I was recently cataloging a work on port state control, for which there is no term in the Library of Congress' list of Subject Headings, so I looked up the book in the Library of Congress catalogue to see how it was categorized in their system. To provide access by the subject matter, the LOC catalog record applied the following five headings:
Jurisdiction over ships at sea.
Law of the sea.
While all of these subject terms are relevant, none of them are on target, nor do they accurately hit the mark even when taken collectively. A good cross-referencing system would of course direct researchers to these broader, narrower and related terms, but students of maritime affairs researching such a topic would consistently, if not unanimously, start their search with the term "Port state control." LCSH does not even have a SEE or USE reference from this term, so searching or browsing by subject terminology in this instance is for all intents and purposes a useless endeavor.
I could provide plenty of other examples, but this single instance demonstrates the library's need to supplement LCSH with terminology actually used in the maritime sector. Today's researcher might ask why, in the era of online searching, when the entire text of a document can be searched, there is any need to apply subject terminology at all. Is it just slavish dedication to the practices of the past, with librarians transcribing and recording information according to the traditions of their monkish predecessors, simply for the sake of continuing the traditions?
I would answer that question with another: What if the document being searched nowhere uses the term that the user is searching for, but the content itself is exactly what the user is looking for? What if, for example, an author wrote an essay using the terms "ocean pollution," "pollution of the sea," "oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico," and even made a reference to "MARPOL," but never once employed the term "marine pollution," which happened to be the term that the online researcher was using to find material on this subject?
Or consider the opposite problem, when the user searches for a term widely accepted as authoritative in his profession or field of study, but the same term is also used extensively in an entirely different context. Searching the web for documents on "piracy," for example, can be as frustrating for the user researching acts of kidnapping and robbery at sea as for the user researching violations of copyright.
Such problems are common enough when searching full-text documents. In the case of most library catalogues, where the printed text of the book is on the shelf and only a brief description of it is available for online searching, the odds of users missing out on relevant materials or having to wade extensively through irrelevant materials would be at least as great.
The librarian attempts to provide the researcher with greater "recall" (comprehensiveness of results), without sacrificing "precision" (relevance of results), by means of a "controlled vocabulary." The idea is that a single term is selected to represent a concept, regardless of whether that term is used in the document itself, and all documents using variations of the term, variations of spelling, synonyms, etc., are assigned to that term. To aid users, those variations and synonyms are often given entries in the database which point the user to the "authoritative" term.
Controlled vocabulary is likewise used to distinguish between homographs (identically spelled words with different meanings), or to distinguish between two or more concepts that use the same words (a process known as "disambiguation"), usually by appending a clarifying word or phrase. For instance, Library of Congress Subject Headings distinguishes the concept of "Piracy" on the high seas from "Piracy (Copyright)."
The cataloger or indexer is guided in the selection of controlled vocabulary by means of a thesaurus. The thesaurus can also be used within the online search system itself to provide cross references that direct users from synonymous terms to the proper "heading" or to indicate distinction of concepts. The more comprehensive thesauri also will point users (and catalogers assigning subjects) to broader, narrower and related terms.
Needless to say, maintaining a thesaurus is a great deal of work. Library of Congress has been maintaining LCSH since 1898, and its list of established headings now numbers in the millions. For general works, and many specializations, there is probably no better thesaurus, but as noted at the outset of this article, its vocabulary is limited and imprecise in many areas having to do with maritime research.
While the WMU library is not staffed to build and maintain a thesaurus of maritime terminology from scratch, it is looking into existing work that could be used as a supplement to LCSH. The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies maintains the Transportation Research Thesaurus, or TRT, which obviously bears looking into. Also, the Glossary of Maritime Law Terms by the late Professor William Tetley's of McGill University provides excellent cross references for the researcher of that niche branch of knowledge. The glossary is in its second edition, and provides excellent cross references. Unfortunately, it does not appear to have been updated since June of 2011.
But it does include the term "Port state control."
