Re: when to archive the postprint ?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 7 Mar 2002 16:39:12 +0000

On Thu, 7 Mar 2002, [copyright officer, identity deleted] wrote:

> Dear Stevan,
> I have been reading your paper, "For Whom the Gate Tolls..."
> [ ]
> with interest and admiration. As someone who spends a lot of his time
> obtaining copyright clearance for academic colleagues to copy published
> articles which they themselves originally wrote, for distributing to
> their students, I am increasingly aware of the absurdities of
> restrictive copyright assignment agreements imposed by some publishers.
> I am presently attempting to draft some 'model' first publication
> licences which I hope my academic colleagues may be able to use one day
> - the aim being for the author to retain as many rights as possible.
> Specifically, can I ask, when you recommend that we should ask
> publishers to agreeing to authors archiving the peer-reviewed / edited
> version of an accepted article in an e-print archive, do you mean
> getting agreement to do this BEFORE the peer-reviewed, accepted version
> has actually been PHYSICALLY PUBLISHED by the publisher (whether in
> printed form or as part of an on-line subscription service), or AFTER
> such PHYSICAL PUBLICATION has occurred ? Is it your experience that where
> publishers allow self-archiving, they prefer one of these sequence of
> events to the other ?
> Grateful for any advice.

The point at which a (tentative) effort should be made to modify the
copyright transfer agreement is precisely the point at which the author
is sent the agreement and asked to sign it (which is usually upon
acceptance and before publication).

I also recommend that if the publisher declines the author's proposed
modification to the transfer agreement (the retention of the author's
right to publicly self-archive his text on-line), the author should
sign the restrictive agreement and merely self-archive the list of
corrigenda (the pre-peer-review preprint having already been publicly
self-archived: this is the critical step). There is no need to hold
back on self-archiving for one millisecond to wait for general reform
in the wording of copyright transfer agreements.

Most publishers will agree to this minor modification of the copyright
transfer agreement, and for those that do not agree, the
preprints+corrigenda alternative achieves almost the same outcome, and
will become less and less frequent, as more publishers comply with
what is so clearly in the best interests of research and researchers,
and so clearly feasible in the online age. There is no defense or
justification for trying to hold peer-reviewed research hostage to
obsolete Gutenberg constraints, and publishers will not be eager to make
a public case for it (once all the specious arguments in its support
have at last been decisively exposed and shown to be untenable, as they
soon will be).

But remember that this solution is only valid for the peer-reviewed
research literature. It does not apply to books, textbooks, or fee-based
magazine articles. It only applies to author give-aways, written for
immpact rather than text-sale income. If you mix it up with university
attempts to derive revenue for its "intellectual property" you will
retard instead of speading progress towards open access to this special
literature, at last.

The same is true if you mix any of this up with "fair use" issues.
This is not about institutional rights to use non-give-away material
for teaching, etc. It is about authors' natural right to give away
their own work if they so choose. Don't mix the two or it will just
compound confusion and further retard progress toward the optimal and
inevitable for the special case of peer-reviewed research.

I suggest you also consult my colleague Charles Oppenheim, at Loughboro

Stevan Harnad
Received on Thu Mar 07 2002 - 16:39:58 GMT

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