Re: PostGutenberg Copyrights and Wrongs for Give-Away Research

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 8 Apr 2002 19:15:19 +0100

First of all, apologies. I should not have approved the posting by
Albert Henderson, which was branched from another list. It was a mistake.
As it has appeared here, however, I will comment, though this has
already been said many times before on this list.

On Mon, 8 Apr 2002, Albert Henderson wrote:

> on Fri, 5 Apr 2002 Jan Velterop <> asked:
> I would be interested to know what Albert Henderson thinks about the
> widespread requirement that authors of scientific papers hand over their
> copyright to the publisher, when they submit their papers for publication to
> scholarly journals, without sharing any of the often substantial profits of
> those journals.

Jan asks this of Albert because Albert regularly claims that universities
are being venal, witholding funds from university libraries, funds that
could otherwise remedy the serials crisis. It is not a good idea to
reply to Albert with this "tu quoque" argument, as Jan does, because
the truth is that the universities are not witholding money, and
publishers, as businesses, are doing nothing wrong in trying to
maximize their profits. The only relevant factor is researchers and
their institutions. They are the only ones in a position to remedy
these anomalies.

Having been invited into this "tu quoque" fray, Albert of course obliges:

> With the prices of journals the subject of so
> many complaints, it would seem provocative
> for authors, whose main income is research grants,
> to demand royalties. The circulation of journals
> is negligible by the standards of mass media. The
> royalty payments would be chicken feed by any
> standard. Yet royalties would undoubtedly increase
> publishers' prices.

This is correct, and Jan has simply reaped what he has sown, with his
rhetorical question. Royalties are totally beside the point, so why
bring them up at all (except to point out that they are irrelevant to
this special, anomalous literature). The objective is to hasten free
access to this give-away research, not to joust with Albert about
whether it is universities or publishers who are the more venal. And
what authors are deprived of by toll-based access is research impact,
not royalties.

> The preparation cost of each article is considerable,
> even before the first copy is distributed. With
> the doubling and re-doubling of R&D spending every
> 15 years or so, and the consequent 'information
> explosion,' authors need recognition and dissemination,
> more than cash, from their publishers.

And that preparation cost is largely paid for by the author's research
institution and research grants. The only open question is who should do,
and pay for doing, the mark-up. For that, please turn to the substantive
thread below, as it will certainly not be discussed substantively on the
present thread:

    "Re: The True Cost of the Essentials"

> Moreover, publishers typically return to authors a
> variety of rights to use their articles, satisfying
> authors' needs for dissemination. Many journals also
> have supplied reprints for this purpose. I would
> be glad to send anyone such a reprint of my editorial
> [SCIENCE. 289:243 2000].

Albert, though he uses email, is otherwise still living in the
papyrocentric era of reprints, otherwise he would know that today the
only way of "satisfying authors' needs for dissemination" is to make
their eprints freely accessible online -- which, coincidentally, is the
substantive issue under discussion in this Forum.

To sample some candidate copyright transfer agreements for this PostGutenberg
era, see:

To repeat, this has nothing to do either with Albert's commitment to
preserving the paper-age status quo (at whatever cost to researchers,
their institutions and their research impact), nor with Jan's red herring
concerning royalties.

> Authors' are guided by the desire for recognition
> and dissemination in their choices of where to
> submit their papers. Recognition is provided by the
> authority of established peer review. Dissemination
> comes from the readership which has been attracted
> by the journal's aim, scope, and record.

And it is simply no longer true, PostGutenberg, that access to those
peer-reviewed papers has to be held hostage to publishers' access

The peer review costs at most $500 per paper. The planet is currently
paying, on average, $2000 per paper (in collective subscription/license
tolls, paid by those institutions that can afford them, and with access
accordingly restricted only to them). It is obvious to anyone who can
count that if that $500 were paid directly, as a peer-review service
charge per outgoing paper, per institution, rather than as an
access-toll per incoming paper, per institution, as it is now, then
there is more than enough money already changing hands to pay this
essential cost, yielding both open-access and a 75% savings as a bonus.

So much for Albert's contention that the toll-access status-quo is a
necessary consequence of the need for established peer review.

Dissemination in the PostGutenberg age comes from the Web, guided by the
journal's established peer-review standards and record (paid for by that
$500 per paper). End of story (for those without vested interests in the
Gutenberg status quo), apart from the minor issue of mark-up (q.v.) and
optional add-ons (see the "Re: ALPSP statement on BOAI" thread that is
going on parallel to this one:

> In the context of the Urgent Inquiry below, it
> seems to me that a silent partner -- in effect
> some business manager -- whose main interest
> might well be to steer papers to co-owned
> journals would be anathema to the aims of
> authors and readers. Perhaps the most important
> aspect of joint ownership is the unwelcome right
> of the 'silent partner' to interfere, perhaps
> even to censor the speech of the author.
> Industrial sponsors who consider research as a
> means to further marketing goals have
> reportedly withheld publication of important
> data. Now we have universities that wish to
> funnel papers to journals that they own through
> the SPARC consortium and university presses or
> to journals that they favor through overlapping
> commercial interests. The 'silent partner' is a
> potential demon in any relationship.

The above passage is all empty sensationalism. Nothing substantive,
whatsoever, for research and researchers, is at issue in it. No such
"silent partner" is in the offing, and some universities'
unthought-through fantasies about trying to get their hands on the
udders of the refereed-journal cash-cow to milk, in the form of
house-journals charging their own tolls or what-have-you, are just too
mindless and confused to be taken seriously. As usual, they are the
product of conflating software/patent/book thinking with the anomalous
special case of refereed research.