Until a few years ago, the ability to measure scholarly impact required a subscription to data services like Scopus or Web of Knowledge. These services still represent the gold standard of impact measurement, especially in the scientific community, but with the advent of Google Scholar, authors can see how their works measure up without having to pay for the privilege. Furthermore, because Google is less restrictive in the publications it includes, academic researchers outside the hard sciences have a better chance of getting a score, or scoring higher, than they would in the commercial ranking services. Anyone can sign up, search for citations, and add them to their Scholar profile. Google does the rest, adding the number of times cited, links to the citations, the h-index, the i10-index, and even a bar graph of each year the author’s works have been cited.
Publications that do not show up in search results can be added manually, although such entries will have no impact until they start showing up in Google Scholar searches and have been linked to other works. Google’s manual forms allow users to enter data for books, chapters, articles, conference proceedings, patents, and “other.” There are no fields for standard publication numbers, such as an article’s document object identifier (DOI), a periodical’s international standard series number (ISSN), or the international standard book number (ISBN). What this likely means is that, without this precise identification number, a publication that had to be entered manually will never be linked to an impact factor. If and when the citation shows up in Google Scholar, the author will have to add the citation from Google to his or her profile, and delete the manually added entry that it supersedes.
For maritime academics there are two particular drawbacks with Google Scholar. The first is that, because the maritime sector is so small, impact is almost by definition exceedingly limited. A Venn diagram of publications having to do with maritime affairs and the entire world of academic publishing could be represented as a pencil dot within a giant circle several pages in diameter. A better measurement would be the impact within the maritime sector. This leads to the second problem, namely, the lack of standardized metadata in maritime publications that would facilitate the cross-referencing needed to determine a given work’s relevance to other works. Without standards-based formatting for author names, publishers, volumes, editions, etc., upon which computer algorithms can act, even a long and respectable list of published articles and papers would produce an impact factor of zero.
We should also note that Google’s format limitations do not account for numerous other contributions that faculty can make to maritime knowledge. For example, a conference presentation that results in international policy changes might never have reached the stage of published proceedings, or at least not with a high impact, brand name publisher. There is no form to fill out for presentations, only papers in published proceedings. Likewise, there is no place to enter grant projects, consultancies, and guest lectures. These activities and accomplishments can make for an impressive Curriculum Vitae that, in the maritime world, could easily outweigh the impact of a publication list with a moderate h-index.
Certainly, wherever it is appropriate, maritime faculty should be encouraged to sign up for Google Scholar and add their citations. But they should keep in mind that it is not intended to be an online version of their complete CV. And administrators in maritime academics should also keep in mind that it is not a complete measure of impact in the maritime world. Martin Stopford, whose Maritime Economic is likely the most widely used text on the subject, has a Google h-index factor of 7, which is less than 20% of the impact of an oceanographer with a career of publishing in respected scientific journals. Both authors are highly regarded in their areas of expertise, but the one with the lower impact factor in Google Scholar would almost assuredly be judged to have the higher impact among the community of academics dedicated to safe, secure, efficient shipping on clean oceans.
As we have seen with the library’s deployment of the Koha library management system, the free software movement has emerged beyond the wishful thinking of its early champions to become a viable competitor in numerous information technology endeavors. Indeed, it is our contention that the economic trend does not favor traditional commercial software as the principal solution of organizational IT. This trend is not hard to understand in terms of consumer demand, where free solutions are preferable even when they are not as good as commercial alternatives, so long as they are good enough. But consumer demand in itself would not endanger the proprietary model were it not for the strong incentives among software developers, themselves, to give away their code.To appreciate the incentives at work in current software development we must bear in mind the need for an enterprise to focus on its core business and outsource the rest on the most favorable terms. In the past, the proprietary, commercial code vendors saved their customers money by automating manual routines with off-the-shelf software that could be mass-produced far less expensively than could be accomplished with in-house programming. They also provided a certain peace of mind by offering a product that was standardized, at least among the customer base, which created an incentive for businesses to buy what every one else was buying, thus reinforcing the code proprietor’s standard.
