After going public with news of a breach of contract suit against leading STM publisher Elsevier in February, officials at Louisiana State University say the dispute has been settled.
In a brief email message (which an Elsevier spokesperson later confirmed), LSU library officials told PW that LSU and Elsevier “have amicably addressed and fully resolved their contractual issues” and that “the corresponding litigation filed by LSU has been voluntarily dismissed.”
Terms of the settlement were not released, and the statement referred any further questions regarding the dispute or its resolution to LSU’s general counsel. At press time, the LSU general counsel’s office has not responded to a request for comment.
The resolution comes after LSU officials filed a breach of contract claim against the publisher on February 27, accusing Elsevier of using its size and market power to “coerce LSU into paying additional and unnecessary subscription fees for research and educational content that LSU has already contracted for.”
In its court filing, LSU lawyers revealed that Elsevier was in fact blocking IP addresses associated with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine library (SVM) from accessing the main library’s Elsevier digital subscriptions. The suit asked for an injunction, as well as unspecified damages and attorney fees.
In a statement to the press in May, Elsevier officials countered that LSU was trying to add “a previously separately-contracted school, along with its associated users, into an existing contract without having to pay for it,” and that the two sides were in negotiations.
Specifically, the dispute revolved around the SVM library, which, prior to 2017, did have a separate Elsevier contract. However, LSU officials determined that the SVM's separate contract was unnecessary, as the roughly 650 users within the SVM were largely served through the main library’s Elsevier subscription. Rather than renew the SVM's separate, largely duplicative contract with Elsevier, LSU library officials instead sought to add 19 specific titles requested by the SVM to its main library subscription.
According to documents shared with the public, Elsevier initially presented the LSU Libraries a quote of around $35,000 to add the additional titles to the main library subscription, which LSU accepted. But Elsevier never completed the transaction, and resumed blocking the SVM's IP addresses. Nearly two months after the suit was filed, on April 22, the publisher instead proposed to essentially merge the SVM’s old contract into the main library’s existing contract by adding $170,000 worth of additional subscriptions, and an additional $30,000 in fees, which Elsevier reps characterized as a significant discount.
In a press release from the Association of Research Libraries, issued in May, ARL's Krista Cox explained that LSU officials were simply trying to ensure that LSU was not "unnecessarily duplicating subscriptions for its campus and using state resources in a responsible manner.”
From the outset, however, Elsevier officials have portrayed the matter as a contract negotiation, rather than a legal action. And that appears to have been the case: while news of the LSU court filing succeeded in generating headlines and media scrutiny, there is no indication that the case ever advanced in court. And despite inviting press coverage and public scrutiny when the litigation was filed, LSU officials now tell PW that the “specific terms and conditions of the parties’ settlement remain confidential.”
The dispute—particularly Elsevier's blocking of access from some campus IP addresses as part of the negotiation—was closely followed in the higher education and academic library communities.
“In a large, decentralized organization like a major research university, there is bound to be some duplicative purchasing,” observed Duke University's David Hansen, at the Scholarly Communications @ Duke blog. “If there are duplications and universities recognize and make corrections to eliminate them, will we too be subject to the same negotiation strategy?”