Re: Copyright FAQ for refereed journal authors

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Wed Oct 13 1999 - 13:57:47 BST


I'm afraid there is still a misunderstanding. The proposal is NOT to
withhold the publisher's write to archive one's paper online. They get
that right too, along with the print rights, to sell till (as you put
it) "the cows come home."

The ONLY thing the author reserves is the right to SELF-archive it
publicly online, for free for all. That is all there is to it. And I am
sure that if you work through the logic of the two options below, you
will see that EVERYTHING is covered by that, and that it asks LESS of
the publisher than a detailed licensing agreement.

Keep it short: "You get it all -- all rights to sell or lease, in paper
or online -- but I keep the right to give it away online, for free for

I've now re-worded version of the FAQ: Formerly it read:

    I hereby transfer to [publisher or journal] all rights to sell or
    lease the text of [paper]. I retain the right only to distribute it
    for free for scholarly/scientific or educational purposes, in
    particular, the right to archive it publicly online on the Web.

It may have been the ambiguity of the place-holder "paper" that misled
you. It should have just read "paper-title":

    I hereby transfer to [publisher or journal] all rights to sell or
    lease the text (paper and online) of [paper-title]. I retain only
    right to distribute it for free for scholarly/scientific or
    educational purposes, in particular, the right to self-archive it
    publicly online on the Web.

On Tue, 12 Oct 1999, Ann Okerson wrote:

> Hi: Just to clear up semantics, I refer to all publishers who sell their
> wares as "commercial" with the further distinction that some are
> for-profit (i.e., make money for shareholders or owners); others are
> not-for-profit (tax exempt society or university presses who reinvest
> the income into their programs rather than to make $$$).

I understand that. But the issue is not commercial vs. noncommercial
publishers, but for-fee vs. for-free.

> That's not my main point, though, in saying that you ought to think
> hard about the "most effective strategy." Contrary to what you say, I
> believe that your "self-archiving" is very threatening. Let me review:

I have thought hard, and can't help concluding that it is logically
impossible that asking for LESS (i.e., just the online self-archiving
rights) should be more threatening than asking for MORE.

> Option 1: License publishers, give them broad rights to distribute as
> they wish and need to. Many publishers will now accept a broad license
> from authors -- a license for authors to give publishers rights to do
> whatever they need to do to publish their journals -- while leaving with
> the author the ownership (which gives the author the rights to do anything
> he or she chooses, which obviously includes "self-archiving" or archiving
> on a organized university or subject or preprint server, or archiving
> in any way the author chooses!

This is semantics. Call it what you will, if I transfer or license, or
whatever, ALL rights to SELL or LEASE my text, paper or online, for a
FEE, while I retain only the right to give it away (online -- which
covers all the bases anyway) for FREE, then this is exactly the
what our FAQ proposes.

> Option 2: Transfer all copyright to publishers save for the right to
> archive a version on the web.

Incorrect! The publisher is free to archive it on the web, for free or
for fee. The only point is that *I" retain the right to do so too (and
for free only).

> Few if any publishers would agree to this severe limitation.

Anyone who balks at the above (as clarified by me) is eo ipso balking at
the rest of any licensing agreement too. If they would begrudge less,
then they would a fortiori begrudge more...

> In fact, just about all scientific publishers are now
> making their articles available via the WWW through either their own
> archives and interfaces or through archives and interfaces of third party
> aggregators, or both.

They are welcome to do so, and with any add-on enhancements that they
feel may help it sell. I just want to retain the right to make my own
vanilla (or personally enhanced) version available for free for all

> To say to them that the author reserves the rights
> to e-archive will assure that such an author will NOT get their work
> published by the publisher of choice (whether for or not for profit).

Not the "rights" (plural) to e-erchive: the RIGHT (singular) to
SELF-archive: that is a right only an author can have, being the
"self" in question.

But it contains in its heart, as a logical matter, everything we want.
For if I can self-archive my paper for free, anyone can get it for free;
and if I self-archive it online, anyone can get it on paper by simply
printing it off!

> It's that simple. I mean, if you were a publisher and someone said to
> you, sure, you can produce the print till the cows come home but I am the
> e-archive holder -- and if you knew that the future of all formal
> scientific communications was inevtiably electronic -- would you agree to
> such a thing???

But no such things is being proposed, as I hope is now evident.

> **NOTE that What I am proposing works already. Why not take advantage of
> that to secure to the author *all* the rights he or she could possibly
> want, while giving the publisher all the rights he needs? And note
> that retaining these rights does not obligate the author to do anything
> the author does not choose to do.

Yes, in particular, anyone who agreed to a stronge licensing agreement
would, in particular, also get online self-archiving rights. But since
the latter is all that is wanted or needed, why complicate things, and
make them potentially more threatening, misunderstandable, etc.? Just
reserve online self-archiving rights (and the rest will take care of

> If I have misunderstood what the FAQ proposes, then it probably ought
> to be clarified, as others could easily misunderstand as well.

I hope the clarification I have added fixes the ambiguity that the word
"paper" might inadvertently have introduced.


Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of "Freeing the
Refereed Journal Literature Through Online Self-Archiving" is available
at the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99):

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