Re: PostGutenberg Copyrights and Wrongs for Give-Away Research

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 02:46:31 +0100

On Sun, 21 Jul 2002, Richard Stallman wrote:

>sh>Texts that an author has himself written are his own intellectual
> To refer to a text as someone's "intellectual property" spreads a
> dangerous propaganda term which also spreads confusion. (See
> for more explanation
> of why this is so.)

Richard, I've read the GNU passage, and I agree that "intellectual
property" is not a good descriptor for software, as code can be built
onto and out of others' code and programmers and users are better served
if the code is open and can be modified by others.

But this formula simply does not fit text. The text I write is indeed my
intellectual property, even if it is give-away text. All that means is
that no one else is allowed to claim to have authored it.

Now that I have read your recommended passage, can I ask you to read

    "5. PostGutenberg Copyright Concerns"

We are in agreement that copyright lawyers and perhaps legislators are
trying to force disparate things -- like music, patents, software, and
texts (both give-away and non-give-away) -- into the same Procrstean
bed, and that the results are not only unsatisfactory but sometimes even
logically incoherent.

But it is important that you should not do the same thing either! What
is good for and true of software is not necessarily good for and true of

>sh>The text is still the author's
>sh>intellectual property," in the sense that authorship is retained by
>sh>the author, and the text may not be plagiarized by anyone,
> That is even more confusing, since it stretches the meaning of
> "intellectual property" even further than normal.

Not at all. What could be simpler? I wrote this text. No one else may
claim to have written it. End of story. (The rest is about whether or
not I deem it a give-away text.)

Copyright has (and always has had) at least two functions:

(1) To protect against theft-of-text-authorship (plagiarism)

(2) To protect against theft-of-text (piracy, a word I know you don't
like, when applied to software, but perfectly valid when applied to
non-give-away text)

ALL text authors want copyright protection of their intellectual property
(sic), their text, from (1), theft-of-text-authorship (plagiarism).

Only NON-give-away authors want copyright protection of their intellectual
property, their non-give-away text, from (2), theft-of-text (piracy).

You are quite right that (1) has nothing to do with "copying" in the
sense of making copies bearing the author's correct name. So perhaps the
legal protection against plagiarism should not be subsumed under
"copyright" law in this sense. But that is a mere terminological matter,
for one can certainly describe copying my text without my name, and
affixing your name to it, as an illicit form of copying. So maybe it
should stay under copyright law after all.

> To avoid confusion, I suggest you rewrite it as follows:
> When you write an article, you are the copyright holder; you
> are free to give away or sell copies, on-paper or on-line
> (e.g., by self-archiving), as you see fit.

Unfortunately, that does not quite cover it. For an author may be
foolish enough to sign a copyright transfer agreement, assigning all
rights to give away or sell his texts, online or on paper, to someone
else, say, a publisher. But that would still not alter the matter of
intellectual property, i.e., authorship. He would still be the author.
And if someone else claimed to have authored it, it would still be a
violation of his rights, even after he had assigned the copyright,
without restrictions, to a publisher.

I am not an expert in this (nor especially interested in it, I might
add), but I believe that it is only if an author puts his text in the
public domain that he loses the intellectual property rights, i.e., he
cannot prosecute someone for plagiarizing it.

(I am not sure about this last matter, and someone may wish to correct me,
but please, let us not side-track the Forum discussion into these esoteric
paths as it
is not what we are concerned about here. We are concerned with GIVEAWAY
texts -- peer-reviewed research articles -- for which their authors
definitely want to retain their authorship (their intellectual
proprietership); but they also want those full-texts to be accessible
online, and fully copiable, for free for all.)

See also:
"PostGutenberg Copyrights and Wrongs for Give-Away Research"

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 Jul 22 2002 - 02:46:31 BST

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