Eventually, the success of the shrink-wrapped software solution exposed its achilles heal, for the software company profiting from the sale of multiple iterations of its standard code found it increasingly challenging to accommodate the exceptions and local configurability demanded by customers with similar but not absolutely identical needs. Different institutional work flows, organizational structures, legal requirements and commercial relationships required linking applications and exchanging data in ways that no single software vendor could possibly anticipate, which forced institutions either to purchase customized code from the vendor (and hope the customization would still function after the next upgrade), lobby with company developers and the customer user group for enhancements in the next release (and hope the majority of customers supported the enhancements), or muddle along with the status quo (and give up hope of further automation in that particular realm).
The challenge to this economic model came when wide-spread use of the internet allowed the sharing of code which was written not to be sold, but to solve particular problems in particular institutions. The code was posted and left “open” for all to use with the caveat YMMV –“your mileage may vary”– in explicit recognition that local circumstances might necessitate adaptation on the part of the user. In time, the internet was host to vast libraries of open code contributed by thousands of programmers. Volunteer communities and standards bodies evolved which facilitated even greater sharing of solutions. In large sectors of the IT economy, programmer talent was lured from the profits of proprietary code sales to the rapid development and deployment environment offered by what came to be known as the Open Source movement. For network and server administrators struggling with tight budgets, the growth of mature applications that rivalled and even surpassed the reliability, scalability and integrability of commercial equivalents made the switch to Open Source an increasingly attractive option.
While chaos would seem to have been an inherent risk in this world-wide openness, the reality has been that the development community rapidly sorted winners from losers and built upon what was easiest to integrate with previous or ongoing developments. In this way, Open Source not only inspired innovation, but standardization, a benefit to IT maintenance equally as important as the significantly reduced price of software. This revolution has occurred so rapidly that many institutional managers above the level of day-to-day IT work are unaware of the low-cost — often free — options ripe for the taking.
It is funded directly or indirectly as a cost-center item by the companies that need it. Those companies need a great deal of cost-center, non-differentiating software. They are willing to invest in its creation through the Open Source paradigm because it allows them to spend less on their cost centers by distributing the cost and risk among many collaborators, and makes more efficient use of their software dollar than the retail paradigm.
This “retail paradigm” is the prism which too often distorts the managerial view of software acquisition. Word processors, spreadsheet programs, image manipulators, even database applications and web servers, tend to be evaluated as end-user commodities, to be paid for and consumed in the same manner as electronic books or music in digital format. But with the exception of the vendors who profit by the retail model, there is no reason for anyone else to think of such programs as “end use” consumables instead of as tools that help them in their work, as means to an end. Users would ordinarily choose free software if they were not under the impression that the programs they pay for are going to be better supported and have a rapid release of useful new features. After all, at least some of the money that they pay is expected to go back into product maintenance and development.But unlike physically-tangible goods, software, once created, can be replicated infinitely with no further production cost, and can be distributed at almost no cost over the internet. Under the retail paradigm, the price of software is essentially arbitrary once production costs have been recouped. In the Open Source paradigm, developers are not losing profits by forgoing sales. In the first place, the expense of writing code is not viewed as an investment for which a return must be justified, but as the cost of solving problems pursuant to the institution’s main business. In the second place, there is an entire community of developers in other institutions willing and ready to extend the code’s functionality and adapt it to more uses than its originators could have envisioned. In the words of Network World’s Stephen Walli, “The value gained by each contributor is enormous when compared to the cost of contributing.” (“Open source: nobody is working for free,” 2 Sept. 2010).
And here is why the long-term economic trend is working against the proprietary code model: Developing in corporate isolation, or collaborating through subcontracted, non-disclosure arrangements, the goal of the for-profit code writer is differentiation in a market where differentiation adds little or no value, and can in fact be a liability. Customers will not particularly care about bells and whistles if the basic functionality that helps them in their work can be had for free. The open source alternative not only suffices, but the open source community will respond more quickly and more accurately when the market requires innovation and variation, because of the commonly held asset of open code which can be instantly leveraged by thousands of programmers for thousands of different purposes. In that community even novice developers can search the internet for serviceable solutions that require only a little modification of the source code, which they are of course free to do. Professional developers can team up with developers in other businesses, libraries, science labs, etc., to share the burden of creating applications of mutual benefit, and their efforts only have to start where the ever expanding repositories of open source leave off. Their contribution to those repositories will make some one else’s development efforts easier in the future.
