Re: "Authors Re-using Their Own Work"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 1 Aug 2009 22:36:20 +0100

On Sat, 1 Aug 2009, C.Oppenheim wrote:

> Thus, in law, if Dr Jones asks Dr Smith for an electronic copy of
> Dr. Smith's article, and Dr Smith gave away the copyright to Megacorp
> Publishers, then Dr Smith should strictly not supply that copy...
> Stevan and others are of course correct that IN PRACTICE there is little a
> publisher can do to stop this sort of activity, but that doesn't make it
> any
> more legal...

I shall have to rest my case on this issue. If 50 years and millions upon
millions of eprint requests by researcher-users to researcher-authors,
fulfilled, uncontested, is not enough evidence that this is not an issue
of substance, then no amount of evidence will be enough:

    Swales, J. (1988), Language and scientific communication. The case
    of the reprint request. Scientometrics 13: 93~_at_~S101.
    "This paper reports on a study of Reprint Requests (RRs). It is
    estimated that tens of millions of RRs are mailed each year, most
    being triggered by Current Contents..."

If you ask me where this all begins its descent into absurdity, it is in
the notion that any use that is not explicitly mentioned as permissible in
the copyright transfer agreement is eo ipso illegal (for example,
making an audiotape of your own first published novel for your amblyopic

> The law indeed does not distinguish authors works from other works when
> that author has given their rights to the publisher - and rightly so. To
> draw an analogy - if you sell your house, unless you built into the sale
> agreement a clause which allowed you to use that house, you lose all
> rights
> to the use of that house. the fact that you once owned it is neither here
> nor there. The law treats copyright in the same way. the fact that you
> once owned it is irrelevant once you give away the copyright.

The analogy is incoherent: Selling the exclusive right to make and
distribute *photos* of my house is more to the point, for there I remain
the owner of my house, just as I remain the author of my work.

> My view, for what it is worth, is that authors should submit articles only
> to a green or gold publisher and should boycott publishers who don't give
> permissions to self-archive or to forward copies to colleagues on request.
> Easier said than done? In my experience, no, but it may be different in
> other subject domains.

The price, to researchers, of immediate OA, or Almost-OA (via the
eprint request Button) is not, need not, and hence should not be either
(1) having to give up on publishing in their journals of choice or (2)
having to pay to publish.

It's a very good idea for researchers to try to negotiate the formal
retention of the OA self-archiving right in their copyright contracts,
if they wish to do so, and can successfully do so. But doing so is very
definitely not a necessary prerequisite for OA or Almost-OA; nor
for universal immediate-deposit mandates.

Journal choice should be based entirely on the quality and the
appropriateness of the journal, not on the journal's OA policy. But,
if all else if equal, prefer a Green journal. (And, if you've got the
spare cash, by all means go for gold!)

In all cases, however, and in all subject domains, please don't become
the first researcher on the planet foolish enough to balk at fulfilling
an individual reprint or eprint request for your article, for research
purposes, because that has not been explicitly mentioned as permissible
in your copyright contract! (And don't bother asking about -- let alone
trying to formally negotiate! -- that one with your publisher: it's been
a fait accompli for over a half century in all subject domains.)

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat Aug 01 2009 - 23:37:05 BST

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