Re: Self-archiving, academic staff, universities & intellectual property

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 23 Jun 2002 05:37:21 +0100

On Sat, 22 Jun 2002, Richard Poynder wrote:

> If I am right in thinking that the increasing interest in self-archiving
> amongst researchers, universities and academic staff is leading to a
> greater appreciation of - amongst other things - intellectual property
> issues and the potential monetary value of IP (if only as a result of
> the realisation that commercial publishers have done very well out of it
> thank you very much), then is there not perhaps a danger that
> universities and other research institutes might seek to monetise the IP
> of their employees in the manner that commercial publishers have done,
> and a situation develop in which academic staff find that having freed
> their research from the financial firewall created by publishers, that
> their employers seek to create a whole new financial firewall, by moving
> to lock up the newly created institutional archives and attempt to turn
> them into revenue streams for the institution?

This worry has been expressed many times in this Forum. See, for example:

The short answer is: No, this worry is groundless.

The reason is quite simple: The special literature that is at issue here
-- the peer reviewed research literature -- is worth incomparably more
to researchers and their institutions through its research impact than
through any pennies that could be made from charging pay-per-view tolls,
payable to the researcher's institution. The research is an author
give-away for a good reason. It is related to "publish or perish":
Access-tolls block research impact, and lost research impact means lost
research funding revenue (and academic prestige) for researchers and
their institutions.

The reason universities are now supporting self-archiving is that they
are at last coming to realize that to maximize research impact, they
must maximize research access, and that the way to do that is by making
access open, not by taking over the toll-booths from the journal

And the reason universities are offering to assert joint ownership of
this research output with their researchers is because they wish to help
them overcome perceived copyright barriers to self-archiving. I say
"perceived" because in actuality these copyright worries are themselves
groundless, so the university initiatives to remedy them are
unnecessary. Universities should concentrate all their efforts on
making sure their Eprint archives are filled with their researchers' annual
peer-reviewed research output. Copyright is a red herring.

"How can an institution facilitate the filling of its Eprint Archives?"

"What about copyright?"

It is undeniable, however, that universities (like authors, and lawyers,
and publishers) are still quite fuzzy on the real copyright issues for
this special, anomalous literature, the peer-reviewed research

"5. PostGutenberg Copyright Concerns"

As a consequence, they are sometimes conflating intellectual property
issues that apply to their researchers' non-give-away output (patents,
software, books, some teaching materials) with intellectual property
issues that apply to their researchers' give-away output (peer-reviewed

This minor confusion will sort itself out with time; like the copyright
red herrings, it should be ignored. The only relevant concern is to
maximize the impact of universities' research output by maximizing the
access to it. The way to do that is by self-archiving it, right away.

Harnad, S. (2001) "Research access, impact and assessment." Times Higher
Education Supplement 1487: p. 16.

> After all, universities are increasingly being asked to behave more like
> commercial enterprises, and to seek funds not only from businesses, but
> by monetising the IP created by their own staff/ spinning out companies
> based on research done within the institution etc.

True, but irrelevant to the special case of peer-reviewed research
output, which contributes to university research income and prestige
through its research impact, not through impact/access-blocking

> I suspect that today
> this is mainly a patent issue, but I found a web site set up by a UK
> university the other day that has a whole section on IP, with the
> statement that the university was moving to "assert it's right to
> ownership of IP generated by employees where this is permitted by law".
> There then followed an extract from the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act
> 1988; Section 11 stating: "Where a literary work [includes computer
> programs, dramatic, musical or artistic work] is made by an employee in
> the course of his employment, his employer is the first owner of any
> copyright in the work subject to any agreement to the contrary."

That university and some others are asserting that right in order to
help free their researchers from a perceived obstacle to self-archiving
arising from (groundless) copyright worries.

It is conceivable that, in addition, some universities are conflating
considerations about potential revenue from non-give-away patentable
research with considerations about maximizing the impact of give-away
peer-reviewed research. (It would be useful for such universities to
remind themselves that some kinds of research findings are CONCEALED,
in order to make them into patentable and sellable products, whereas
other kinds of research findings are PUBLISHED in order to have an impact
on further research [and to generate further research income]. What one
wishes to conceal, one does not publish; what one publishes, one does
not wish to conceal. The only research at issue here is the kind
researchers wish to publish: the peer-reviewed research literature.)

> As financial pressure increases, and the commercial spirit within
> universities intensifies, might not some universities want to suggest
> that the copyright in refereed papers/journal articles also belongs to
> them, and attempt to monetise that ownership? Or is this a misreading of
> the employer/employee relationship of academic staff and their
> institution, and the true ownership of the copyright in journal articles
> written by academic staff/ institutional researchers?

Yes' it's a misreading. And besides, there is nothing to "monetize," as
the average research article has virtually no market anyway. Peer-reviewed
research is and always has been a "nontrade" literature.

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 Sun Jun 23 2002 - 05:37:21 BST

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