> Finally, I cannot understand the disparaging
> use of the word 'profit.' Even before Henry
> the first science journal, profit has been a
> welcome motive. Associations seek surplus
> revenues much as commercial publishers do.
> The main differences are (1) that editors
> and volunteers for association publishers have
> more influence on management decisions and (2)
> commercial publishers pay taxes and distribute
> their profits to shareholders.

"Profit" is not a disparaging word. But in the anomalous -- yes,
anomalous: there is no point in faux-naively treating this special case
as if it were just like your standard case of eggs in the market -- the
anomalous case of give-away research, published (unlike the vast majority
of non-anomalous magazine articles and books) for research impact, not
sales income, there is a CONFLICT OF INTEREST between what is best for
the publishers and their share-holders, who are making the profits, and
what is best for the researchers and their institutions (who are both
paying the publishers for the limited toll-access access, and losing
untold amounts of potential research impact [and, yes, also the
research income that that impact might have generated] at the same time).

This situation was equally anomalous in the Gutenberg age, but there was
simply nothing that could be done about it, because of the true and
unavoidable costs and methods of paper publication. Now, in the online
age, there is at last something researchers and their institutions can
do about it. So whereas pursuing profit is certainly not an impugnable
motive for those who have something to sell, it is also not an
impugnable motive for those who have something to give away, and a
longstanding impact loss to recoup thereby, now that they at last have
the means of achieving toll-free access to their give-aways to go
ahead and pursue it (and to advocate and facilitate pursuing it), as
the BOAI is doing.

> Excessive profits are more likely to be found
> among our private research universities -- U.S.
> institutions that cut library spending in half.
> They report bottom-line tax-free profits double
> that of publicly held publishers. They also
> retain miserly billions of dollars while
> subjecting libraries and their members to
> impoverished resources while trying to shift
> the blame with half-truths, innuendo, and
> lies. Indeed, they have made some librarians
> the medium for such propaganda.

I will leave Albert to grind his usual axe with the richer universities.
As he has been many times told (entirely independently of the fact that
even there he is way off-target), the researcher-access problem is the
most acute for the 95% of the planet's research institutions that don't
number among this happy few in the first place!

Now, some concluding remarks on the innocent query that precipitated this
ritual repetition of all the usual-suspect arguments for the status quo:

> Sent: 04 April 2002 17:03
> To: Multiple recipients of list
> Subject: Urgent inquiry re copyright
> on 4 Apr 2002 "Rimi B. Chatterjee" <rimi_at_HSS.IITKGP.ERNET.IN> wrote:
> I have a query regarding the copyright of works produced by scholars when
> in employment, and I need answers soon because my institute is about to
> pass a resolution on this, and I've only just heard of it.
> It seems that the Institute is making a rule whereby the copyright of any
> scholarly work published by an institute employee will belong to the
> institute and the institute will take 60 % of the copyright fee, with 40 %
> going to the writer. The memo talks about intellectual property meaning
> patents, copyrights, tradermarks, design, new plant varieties, circuit
> layouts etc, but in the rest of the document refers mostly to patents.

This is the usual blinkered conflation under the banner "intellectual
property" (read "potential profits") of everything that a researcher might
produce, be it software, patentable inventions, or sellable texts.

The anomalous literature we are talking about here -- refereed research
papers -- is, and always has been, an author give-away. No royalties
earned or sought (and, as Albert -- and everyone else who thinks about it
even for a microsecond -- can see, there are only pennies to be made from
these esoteric, no-market papers anyway).

So this special literature has nothing whatsoever to do with
universities' dreams of cashing in on the intellectual property of
their researchers. If anything, it is at odds with it, for if they were
to take over the toll-gating of their refereed research output, then it
would be they who were blocking access to their own research output, and
hence its potential impact and potential impact-income.

That some universities are being slow-witted enough to forget to make this
explicit distinction is nothing for them to be proud of, but it's nothing
to worry about either: They may be slow-witted, but they are not witless,
and they will eventually realize that this special literature is off-limits
for their hopes of cashing in on the sales-receipts for the
intellectual property of their researchers, a fortiori.

> What I want to know is, what is the rule in 'proper' universities (as far
> as I know scholars elsewhere are not forced to give up their copyrights).
> Since this is a technical institute, presumably they are thinking of
> commercialisable technology, but I am afraid that we humanities types will
> get caught in the net, and the Institute will automatically bite into our
> pitiful royalties.

Sensible universities, such as CalTech are trying to use joint
researcher/institution copyright in order to help give away their own
give-away refereed research literature (and thereby maximize its
impact), not in order to take over the toll-gating function from

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

What some less sensible universities might have in the back or front of
their minds, who can say (but if it's incoherent, you can bet it will
never come to anything)?

> It seems more than unfair to ask a faculty member to
> turn over rights to the publication of research done
> before employment, just because the work is accepted
> for publication after employment begins. Monographs
> and other works generated from graduate studies,
> particularly doctoral thesis research, cannot be
> claimed as the product of recent employment. Literary
> works, based on life experience and education, would
> also fall beyond the reach of any reasonable claim.

This not only sounds unfair but absurd. If there are actually institutions
contemplating such things then confusion is more rampant than even an
impatient realist like me would imagine...

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):

Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

and the Free Online Scholarship Movement:
Received on Mon Apr 08 2002 - 19:16:08 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:46:29 GMT