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Digital signatures and document supply – investigation continues

Posted by gazjjohnson on 19 January, 2010

Following on from this earlier post, I’ve had a couple of very useful interchanges with Anne Bell (Cardiff) and Graham Titley (Portsmouth) on this subject.  I was pointed in their direction and some other folks by quite a few of my followers on twitter – so thanks Mairie, Georgeina, Sarah, Damyanti and all the rest.  I’m waiting on a few other people I’ve contacted, not to mention those on a distribution list, to come back to me as well. 

hopefully this should give me a broad idea of the state of the art in the UK right now.  I’m editing together everything I’ve learned so far into a review document, distilling the experiences I encounter and raising the questions that we need to answer for ourselves before we can move in this direction for definite.  But since others have already gone down this path I’m hoping the only challenges we face are operational and technical, and not legal.

We’ll be having a meeting next week at which we’ll be discussing the initial thoughts and next steps, and at which point doubtless I’ll have more to report back on.

[Edit Tue evening: Thanks to Peter Suber for pointing out that Charle’s site has now evolved in to the Bibliography of Open Access Wiki.  The old site still contains some bookend material but is now static.]

6 Responses to “Digital signatures and document supply – investigation continues”

  1. I reviewed this area about a year ago when I was at Imperial College, London, and I previously reviewed it several years earlier when I was at Royal Holloway.

    I guess you’ll have found this, but the CILIP review and statement on this from 2002 was where I started – this is pretty clear that the relevant CILIP committee believe that esignatures are perfectly acceptable for document delivery.

    The e-signature essentially needs to consist of an identifier that uniquely identifies the signatory and is not easily forged. From a practical point of view, this means supporting an authenticated ‘signature’ process – for example getting the requester to sign in with a username/password or barcode/pin and accepting the relevant copyright/use declaration.

    This issue, as with so much of copyright law, often falls foul of the fact that until there is decent case law the situation won’t be absolutely clear from a legal point of view. This means there is bound to be some level of risk associated with going down the e-sigs route. I am strongly convinced that the risk is very small and the benefits substantial. Because of this small risk it is probably appropriate to consult institution’s legal people about it before going ahead. I’d argue very strongly for going ahead based on the CILIP advice and the adoption of e-sigs by a number of institutions. You may also want to use the fact that the BL now essentially accepts e-sigs for Research Thesis content via the EThOS service as another supporting piece of evidence (when you download a thesis you accept a set of terms) – and if it’s good enough for the BL it is difficult (for me) to see that it isn’t valid practice for Document Supply.

  2. Be aware of the legal side, though. It is a risk – a risk you can manage, but still a risk!

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