The proprietary software vendors, on the other hand, can not as effectively leverage this vast savings in development effort. They can take advantage of open code written by others, but as their motive is proprietary differentiation, they do not share the part of their code that is unique, and therefore can not benefit from the advice of the larger development community. It is, in effect, above criticism. Open Source software, on the other hand, is essentially peer-reviewed software. Any bug or security hole gets noticed and reported immediately in public forums, and workaround tips are quickly disseminated. By contrast, vendors have every incentive to stay mum, hope any bugs go unnoticed, and slip in the fix in the next release. Whereas commercial software brought much-needed improvements over the home-grown systems and manual office work of the past, in this day of ultra cheap storage and virtually free internet transport, the closely-guarded code of the proprietary model would be an obstacle to greater efficiencies and greater economies of scale, were it not for the fact that the community is free to share its own solutions, regardless of what commercial software companies want to keep hidden.
It must be mentioned that Open Source has not obsolesced commercial incentives in IT work. “Pioneer” enterprises have a marketable niche at least until an Open Source technologist manages to replicate or improve on the technology. OpenOffice, for example, offers word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database software every bit as sophisticated in functionality as Microsoft’s, and can be used free of charge, while developers can extend their own functionality. When OpenOffice became the property of Oracle, the open source community responded with a virtual clone in LibreOffice. In other cases, vendors offer a robust open source version, available for free and continually improved through community development, but charge for an “Enterprise edition” with proprietary extensions and service guarantees; its core, however, is still based on the evolving work of the Open Source community.
And there are companies which charge a fee to host, administer, and even develop extensions to open source applications. Up until the university recently established its own cloud server infrastructure, the WMU library employed the London-based PTFS company to host its Koha library management system In that hosting arrangement, any development PTFS might do for hire on WMU’s behalf would be made available to the Koha community. By the same measure, any useful developments by other institutions were likewise available at no cost to WMU. Furthermore, PTSF’s client, i.e., the WMU librarians, had complete “root user access” to make their own developments. And lastly, when the library decided not to host any longer with PTFS, the company surrendered the Koha source code and the WMU data. This is now a typical arrangement between small institutions without the means for supporting Open Source software, and IT companies which can provide that support cheaply by not having to pass on proprietary license fees.While we predict growth in the commercial business of supporting Open Source development, we are not predicting the extinction of proprietary software itself. We are only pointing out that its economically viability is, or should be be, limited to areas where differentiation is an advantage. As the Google Apps Marketplace demonstrates, cloud-based hybrids that offer software as a service are finding the means to add their specialized additions to the great core of common code, but can do so more cheaply than they could develop software as a proprietary commodity. This should strike a chord with businesses that would rather pay only for the distinct functionality they need than for the bloatware of additional features which the retail developer includes to justify higher development costs.In terms of what software is worth paying for, and for how much, it is up to every organization to understand the economic implications within the context of its core business. Alas, there is no substitute for institutional diligence on matters regarding Information Technology. There is no comprehensive solution, nor will there likely ever be one, with proprietary code or with Open Source. The institutional variations are too great for any one vendor, any group of programmers, to make a one-size-fits-all application, particularly when the pace of technological change continues to accelerate. Thus, while comprehensiveness of functionality might seem critical in evaluating software solutions, it is not in the long-term more important than conformance to data standards and exchange protocols. The ability to “play well with others” is a criteria institutions ignore at their peril. All the more important, then, to adopt applications which expose their source code to the review and scrutiny of the community.
