Re: Some initial thoughts on the Brussels Declaration on STM publishing

From: Imre Simon <imre.simon_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2007 20:35:34 -0200

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Dear Jan and everybody else,

Total copyright transfer: quite a price publishers would like to demand,
I would say. Actually, copyright transfer seems to be the price
publishers charge authors because by what I was told last time they also
charge readers quite some price. Indeed, a growing number of scientists,
librarians and university administrators consider those prices outright
abusive. A consequence of the publisher oligopoly which established itself.

But, let us go back to copyright transfer. Reading some of the responses
to your message I conclude that this business of copyright transfer in
Scholarly Communication is a real mess. Some authors seem to understand
one thing, publishers understand something else. Most of the authors,
though, do seem not to understand anything. Neither what a copyright
transfer is, nor what are they transferring and much less how much
should they transfer in an ideal condition.

If copyright transfer is a price, as you say, then it should be
negotiated but my question is who speaks for authors? I suggest that one
of this movement's major shortcomings is that we authors have no
reliable and trusted representatives in this negotiation. Indeed, we
scientists have so many bosses, with so many different and frequently
conflicting interests, that it is not clear at all whether we could even
have such universal representatives or how to materialize them.

The result is that some authors negotiate quite successfully, like
Gudon, Willinsky, Benkler or Lessig. Kudos to them!! Kudos, indeed!!
But their efforts are almost lost, they are a drop in the sea and those
negotiations do not seem to result in a mass following. A pity. Some
others negotiate different terms but all in all we scientists do not
(yet) have a standard licensing policy or a few standard policies. That
is too bad, indeed. The end result is that we do end up in the hands of
the major publishers and they can even allow themselves to appease us
with small gifts like consenting to our self-archiving on a completely
unilateral and case to case, publisher to publisher basis. Even though
this is much better than nothing, it is just not good enough! These
unilateral concessions (gifts) to self-archive can be withdrawn or
modified at any moment. And since at least some publishers seem to look
at this as simple appeasing I do not have much doubt that in the
unlikely event of self-archiving really taking off they will most likely
modify the terms of their self-archiving gift policies and we, authors,
  will be completely defenseless because we do not have any solid legal
basis for our self-archiving practices.

I admit that this is a kind of a worst case scenario but reasoning on
the basis of what we have seen in the Open Access movement so far and
what we have witnessed in other much more advanced battles, like the
free software battles, the spectrum battles, the copyright battles, etc.
we can ready ourselves for the Open Access battles as well. And we much
better enter these battles with a solid legal basis, on which we can
hope to rely. That's all.

I suggest that people read Chapter 11 of Benkler's book: "The Wealth of
Networks", to have a better
idea of "The Battle Over the Institutional Ecology of the Digital
Environment". That chapter bears testimony to the unbelievable extent to
which the incumbents of the Industrial Information Economy (our
publishers in this case) are prepared to defend their interests.

I sure think that it would be wise to avoid these worst case scenarios
but I believe that the best way to try to avoid them is to build a solid
legal basis for our authoring practices. We much better reckon that we
have to negotiate a good and solid peace *now* and find our instruments
to do so instead of advancing steps in the direction of a risky,
complicated war, which is the direction we are heading right now in my
(pessimistic) appraisal.

To finish, I would like to make mine Jan's closing remarks:

> Open access is the inevitable future, and it is worth working on a
> truly robust and sustainable way to achieve it.


Imre Simon

Jan Velterop wrote:

