The American Physical Society Is Not The Culprit: We Are

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2008 14:05:24 -0400

    The American Physical Society Is Not The Culprit: We Are

      SUMMARY: A journal's copyright transfer agreement is too
      restrictive only if it tries to disallow author
      self-archiving of the accepted, refereed final draft (the
      "postprint"), free for all on the Web, where any user
      webwide can access, read, download, print-out, store, and
      data-mine that full-text for any research purpose
      whatsoever. The American Physical Society (APS) was
      always the most progressive of the established
      subscription-based publishers, and the very first to
      adopt a Green policy on author OA self-archiving.
      Today, 62% of journals are Green, but only about 15% of
      articles are being self-archived. Hence the first and
      foremost priority today is to get all authors
      self-archiving and all journals Green. Institutional and
      funder OA self-archiving mandates can and will ensure
      that both these things come to pass. This is not the time
      to be pursuing still more rights from Green publishers,
      particularly the most progressive one of all, APS. It's
      the time to self-archive and mandate self-archiving. The
      rest will take care of itself, but not if we keep chasing
      after what we don't needinstead of grasping what is
      already within our reach.


      "Physicists slam publishers over Wikipedia ban" 
      New Scientist 16 March 2008

I have some doubts about the accuracy of this New Scientist piece.
What exactly is it that the American Physical Society (APS) is being
alleged to be refusing to do?

The APS is the first publisher that endorsed OA self-archiving. It is
the greenest of green publishers. APS authors are encouraged to post
their unrefereed preprints as well as their refereed postprints, free
for all, on the web.

So what exactly is the fuss about?
      "Scientists who want to describe their work on Wikipedia
      should not be forced to give up the kudos of a respected

"Describe" their work on Wikipedia? What does that mean? Of course
they can describe their work (published or unpublished) on Wikipedia,
or anywhere else.

And what has that to do with giving up the kudos of a respected

Does this passage really mean to say "post the author's version to
Wikipedia verbatim?" APS does not mind, but Wikipedia minds, because
Wikipedia does not allow the posting of copyrighted work to

Solution: Revise the text, so it's no longer the verbatim original
but a new work the author has written, based on his original work.
That can be posted to Wikipedia (but may soon be unrecognizably
transformed -- for better or worse -- by legions of Wikimeddlers,
some informed, some not). It's a good idea to cite the original
canonical APS publication, though, just for the record.

Still nothing to do with APS.
      "So says a group of physicists who are going head-to-head
      with a publisher because it will not allow them to post
      parts of their work to the online encyclopaedia, blogs
      and other forums."

In a (free) online encyclopedia that would provide the author's
original final draft, verbatim, and unalterable by users, there would
be no problem (if the encyclopedia does not insist on copyright
transfer) as long as there is a link to the original publication at
the APS site.

Blogs and Forums (again on condition that the text itself cannot be
bowdlerized by users, or re-sold) will be treated by APS as just
another e-print server.
      "The physicists were upset after the American Physical
      Society withdrew its offer to publish two studies in
      Physical Review Letters because the authors had asked for
      a rights agreement compatible with Wikipedia."

This is now no longer about the right to post and re-post one's own
published APS papers on the Web, it is about satisfying Wikipedia's
copyright policy by going against APS's extremely liberal copyright
policy. I side with APS. Let Wikipedia bend on this one, and let the
text be posted (and then gang-rewritten as everyone sees fit). I see
no reason why APS should have to alter its already sufficiently
liberal policy to suit Wikipedia.
      "The APS asks scientists to transfer their copyright to
      the society before they can publish in an APS journal.
      This prevents scientists contributing illustrations or
      other "derivative works" of their papers to many websites
      without explicit permission."

APS already says authors can post their entire work just about
anywhere on the web without explicit permission. And they can rewrite
and republish their work too. This fuss is about formality, not
      "The authors of the rescinded papers and 38 other
      physicists are calling for the APS to change its policy.
      'It is unreasonable and completely at odds with the
      practice in the field. Scientists want as broad an
      audience for their papers as possible,' says Bill Unruh
      at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver,
      Canada, who has been lobbying separately against strict
      copyright rules."

If you're going to lobby against strict copyright rules, pick any of
the Gray, or even the Pale-Green publishers in Romeo. But leave the
Green ones like APS alone until all publishers are at least as green
as they are.

And if you are going to lobby against copyright rules, make sure it
is about a matter of substance and not just form.
      "'To tell us what we can do with our paper is completely
      at odds with practice in the field' Gene Sprouse,
      editor-in-chief of the APS journals, says the society
      plans to review its copyright policy at a meeting in May.
      'A group of excellent scientists has asked us to consider
      revising our copyright, and we take them seriously,' he

I am certain that the APS will accommodate all requests that are to
the benefit of science, as they always have. I'm not always sure
those who are lobbying for copyright reform really know what they
want (or need) either. I trust them more if they say that they have
made all their papers OA by self-archiving them. If they have not,
yet they are still fussing, then they might be thinking of Disney
re-mixes rather than science.
      "Some publishers, such as the UK's Royal Society, have
      already adopted copyright policies that allow online

The APS has long had a far more liberal OA policy than the Royal
Society, a reluctant late-comer to OA.

