Re: Copyright: Form, Content, and Prepublication Incarnations

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 3 Dec 2003 18:14:16 +0000

On Wed, 3 Dec 2003, Carole Brault wrote:

> just thought I would share this with you. It may help when trying to
> explain the importance of institutional archiving (or self-archiving) or to
> encourage authors to keep their copyright (or at least the right to post an
> eprint, pre or post...)

Three points to note:

(1) It is important to distinguish researchers' open-access-provision
efforts for their retrospective (legacy) articles from their
open-access-provision efforts for their current and future articles.

(2) As there is virtually no revenue from legacy articles, most publishers
will be obliging about legacy self-archiving.

(3) Yes, for current and future articles it is highly desirable to self-archive
the preprint.

(And it is nice, but absolutely not necessary, for authors to retain their

> Story :
> a professor wants to put on the web a copy of all the articles he has
> published over the years on a certain topic (late 70's onward). A list of
> about 50 articles published in a dozen of Elsevier journals (or in
> now-owned-by-Elsevier journals) is sent to the appropriate dept at Elsevier
> to obtain "permission" to post the material.

This is a highly dysfunctional strategy! Permissions departments consist
of individuals, and usually uninformed ones, always happy to provide an
arbitrary decision on request.

In the case of Elsevier (overall, a progressive publisher insofar as
self-archiving is concerned) the sensible course to take is this:

(1) Read the passages about self-archiving in

(2) Note the following:

    "As an [Elsevier] author, you retain [the following] rights... without
    the need to obtain specific permission from Elsevier:

        [I] "The right to retain a preprint version of the article on a
        public electronic server such as the World Wide Web. Elsevier
        does not require that authors remove from publicly accessible
        servers versions of their paper that differ from the version as
        published by Elsevier. See also our information on electronic
        preprints for a more detailed discussion on these points.

        [II] "The right to publish a different or extended version of
        the paper so long as it is sufficiently new to be considered a
        new work.

        [III] "The right to re-use parts of the paper in other works,
        provided that the new work is not to be published commercially."

(3) Between II and III the author has plenty of leeway to scan in and
digitize his legacy texts (if he did not retain the digital file),
and perhaps even clean them up if he wishes (updating reference lists,
correcting any errors, adding hyperlinks, reformatting, creating
HTML, maybe even XML) and then self-archive them on his institutional
server. This is neither publishing nor commercial.

End of story. It was silly (and just inviting needless noise) to
ask! Yet this is the kind of woolly thinking that is holding up the
optimal and the inevitable (which is also the obvious and the already

> Horror :
> Responses received for 5 of the journals. Permission to post articles on
> our institution web site is granted following these conditions :
> - paying copyright fee of 40 to 100$ US (depending on the journal)
> - hypertext link is included to the Science Direct page of the article
> - and in some cases : example : "the permission is granted for 2
> years only. Please reapply for permission to use the material after Nov 25,
> 2005."

Ask a silly question and you're likely to get a silly answer. Please spare
yourself the "horror" and go about it more sensibly henceforward.

> I still have to verify : did the professor keep the "pre-print" of these
> articles ? I would say NO.

No you don't have to verify it. The author just has to scan in his
old texts and then self-archive them. But do recommend self-archiving
present and future preprints, as not all publishers are as progressive
yet in this regard as Elsevier is.

> Please forgive the style of the message but I have just opened the Elsevier
> letter !!!

Don't write Elsevier any more letters, and Elsevier won't write you any either.

> N.B. I am in the middle a preparing a project of open-archive for our
> institution. This is very timely !

Please think out your open-access self-archiving strategy clearly so as
not to invite years of needless delays.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
    Post discussion to:

Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Wed Dec 03 2003 - 18:14:16 GMT

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