No library plan is sufficient that does not give consideration to the thickening tangle of legal and financial issues surrounding copyright in the digital age. Originally intended in the early 17th Century to protect authors from unauthorized reproduction of their works by unscrupulous booksellers and printers, copyright has evolved primarily to protect the intellectual property interests of publishers, to the point that authors have to take care not to infringe the copyright of their own work. Before the convenience of electronic storage, internet distribution, and print-on-demand technologies, publishers had to layout considerable fixed costs per publication, having to estimate the size of their press run to amortize those costs over the number of items printed. A large press run lowered the cost per item, but overestimating the market for a publication wasted assets and filled warehouses with unwanted inventory. Because of the risks assumed by the publishing houses in bringing a work to print, authors typically surrendered ownership of their works in return for publishing with a reputable press. Financial remuneration was sometimes possible, but in the case of scholarly works, the chief reward was, and continues to be, the prestige. The presses which conducted “peer review” — selecting subject experts as referees to determine a work’s suitability for publication– offered better recognition, and therefore have been the most sought after by scholars and researchers.
The copyright regime in place today is largely designed to accommodate this arrangement whereby the creators of scholarly work or producers of research sign over their copyrights to publishing enterprises that bear the cost of printing and distribution. But as the new technologies for storing and retrieving information have greatly reduced the cost and the risk, the chief justification for signing over copyrights is the “prestige factor” of having one’s work exhibited through a big name publisher. But this prestige comes at a cost which many researchers –and librarians– find increasingly objectionable. After all, the research is not usually commissioned by the publisher, but subsidized by the research institution. Likewise, the publisher pays little, if anything, for the editorial and peer-review work, as such services are performed by peers for small stipends, or simply for the scholarly renown. And yet, as publishers assume but a fraction of the intellectual labor costs, and as technology has significantly lowered the costs of disseminating information, the price of mainstream publications has continued to rise for decades –in the case of journals, precipitously.
Libraries supporting research are therefore hostage to pricing schemes which reflect the overhead expenses of copyright-protected monopolies maintaining legacy print infrastructures, but which bear little relationship to the value added by the publishers. Libraries have responded across academia with the only option available to them, cutting acquisitions. Ironically, research materials are being priced out of the reach of the researcher by the researcher’s own adherence to the status quo of peer-review.
The struggle is now on to redefine ownership of intellectual property in the “information age.” In the mean time, the WMU Library must continue to meet the research needs of its patrons –doing so within its means and without antagonizing the traditional publishing interests holding copyright on needed research materials. Neither the library staff nor the legal researchers on the WMU faculty have expertise in the area of copyright law, a situation made even more difficult by the ambiguous status of an international university situated in Sweden but with a collection of printed works and electronic databases owned mostly by non-Swedish publishers. As the WMU Library grows in its collections and extends its international patronage, this situation needs to be redressed. It will be the librarian’s responsibility to develop a set of flexible policies that can protect the university from litigation in state regimes, and to get clarification from IMO and the UN on “international copyright.” The WMU library will meanwhile proceed in developing and sharing its collections according to the best practices available, adopting a liberal but defensible “Fair Use” policy, establishing –with representatives of the publishing industry and through in-house technologies– an equitable system of “digital rights management,” and promoting Open Access journals and repositories as viable alternatives to traditional venues of publication.
The university currently pays an annual license fee of about SEK 150 per full-time student (set to increase to SEK 200) to Bonus Presskopia, the Swedish Reproduction Rights Organization. This modest fee is intended as protection against possible publishers’ suits for violation of copyright. In return for this payment, WMU faculty members are allowed to copy up to “15 percent of the pages in the publication, but not more than 15 pages, in the same academic year and on behalf of the same students“, which roughly corresponds with the copying rights granted to individuals by the Swedish Copyright Law. Elsewhere the university posts the rules as permitting 5% of a given work, or one article from a journal issue, or one book chapter, to be copied for personal use for scholarly or research purposes only. But whether or not non-Swedish publishers accept the legitimacy of the university’s “fair use” payments in accordance with Swedish Law, which recognizes “Kopimism” as a religion, the question for the library is its role in facilitating legitimate “personal” and “scholarly” use.
