Re: Copyright: Form, Content, and Prepublication Incarnations

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 9 Nov 2001 13:08:27 +0000

I am afraid that the copyright discussion with Joseph Riolo is at
cross-purposes because we are systematically discussing different kinds
of texts, different kinds of authors, different kinds of purposes and
different kinds of problems.

The original question on this thread concerned whether the copyright
that an author transfers to the publisher covers the text FORM or the text

> [forwarding from Rainer Stumpe.]
> Scott Melon asked "What is copyrighted - the science or the look? Is
> there a difference?"

A little light was cast by Riolo on this question but the emphasis was
transfered to Riolo's own suggestion that instead of merely making one's
text public online, one should make it public-domain.

That strategy and its consequences were not further examined, although
I pointed out that this Forum's concern was only with one special,
author-giveaway literature, the refereed research literature, for which
the strategy of declaring the text to be public-domain before
submitting it for publication was not a viable one, because the
publisher required at least some limited transfer or license in order
to protect on-paper sales. That right would no longer be the author's to
provide, if his text were public-domain prior to submission.

Questions were also raised about protection from plagiarism
(authorship-theft) if a text is public-domain, and it was pointed out
that all author concerns about future sales (text-theft) are completely
irrelevant for the special literature in question (refereed research).

Unfortunately, the replies are non sequiturs, not addressing the very
specific, and limited, concerns of this special literature (refereed
research), which are to make it public and free on-line, but also to
get it refereed and certified as accepted by a journal publisher, and
to prevent anyone else from publishing it as if they had been its

Riolo pointed out that copyright law does not stop you from stealing
someone's ideas and publishing them as your own. I pointed out that
that was not the issue with text-plagiarism. In reply to my remark:

> SH > But you can't publish his words and claim to be their author.

On Fri, 9 Nov 2001 Joseph Pietro Riolo <> wrote:

> I can only if the original author sold his whole copyright
> without any restriction to me. The point that I want to tell you
> is that the U.S. copyright does not give the author, except for
> the authors of visual art, the right of authorship.

We are talking at cross purposes. Give-away authors (the authors of
refereed research papers) do not SELL their copyrights to their
publishers, they GIVE them. And they do not seek or get a penny
of the revenue from the sales.

And the point, to which the statement "But you can't publish his words
and claim to be their author" was a rebuttal, was your point that
copyright law does NOT offer protection from plagiarism. That is
incorrect. It does, insofar as the verbatim text is concerned.

And by way of reply, what you say above is simply a non sequitur.

If the author retains the copyright, copyright law protects him against
anyone who tries to steal the author's text (by re-publishing it
verbatim) or, a fortiori, by re-publishing the text under his own

The same is true if the author transfers copyright to the publisher.

(I certainly haven't heard any cases of publishers publishing a text
under anyone else's name than the author's, and this too is too
far-fetched a case to bother with when real, substantive matters are it
issue, for the the authors of the refereed research papers that are the
only ones of concern here.)

But the give-away author does not CARE if his refereed research paper
is re-published verbatim, or sold, by anyone, as long as the text is
uncorrupted and the author's name remains as author.

This is the basis of the distinction between protection from text-theft
and from authorship-theft for the give-away (as opposed to the
non-give-away) author.

(Riolo also did not reply to the question about protection from
authorship-theft if an author makes his text public-domain [Riolo's
recommended strategy]. In replying, there is no point making any
mention of potential or actual text-sale revenue, and who holds the
rights to it: they are completely irrelevant.)

> If I publish your paper as my own, I am in violation of copyright
> in respect to the right to reproduce. It has nothing to do with
> authorship. If you grant me the permission to copy your paper
> without any restriction, I can copy your paper and publish it as
> my own work.

I can only repeat: Give-away authors are happy to cede the right to
reproduce, but not to reproduce under someone else's name. They
accordingly either retain the copyright (which protects against both of
these things, only one of which do they care about) or they transfer it
to their publishers (who care about both). The case Riolo keeps
focusing on (because the non-give-away literature, and not the
give-away literature is his model, as it is, implicitly, for copyright
law in general) is that of reproduction for sale, i.e., protection from
text-theft. Irrelevant.

It seems to me that it is Riolo's own public-domain strategy, which he
is recommending to give-away authors, that the real risk of
authorship-theft. Retaining copyright but making the text public online
does not.

    6. How to get around restrictive copyright legally

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):

You may join the list at the amsci site.

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Received on Fri Nov 09 2001 - 13:09:21 GMT

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