Re: Chron. High. Ed. 18 September on Cal Tech & Copyright

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 13:05:22 -0400

It is hard to envision the potential conflict of interest between
author and university that appears to be worrying Professor Ransdell:

> [if it co-owned the copyright] the institution [might] decide... that
> it didn't want its intellectual property given away by being made
> freely available on-line, either in an archive like that at Los Alamos
> or on any other Web site, including its own.

Perhaps I was too cryptic in my prior posting: We are dealing here with
the nontrade literature only: papers that the author gives away for
free, seeking no fee or royalty in return: the refereed journal

Do I need to remind Professor Ransdell that this is that self-same
publish-or-perish literature that promotion and tenure committees are
pressuring us all to swell with our work? Now why on earth, once
access to that work can no longer be blocked by publisher tolls, would
our promotion and tenure committees suddenly become interested in the
suppression of free access to it? For surely free (as opposed to paid)
access is inherent in the very motivation for the PUBLICation of the
fruits of our research in the first place, is it not?

> I still cannot see how this sort of pact with university administration
> can be said to be "being pursued implicitly by all researchers who
> submit their preprints and reprints to the Los Alamos Physics Preprint
> Archive".

Because refereed journal authors and their institutions share a common
interest in having their research published; that's why they published
in paper in the past; that's why they will publish online in the
future. The institution, like the author, and unlike the publisher,
wants only maximal PUBLIC access, not toll-gates and fire-walls. As an
ally, the university is a much more substantial entity than any single
author. An individual author might be intimidated about archiving a
paper in xxx; a collective institutional policy would quell anxieties.

Moreover, in parallel with archiving centrally in xxx, it is advisable
to archive on one's home institution's server; here too, the author
shares interests (and resources, and visibility) with his institution.

I see both the Koonin/CalTech kind of initiative and the Bachrach et
al. proposal in Science

-- both concerned, as they are, with giving only limited copyright to
the publisher -- as being motivated by the desire for full, free,
public access to the research. Proprietary research (patentable
findings, etc.) are in another category and would not have been
publicly reported anyway.

The joint copyright could presumably be formalized specifically at the
point of publication, and specifically as a counterweight against any
attempt (by the publisher) to impose restrictions on public archiving
(like the Elsevier restrictions). If there were some reason for not
publishing at all, there would be no need for this pact, which I see
as simply giving the author more clout.

What is the motivation for free-access denial on the part of an
author's institution that you have in mind?

> I should add that my point has nothing to do with royalty or fee-based
> writing or any of that, and that the distinction between refereed and
> unrefereed publication does not seem to me to have any special bearing
> on this.

But it ought to. For in the case of patents, royalties, fees, etc.,
other things are indeed at stake. (If the university had a share in
a popular book's copyright, it could take part of the proceeds; that
is certainly another kettle of fish.) With the freely given refereed
serial literature, nothing like that is at stake.

> The point I am trying to make could perhaps be otherwise put by saying
> that any pact with one's university that, in effect, gives them a power
> of constraint on publication of one's work -- and conjoint copyright
> would surely do that unless extraordinary precautions were taken in the
> legal formulation of it -- is just another Faustian pact, not to be
> entered into unless necessary, just as in the case of Faustian pacts
> with publishers.

You are right that a pact is a pact, but what makes it Faustian is
conflict of interest and risk of losing one's soul. Perhaps I would
understand better if you gave a plausible hypothetical scenario
in which publication suppression would be the University's goal,
contrary to the author's wishes. But remember to keep it in the
refereed-journal domain otherwise it is moot insofar as this
discussion is concerned.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:27 GMT