Re: Evolving Publisher Copyright Policies On Self-Archiving

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2002 19:21:44 +0000

On Mon, 11 Nov 2002 [identity removed] wrote:

> I just read your interesting post on Ann Okerson's licensing list with
> regard to publishers increasingly coming to accept self-archiving.

There is a slight misunderstanding here. The posting was not about
publishers increasingly coming to accept self-archiving. (I don't think
they have any choice about that: It cannot be prevented, on either legal,
ethical, or practical grounds.)

No, what is changing is that publishers are increasingly taking the
responsible and constructive position of FACILITATING self-archiving,
by spelling it out in their copyright transfer agreement that authors
retain the right to self-archive.

It does not surprise me in the least that publishers are taking this
benign position. These are, after all, scholarly publishers, not
trade publishers. They publish research findings, not potboilers. And,
in the end, they have an allegiance to research and researchers too,
and not just to their bottom lines.

> In your
> post you mention that many publishers are granting or conceding this right
> (I don't want to get stuck in the terms here), but you also mention that
> even as they do this, publishers seem to be caught in a paper-centric
> mindset--for example, you note that a private Web site is necessarily a
> public one, which some publishers still don't understand.

Yes, this is silly. But it is clear where it is coming from: We
are accustomed to thinking of publication and distribution in Gutenberg
(papyrocentric) terms: as something that can only be done by a publisher,
for revenue. There is no PostGutenberg mental slot available yet for the
concept of a give-away author giving away his give-away work for free for
all online! So in framing the copyright agreement's language in terms of
"personal websites" versus "public websites" one generates a (harmless)
absurdity. It will pass.

On the other hand, publishers' insistence that no one else should have the
right to SELL copies, or sell access to copies, of the copyrighted work,
whether on-paper or on-line, for a fee (i.e., commercially) is perfectly
legitimate, and can and will be honored; similarly for the insistence that
the full publication details (citation information) accompany all copies.

> What I have been
> ruminating about is what will happen when publishers wake up to this,
> that is, when they begin to understand that the rights that they are
> conceding may not be in their economic interest. This is not a defense
> of the publishers' position. I was simply wondering what your vision is
> of how things will look in 5-10 years.

Publishers already know that self-archiving and open access to the
refereed research literature is not in the best interests of publishers.
This is because there is -- with the advent of the online age only -- a
new and very direct conflict of interest between what is best for the
publishers of refereed research and what is best for the authors of
refereed research (and for their institutions, and for the research itself).

But there is no doubt in anyone's mind about the direction in which this
conflict of interest can and will and must be resolved: The potential
impact of research cannot be held hostage to publishers' old (Gutenberg)
modera operandi and cost-recovery methods. The revolutionary possibilities
opened up for researchers by the online medium cannot be ignored, denied,
or suppressed. What is optimal for researchers -- open access -- is also
inevitable. The only question is: how soon?

You ask about how things will look in 5-10 years: All I can reply is
that achieving open access to all refereed research output has
already been within reach for 5-10 years, through author/institution
self-archiving. Researchers and their institutions have been appallingly
slow in grasping it, but all signs are that they are at last realizing
that this is the way to maximize the visibility, accessibility,
usability, citability and hence the impact of their research output.

So, after a needlessly and unaccountably slow start, I am optimistic.
Publishers sense this too, but I think they are realistic in predicting
that -- since open-access, even though it has been achievable for some time
now, has been so long in coming, and still is not here yet -- there are
unlikely to be any sudden changes any time soon. For even once the entire
refereed research literature (the annual 2,000,000 articles appearing
in the planet's 20,000 refereed journals) is openly accessible online
through author/institution self-archiving, it will still take time for
usage to switch definitively to online-only, time to wean researchers
and their libraries from the last vestiges of paper, and then still more
time to wean them from subscriptions and licenses to the publishers'
online versions -- before they have developed confidence and experience
in relying instead on the open-access version of the very same corpus,
distributed across the planet's institutional Eprint Archives and unified
only by the "glue" of OAI-interoperability.

But there is no need for us to speculate about when publishers
will have to phase out the inessentials, downsize, and make the
transition to the new, open-access cost-recovery model --
which I predict will be a one-time, up-frontm $200-$500 service
charge to the author-institutions, per submitted paper, for peer
review and the certification of its outcome with the journal-name
-- for long
before that time, research and researchers will at last have what is
today still their long overdue due, namely, universal open access to
one another's full research output.

Researchers should ask not what publishers can do for them, and when,
but what they can do for themselves, right now!


Stevan Harnad
Received on Mon Nov 11 2002 - 19:21:44 GMT

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