Library patrons have ready access to copiers and scanners, not to mention smart phones with digital cameras. In the face of this reality, WMU does not have the means to police the percentages of works copied per user or the sharing among users of privately copied materials. Library staff will ensure patrons know the rules, and will enforce those rules in the face of flagrant and open violations. Additionally, in its capacity as custodian of course reserves materials, the library will work with faculty to build and maintain curriculum-based reading collections that pass the “educational purposes” clause of typical copyright law, limiting access to members of the class, and only for the duration of the class. The university should meanwhile continue to pay copyright clearance fees until it is determined that they are not legally required or do not cover the materials being copied. Materials obtained digitally though Interlibrary Loans or commercial document services will be delivered with the appropriate copyright compliance notice.
Copyright-compliant access to commercial digital materials is increasingly being handled by the vendors themselves. Journal aggregators provide access to particular titles to library users based on subscription arrangements. Providers of “e-book” services, such as Ebrary, Coutts, Dawson and other book vendors have their own built-in software controls to limit the number of simultaneous readers according to “copies” purchased. Other vendors are using Adobe’s “Digital Editions” for the same purpose. But not all DRM systems are equal. Cancelling an agreement with a vendor could mean cancelling access to books and articles that have been paid for, and prices and number of simultaneous users can vary by provider.
WMU intends to increase its use of these e-content services significantly, particularly in support of the academic curriculum, but also for research collections where appropriate. The Librarian and Assistant Librarian for Bibliographic Services will have joint responsibility for determining the best subscription packages and individual title purchases according to collection needs and library resources.
There are still many online sources of maritime information that do not have DRM systems implemented. In many cases, the library purchases subscription access to premium content web sites, online journals, and databases intended for a single user. As site-licensed access for universities and libraries is generally not offered, getting access for more users means purchasing more accounts. In the case of e-books, the library also pays for individual chapters and monographs it downloads on behalf of patrons, from sources (such as the IMO) that do not necessarily accommodate transference from the purchaser (library) to third parties (requesting patrons).
It is the library’s position that, should an appropriate DRM mechanism be devised locally or in collaboration with the library community, it would be within the library’s rights to keep and distribute purchased content according to its usage rights at the time of purchase. For example, if the library were to cache Lloyd’s List in a daily archive, it should in theory be allowed to provide online access to three users simultaneously per daily issue in its archive, just as it could do with its archive of printed daily issues, because the library has purchased three subscriptions to Lloyd’ List. Lloyd’s and other vendors might of course disagree with the library’s claims to electronic access, and no locally-managed DRM system is currently available with such a degree of functionality, but it is important to state the principle as a working premise in the library’s acquisition of commercial digital content.
For the foreseeable future, Digital Rights Management of commercially provided electronic content will be an important part of library collections and services. But of growing importance is a movement among universities and research institutes that has the potential to make DRM a moot point. At the very least, the Open Access movement is revolutionizing rights in favor of the researcher.
As previously observed, the producers of research and creators of scholarly articles and monographs rarely receive direct financial rewards for their publishing activities. But they are still inspired to have their work reach the widest possible audience. The conventional publishing houses, while reaching the audiences that can afford them, are otherwise an obstacle to the broadest possible dissemination of information. Open Access publications, by contrast, do not charge readers for access. Like most traditional scholarly presses, Open Access publishers also do not pay scientists and authors for their work. In fact, in many cases they require payment from the author, or the author’s research funding agency. But this should not be confused with “vanity publishing.” Open Access offers peer-review, and work does not get published simply because the author can fund the publication.As unsettling as it might be for those accustomed to the traditional publishing regime, when authors fund their own publications in this way it reduces the net cost of bringing the information to the public. The creator makes a one-time payment for the cost of publishing, paying only the actual cost, but access to the published work is then free to the world.
The WMU library will seek out quality Open Access periodicals and endeavor to incorporate them into its collections and indexes. At present, there are only a handful of specifically maritime journals available as Open Access, although conventional publishers, perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, are starting to offer sample articles as Open Access for maritime titles that otherwise require proprietary access.
The library staff is also willing and ready to work with faculty on finding reputable Open Access journals in which to make their research and editorial contributions. In time, the library should be positioned to host Open Access journals on the library infrastructure.
