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Re: [BOAI] re: copyrights and publishers

From: "Prof. Tom Wilson" <t.d.wilson AT>
Date: Tue, 11 Nov 2003 22:29:59 +0000

Threading: [BOAI] re: copyrights and publishers from troymcclure AT
      • This Message

I think the situation is as follows:

1. Copyright is vested in the originator of the material - not with the 

2. That copyright, if retained by the author, protects that author against 
misuse of his/her material by others, in law.

3. The publishers require copyright to be assigned to them so that they may 
make whatever use they deem appropriate, e.g., republication in electronic 
form, without further reference to the original copyright holder. Having 
relinguished copyright, the author would have no protection.

4. I understand, however, that, at least in the UK, there has been no court 
case to determine whether or not the assignment of copyright (which is a 
personal right) to a publisher is valid - as far as I am aware, no publisher 
has taken an author to court for breach of copyright that was originally vested 

in that author.

5. The answer, or at least part of an answer, would seem to be for the author 
to assign copyright for the purposes of publication of that copy of the text 
and to retain rights to all other production in himself.

6. To a degree, publishers are recognizing the uncertainty of their position by 

acknowledging the right of authors to provide an open archive copy of the text, 

and attempts to delay this until n months after publication do not appear to 
work - authors are placing papers on their web sites, regardless of what the 
publisher may want.

7. Inevitably, therefore, open archiving is creeping in by the back door and I 
suspect that it will not be too long before that back door is wide open. I 
accept Harnad's conclusion that open archiving is likely to be the dominant 
mode of open access publishing for this reason - in spite of being the 
publisher of an open access journal :-)

Tom Wilson

Quoting Troy McClure <troymcclure AT>:

> "The craziness lies not so much in the publishers taking whatever 
> advantage they can, since that is why they are in business."
> i agree to the extent that it is of course legitimate for companies to 
> profits. however, in the case of scientific writing those companies make 
> excessive profits (see The market for scientific, technical and medical 
> journals, A statement by the OFT September 2002) by using their legal 
> monopolies (i.e. copyrights). in my view, this is another, big problem 
> is - perhaps not much easier to solve - than the attitude of the 
> community. the prime justification for copyrights rests on the assumption 
> that they are necessary to secure future creation of work by protecting 
> upfront monetary investment necessary for its creation (with the internet, 

> the protected investment is basically the maintainance of the website and 
> the costs for peering; hard to imagine that this investment justifies the 
> closed access system). in the case of scientific writing, copyright 
> legislation - which considerably restricts rights of non-copyright 
> is actually highly counterproductive to the future creation of work simply 

> because the very access to information is extremely restricted, and the 
> creation mechanisms are not driven by monetary interests (look at open 
> source - the gnu protects the rights of the author, but does not protect 
> economic interests which would restrict access; in my view this low degree 

> of protection  - defined as ?restricting rights of non-copyright holders? 
> contributed substantially to the success of open source)
> absent copyright protection for scientific articles, wouldnt publishers be 

> forced to create digital non-reproducable "offline value" (just 
as open 
> source makes profits by services, rather than the traditional exploitation 

> (distribution, reproduction) of digital property itself)? I do not think 
> publishers would go out of business; they already create offline value 
> (peering), their brand name is of considerable value, and there is big 
> potential for advertising revenues. While downsizing might be necessary, I 

> highly doubt established, high quality journals will discontinue 
> given the non-monetary incentives that editors have; i highly doubt any 
> professor is editor for monetary reasons; i.o.w. the cost structure of 
> publishers can be kept very low which means they can easier stay in 
> business). The positive overall impact which open access has on the future 

> development of science is ? in my view ? a legitimate interest to 
> current (high) revenues of publishers.
> For me, there is absolutely no doubt that open access is the future of 
> scholarly communications with all its fundamental and extremely positive 
> changes this will bring about. i think the more interesting question is 
> will this happen. through market forces (open journals), legislators 
> (adjusting the level of investment protection to the creation mechanisms) 
> the attitude of the academic community (after all, suppliers (authors) and 

> costumers (libraries) of the (today) easily SUBSTITUTABLE intermediary 
> "publisher" have the same interests and tremendous market 
> always perhaps the best (i.e. fastest) results can be achieved by a 
> of all three forces?
> _________________________________________________________________
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Professor T.D. Wilson, PhD
Publisher/Editor in Chief
Information Research
University of Sheffield
Sheffield S10 2TN,  UK
e-mail: t.d.wilson AT
Web site:

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