There is something being misreported or misunderstood here.

A journal's copyright transfer agreement is only too restrictive if
it tries to disallow author self-archiving of the accepted, refereed
final draft (the "postprint"), free for all on the Web, where any
user webwide can access, read, download, print-out, store, and
data-mine the full-text for any research purpose whatsoever. That is
what is called "Open Access."

Journals that have a policy that formally endorses immediate and
permanent author self-archiving of the postprint are called "Green"
journals. There is a directory of the policies of the 10,000
principal journals regarding OA self-archiving: 62% of them are
Green; 28% are "Pale-Green" (endorsing the self-archiving of
pre-refereeing preprints, but not refereed postprints) and 9% are
Gray (disallowing the self-archiving of either preprints or

The American Physical Society (APS) is fully Green; it is the first
Green publisher and helped set the example for the rest of the Green

If anything needs changing today it's the policy of the 9% of
journals that are Gray and the 28% that are Pale-Green, not the 62%
that are Green.

Once all publishers are Green, and all authors are making their
papers OA by self-archiving them, copyright agreements will come into
phase with the new OA reality, and everything that comes with that
territory. For that to happen, endorsing OA self-archiving is all
that is necessary. There is no need to over-reach and insist on
reforming copyright agreements.

NB: Whenever and wherever an author does succeed in retaining
copyright, or a publisher does agree to just requesting a
non-exclusive license rather than a total copyright transfer, that is
always very welcome and valuable. But it is not necessary at this
time, and over-reaching for it merely makes the task of securing the
real necessity -- which is a Green self-archiving policy -- all the
more difficult. 

In particular, pillorying the APS, which was the earliest and most
progressive of Green publishers, is not only unjust, but weakens the
case against Gray publishers, who will triumphantly point out that
they are justified in not going Green, because the demands of authors
are excessive, unnecessary, and unreasonable, as they are not even
satisfied with Green OA (and most don't even bother to self-archive)!

The problem for the worldwide research community is not the minority
(about 15%, mostly concentrated in computer science and physics) who
are already spontaneously making their articles OA by self-archiving
them, but the vast majority (85%, across all disciplines, including
even some areas of physics) who are not.

Moreover, there is something special about the longstanding practice
in some parts of physics of posting and sharing unrefereed preprints:
That practice is definitely not for all fields. Hence the universally
generalizable component of the physicists' practice is the OA
self-archiving of the refereed postprint. Posting one's unrefereed
preprints will always be a contingent matter, depending on subject
matter and author temperament. (Personally, I'm all for it for my own

There has been a big technical change since the first days of Arxiv.
The online archives or repositories have been made interoperable by
the OAI metadata harvesting protocol. Hence it is no longer necessary
or even desirable to try to create an Arxiv-like central archive for
each field, subfield, and interfield: Each researcher has an
institution. Free software creates an OAI-compliant Institutional
Repository (IR) where the authors in all fields at that institution
can deposit all their papers. The OAI-compliant IRs are all
interoperable (including Arxiv), and can then be searched and
accessed through harvesters such
as OAIster, Citebase, Citeseer orGoogle Scholar. 

Institutional IRs also have the advantage that institutions
(like Harvard) can mandate self-archiving for all their disciplines,
thereby raising the 15% spontaneous (postprint) self-archiving rate
to 100%. Research funders (like NIH) can reinforce institutional OA
self-archiving mandates too. 

The objective fact today is that all physicists, self-archiving or
not, are still submitting their papers for refereeing and publication
in peer-reviewed journals. Nothing whatsoever has changed in that
regard. The only objective difference is that today (1) 15% of all
authors self archive their postprints, and among some physics
communities, (2) most are also self-archiving their preprints.

The OA movement is dedicated to generalizing the former practice (1)
(self-archiving peer-reviewed postprints, so they can be accessed and
used by all potential users, not just those whose institutions happen
to be able to afford to subscribe to the journal in which they were
published) to 100% of researchers, across all disciplines, worldwide.

Radical publishing reform -- like radical copyright reform -- are
another matter, and may or may not eventually follow after we first
have 100% OA. But for now, it is a matter of speculation, whereas
postprint self-archiving is a reachable matter of urgency.

The physicists, from the very outset, had the good sense not to give
it a second thought whether they were self-archiving with or without
their journal's blessing. They just went ahead and did it!

But most researchers in other fields did not; and still don't, even
today, when 62% of journals have given it their official blessing.

That's why self-archiving mandates are needed. (Author surveys have
shown that over 90% of authors, in all fields, would comply, over 80%
of them willingly -- but without a mandate they are simply too busy
to bother -- just as in the case of the "publish or perish" mandate:
if their promotion committees didn't require and reward publishing,
many wouldn't bother to do that either!) 

What is needed now is not to make a campaign of trying to force APS
to change its copyright policy. What is needed now is to generalize
APS's Green OA self-archiving policy to all publishers.

And to generalize the existing 39 university and funder Green OA
(postprint) self-archiving mandates to all universities and funders.

The rest (copyright reform and publishing reform) will then take care
of itself.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Thu Mar 27 2008 - 18:35:32 GMT

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