Most of the “past” data collection that resulted in this intellectual property claim began much earlier than 2008, when IHS acquired minimal working majority rights over Lloyd’s Register –Fairplay.2 The collection of IHS’ maritime data originated in the late 18th century, when the London sea merchant interests and shipowners who met regularly in Edward Lloyd’s coffee house formed the Register Society in 1760. Four years later, the society published the first Register of Ships, which has been published annually since 1775. In 1834, the society was reorganized as Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. Since the 1870’s the Register has tried to include all self-propelled, sea-going vessels over 100 GT.3 While Lloyd’s collected details on ships and owners,4 Thomas Hope Robinson founded Fairplay Publications, Ltd. In the 1883 inaugural issue of the preeminent magazine of the shipping trade, Fairplay International, Robinson famously wrote, “There is so little Fairplay in the world. If our own efforts succeed, we shall have taken the first steps towards promoting the habit of calling things by their right name and looking at them through uncoloured spectacles” — a testament to the need for plain dealing and open records in maritime transactions. The quote has appeared on the Fairplay masthead ever since. The magazine was later acquired by John Prime of the Financial Times.5
Both Lloyd’s and Fairplay produced numerous other publications deemed critical to the maritime profession, and, in the late 20th century, entered the world of database publishing. In 2001, these two potentates of maritime information –Lloyd’s Register’s Maritime Information Publishing Group and Fairplay Publications, Ltd. (still a subsidiary of Prime)– were merged to form the joint venture company, Lloyd’s Register -Fairplay.6
Included in the merger was the Lloyd’s Register of Ships. Over its many years collecting information on hull sizes, carrying capacity, classification surveys, modifications, vessel sales and vessel owners, Lloyd’s had by 1963 conceived a scheme to record every past registered vessel with a unique six-digit number between 500001-539966, and to continue recording future registrations with numbers 54XXXX or greater. The numbering system changed in 1964, when the first two digits of the Lloyd’s Number were replaced with the last two digits of the year of build (or, in the discovery of older vessels without a known date of build, the last two digits of the year of discovery). By 1973, LR numbers were assigned at the time of contract between builder and owner, rather than upon completion of build, so that the first two digits reflected the year of contract. The 1969-1970 registry was published showing a check digit, making the LLoyd’s number seven digits from then on. Lloyd’s anticipated and headed off the millennium crisis in 1991 by abandoning any system based on year of contract, build or discovery and instead resorting to straight sequential numbering.7
This numbering system became the de facto standard in the industry. Even if vessels already had flag registration numbers or the numbers of other class registrations, the addition of the “Lloyd’s number” provided the benefit of being assigned for the life of the ship, notwithstanding changes of ownership or flag.8 Indeed, as the Register expanded, it included the “official number” supplied by the flag state as well as additional details that could be used for cross-referencing information from other agencies and companies.9
IMO took advantage of this comprehensiveness when it passed Resolution A.600(15), enacting the “IMO Ship Identification Numbering Scheme” in 1987 as a measure aimed at enhancing “maritime safety, and pollution prevention and to facilitate the prevention of maritime fraud”. Under the terms of the resolution, the IMO number would consist of the Lloyd’s number, prefixed by the letters “IMO.” From the outset, Lloyd’s Register was acknowledged as IMO’s official registrar, and parties seeking to obtain IMO numbers for their vessels were directed to Lloyd’s Register. The resolution stated that there would be no cost to apply for an IMO number, and that the Register’s reference service would answer ad hoc questions about existing ships free of charge “up to a reasonable point of acceptability.”
