Re: "Copyleft" article in New Scientist

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 10 Feb 2002 15:21:39 +0000

On Sun, 10 Feb 2002, Seth Johnson wrote:

> Okay. As long as you're dealing with expressive wholes,
> you're standing on legal precedent.
> It would help if some stipulations were made to assure that
> it's clear you're talking about the original presentations,
> presentations to which the author asserts authoritative
> origin, and presentations of originality that may be false.
> The factual elements of any expressive work are fair game.
> This is essential from the standpoint of free online
> collaboration.

Here is a good rule of thumb for advocates of toll-free access to the
peer-reviewed research literature:

Don't aspire to be more royalist than the king, or more papist than the

What was enough for those who got access via tolls should also be enough
for those who get access toll-free. No need to stipulate any more.

OF COURSE the readers of articles in peer-reviewed journals are
free to take the ideas and findings in those articles and build on them
as they see fit in their own work. That's the very reason why the
researchers published it in the first place!

What we are referring to here is not the ideas and findings that are
reported. Their usability was never in dispute. We are talking here
about access to the TEXT. And it is the TEXT that may not be corrupted,
or assigned a false authorship.

(Moreover, using findings without citing their source is not a violation
of copyright, though it may be exposable and punishable as violation
of priority or even plagiarism in other senses.)

These confusions come, again, I think, because of putting too much
weight on the weak analogies between access to text and access to other
things, such as software or music, and perhaps also on weak analogies
between copyright and patent. When this happens, we are dealing with
MISanalogies and not analogies, and we are better to remind ourselves
of what the "use" of refereed journal articles has been all along,
independent of whether it was accessed for-fee or for-free.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sun Feb 10 2002 - 15:21:50 GMT

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