> Copyright is widely misunderstood. Particularly the role of copyright
> in science publishing. First of all, there is this idea that some
> journals and publishers don't require copyright transfer, but 'just'
> the exclusive dissemination and exploitation rights. To all practical
> intents and purposes, that is exactly the same, and 'copyright' is
> just shorthand for 'exclusive dissemination and exploitation rights'!
> So if it helps to drop the word 'copyright' then that should, and
> easily can, be done.
> Secondly, transfer of exclusive rights to a publisher is a form of
> 'payment'. Payment for the services of a publisher. The publisher
> subsequently uses these exclusive rights to sell subscriptions and
> licences in order to recoup his costs, in a rather roundabout way.
> This form of payment ^ as opposed to cash ^ has advantages and
> disadvantages. The advantage is seemingly for the author, who
> (mistakenly) has the feeling that he doesn't have to pay for the
> services of formal publication of his article, but who seldom realises
> why he is asked to transfer exclusive rights. The disadvantage is that
> payment in the form of exclusive rights limits access, because it
> needs a subscription/licence model to convert this form of 'payment'
> into money. And subscriptions/licences are by definition restrictive
> in terms of dissemination. Article fee supported open access
> publishing, where the transfer of exclusive rights is replaced by the
> transfer of money, consequently doesn't have the need for
> subscriptions and can therefore abolish all restrictions on
> dissemination.
> Stevan Harnad c.s. will argue that none of this matters, because
> there is 'green', meaning that whatever 'exclusive' rights have been
> transferred, authors can still disseminate their articles via
> self-archiving in open repositories. In that model, having transferred
> 'exclusive' rights is meaningless, and that implies that the 'payment'
> that exclusive rights transfer actually is, has become worthless. In
> mandates with embargos, the 'payment' may not be completely worthless
> (depending on the length of the embargo) but is at least severely
> devalued.
> I am a great fan of open access, but not a great fan of 'green'.
> 'Green' is a kind of appeasement by publishers (some of who, it must
> be said, themselves didn't ^ sometimes still don't ^ realise the
> 'payment' nature of exclusive rights transfer). Appeasement is often
> regretted with hindsight. Instead of allowing the nature of exclusive
> rights transfer to be compromised, publishers should much earlier have
> offered authors the choice of payment ^ either transfer of exclusive
> rights, or cash. The appeasement, the 'green', now acts as a hurdle to
> structural open access, perhaps even an impediment.
> Harnadian orthodoxy will dismiss this. It holds that subscription
> journals will survive, that they will be paid for by librarians even
> if the content is freely disseminated in parallel via open
> repositories, and that it doesn't matter anyway (the guru is
> tentatively beginning to admit that large scale uptake of
> self-archiving, for instance as the result of mandates, may indeed
> destroy journals) because a new order will only come about after the
> complete destruction of the old order. After all, morphing the old
> order into the new, without complete destruction, entails a cost in
> terms of money, which "isn't there", and anyway, the cost that comes
> with complete destruction of the old order is preferred to spending
> money on any transition, in that school of thought.
> I doubt that a complete wipe-out will come. But there are quite a
> large number of vulnerable journals and a partial wipe-out as a result
> of mandated self-archiving is entirely plausible. Although there seems
> to be a myth that journals are very, even extremely, profitable, the
> fact is that a great many journals are not profitable or
> 'surplus-able' (in not-for-profit parlance). In my estimate it is the
> majority. Within the portfolio of larger publishers these journals are
> often absorbed and cross-subsidised by the journals that are
> profitable. Smaller (e.g. society-) publishers cannot do that.
> Marginal journals do not have to suffer a lot of subscription loss
> before they go under. Some of these, especially society ones, will be
> 'salvaged' by being given the opportunity to shelter under the
> umbrella of the portfolio of one of the larger independent publishers.
> Others will just perish if they lose subscriptions. They could of
> course convert to open access journals with article processing fees,
> but setting those up is no sinecure, and requires a substantial
> financial commitment, as the experience of PLoS and BMC has shown.
> Journals that are run for the love of it, by the commendable voluntary
> efforts of academics, are mostly very small, and are the first to be
> affected, unless, of course, they do not need any income because they
> are crypto-subsidised by the institutions with which their editors are
> affiliated. Such journals have always been there and there are
> probably more now than ever (and some are very good indeed, or so I'm
> told), but to imagine scaling them up to deal with the million plus
> articles per year published as a result of global research efforts
> seems far-fetched, indeed.
> Open access is the inevitable future, and it is worth working on a
> truly robust and sustainable way to achieve it.
> Jan Velterop
Received on Wed Feb 21 2007 - 22:59:33 GMT

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