Nevertheless, the Register’s commercial rights were acknowledged from the beginning. The resolution indicated that IMO numbers and related ship information could be obtained through the annually published register, the weekly updates, or the “Seadata” database, all of which were for sale through Lloyd’s, and that pricing for such information would need to be obtained from Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. It was parenthetically noted that IMO was granted access to Seadata.10 Voluntary at first, after the 1994 passage of SOLAS Regulation XI/3 it became mandatory to include the IMO number in the ship’s on board documentation,11 In 2011 the IMO announced that SOLAS-compliant vessels would need to display the IMO number on the hull of the vessel. That the enhancement to safety justifies the additional cost of painting, embossing or otherwise putting seven digits on a ship’s hull has been disputed by organizations in the industry.12
A fact not to be disputed, however, is that when not attached to the Register’s vessel and owner information, the IMO number has no practical value. Linking the IMO number to ship data has always been predicated on a favored relationship with a company that had been collecting and organizing ship information for over two centuries. The numbering scheme itself was conceived by that company more than twenty years before Resolution A.600(15) proposed the assignment of IMO numbers, and the IMO number itself was no more than the company’s traditional number preceded by the letters “IMO.”
Without inquiring into private corporate details, it is difficult to estimate what profits accrued to the Register specifically because of its relationship with the IMO. Lloyd’s was in the business of selling its ship and owner information to begin with, and the universal number that marked a ship from contract to scrap was a Lloyd’s innovation predating the IMO’s intent to supply such a number for SOLAS purposes. The IMO has had gratis access to the registry data, and vessel registration has been free, as have been “reasonable” private inquiries of vessel IMO numbers. Since 1999, the IMO number has been freely searchable online through Equasis, a maritime database built from a community of port state control regimes, classification societies, P&I Clubs, and other “quality-minded maritime administrations,” including the Register.13
On the other hand, the costs for ship and shipping information, with or without the IMO number, can be considerable. A print publication of the 2012-2013 edition of the Register of Ships, now four volumes, lists at £1595.00. Single user access to the online version of Sea-web, a successor to Seadata, lists for £1995, despite saving the publisher the cost of printing, binding and shipping.14
This rising price of maritime information coincides with the rising cost of commercially published information generally. The 2001 merger that resulted in Lloyd’s Register –Fairplay typified the consolidation of publishing interests that has rarely resulted in reduced costs to the reader. But ownership of the Register still rested with a merger of two enterprises rooted in the maritime community. In December 2008, IHS, a data service that employs more than 5,500 people in over 30 countries, secured a 51.1 percent interest in LRF, and acquired the remaining 49.9 percent for $64 million the following year. IHS, which makes 70 percent of its revenues selling subscriptions to business, government and defense information, collected $1.3 billion in 2011.15 It is headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, USA,15 more than 1500 kilometers from the nearest sea port.
IHS Fairplay is now the owner of the Register, and as such has inherited Lloyd’s special relationship with IMO regarding the registration of vessels. For IMO to withdraw from that relationship would require an arrangement with another registry service, if any can be found with the comprehensiveness bequeathed by Lloyd’s; or an extensive coordination among the separate registries, as is attempted in Equasis; or the building of its own database from the ground up.
Whatever valid options there are
should address the ship type complexities recently resolved by “Statcode 5,” Among its more than 60 variables for
recording ship information, the “ship type” field in Lloyd’s Register
employed a popular 4-column system known as the Statcode. IHS Fairplay
determined that this system did not go into enough detail for individual
vessels, but that it was too widely used in the industry to be discarded. Thus,
Statcode 5 adds a fifth column to the existing code. According to IHS Fairplay,
the benefits of Statcode 5 are that it is:
Meanwhile, IHS Fairplay continues to provide vessel owners with IMO numbers for free, and contributes IMO numbers and portions of its “past and ongoing data collection,” to the Equasis project, which is free to search. Unfortunately for the cause of academic research, Equasis does not permit data mining and can only be searched one vessel or one company at a time. Limited mining for statistical purposes is possible on Sea-web and other commercially available data services. Those other commercial services, as quoted in the intellectual property claim at the opening of this narrative, must have IHS Fairplay’s prior written consent to offer IMO numbers in their product.
1. “Unique Registered Owner and Company Identification Number Scheme: Permitted Use of Numbers,” IMO Numbers LR Fairplay (c2012): http://www.imonumbers.lrfairplay.com/datause.aspx.
How quickly the new becomes old these days — or was it ever thus? (Note to self: Reread Henry Adams “A Law of Acceleration” Does it still hold up?).