloaded for editing before printing (two sins for the price of one). If one so forgot oneself as to download data for editing, most standard word processing software packages would have to be re-configured or dismantled to eliminate their safety-minded creation of back-up files. And, of course, the searcher would have to eliminate any protective policies of backing up a disk on which search results resided. Heaven forfend any outlaw searcher would decide to transmit results to clients over an electronic mail service! Who knows what archiving policies the scamps who design and operate e-mail service impose!?!

Most database producers who craft these legalistic gems sell data primarily to professional searchers who conduct searches on behalf of clients. If professional searchers cannot reproduce the data in any form for delivery to anyone, then they have no reason to search the database at all or to pay any monies to the database industry These days, if searchers provide clients with un-edited search results, they may not keep those clients for long. One producer at least made a stab at dealing with the real world when they amended the standard prohibition against reproduction with an exception that "up to five percent of the abstracts and five percent of the directory records may be stored temporarily (for up to one day) in electronic media to enable reformatting or editing for internal use." But what does the "five percent" cover - the total database or a subset of one set of search results? The latter doesn't make much sense, but the former requires searchers to keep a running tab on total database record counts by type and a handy calculator. Frankly, my advice to database producers who want to guarantee full implementation of "contraception clauses" is to remove your databases from the online services completely - at least those that market to professional searchers. …