Re: Copyright FAQ for refereed journal authors

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Wed Oct 13 1999 - 16:33:55 BST

On Wed, 13 Oct 1999, Ann Okerson wrote:

> Yes, there is a misunderstanding and it is a fundamental one re. copyright
> law and ownership. Copyright law says that work is owned by the creator;
> who may transfer the rights or divide them or assign non-exclusive
> rights or whatever... In this situation:
> If an author retains the right to post something on a personal web site or
> a web site of his or her choosing, which is the FAQ's advice (and your
> advice on numerous exchanges), then the author has that right, to be sure.
> That one retained right (while still giving publishers the copyright) does
> not necessarily permit other users in any/all educational or research
> circumstances to come to that site and do anything they need to with the
> work, i.e., copy, download, make multiple copies for a classroom, send to
> colleagues, lists, etc. Under your scenario, those broad rights, except
> as exercised by individuals under fair or personal use, belong to the
> copyright owner: under your scenario that remains publisher.

Dear Ann,

Vouchsafe all authors the right to put their papers up in the sky,
publicly accessible in this way, and the battle is over! There just
isn't anything left to fight for. When the literature is accessible on
everyone's screens, everywhere, the secondary, papyrocentric activities
you are worrying about here simply become supererogatory.

> Further: Your own web site may (and should) say that you give such wide
> distribution rights to any and all -- BUT unless your agreement with the
> publisher also covers any/all educational & research downstream copying
> and reproduction, the rest of us who want to use or copy that material may
> find themselves in a dicey position. I.e., your proposed simple agreement
> doesn't cover permission for all the downstream uses and I am sure that
> you also want to grant those.

Do me a favour: When you assigning my papers for class use, tell them to
just find them on the Web. Leave the rest to nature...

> My original message didn't intend to say that the FAQ way was wrong --
> it's not and it's a GREAT IDEA. I did mean to say that it is still and I
> asked if you would consider giving your readers a second option:
> licensing the publisher. Some authors are already doing this and some
> publishers are already accepting it. It does take care of the downstream
> situation very nicely provided that the "self-archive" page then goes on
> to articulate the permission to use widely.

There is no downstream problem, and there is no need to make our
objective one bit more complicated or elaborate than self-archiving. (I
have to point out that the revolution quietly took place and was won in
the LANL archive without even saying the word "copyright" once! They
just went ahead and self-archived, and the rest is history.)

> What this is about is choices -- let's let authors know what their
> choices are and what they will achieve -- and then the authors can
> decide. Don't limit them to one choice.

It is indeed about choices, and self-archiving vouchsafes them all; the
anachronistic, legalistic and Procrustean compulsion to first
reformulate the situation within an obsolete old framework that is not
equipped to accommodate it leads, at best, only to an Escher Drawing,
and worst, to Zeno's Paralysis, eternally pondering the ramifications
of the taking of that first fateful step. Thank goodness the physicists
lost no time with that, took the step, and showed us all the way....

Chrs, S

PS Pity this isn't going into September-Forum, so it can make it into
the book and head similar worries off at the pass...

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

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