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News from the open access movement

Friday, March 14, 2008

American Physical Society v. Wikipedia

Physicists slam publishers over Wikipedia ban, New Scientist, March 16, 2008.  (Thanks to Mathias Schindler.)  Excerpt:

Scientists who want to describe their work on Wikipedia should not be forced to give up the kudos of a respected journal. 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.

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....

The authors of the rescinded papers and 38 other physicists are calling for the APS to change its policy.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.

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 says.

Some publishers, such as the UK's Royal Society, have already adopted copyright policies that allow online reproduction.


  • I can't tell from the article exactly what the physicists want to do on Wikipedia.  If they want to describe their theories or results in new words, then no permission from a publisher should be necessary, and no copyright transfer agreement should stop them.  If they want to post large chunks of their published papers verbatim (chunks that exceed fair use), they'll probably run afoul of Wikipedia's rule against original research.  I think I'm missing something, and would appreciate any clarity on what it is.
  • APS allows postprint archiving.  If it allows full-text peer-reviewed manuscripts in OA repositories, why not large chunks on Wikipedia (assuming Wikipedia has no objection)?  Does APS object, or does it merely have to revise its contract language?
  • Nor can I tell exactly what happened at Physical Review Letters.  Is it true that APS "withdrew its offer to publish" the articles just because the authors "asked" for a more liberal license?  (I've never heard of that happening anywhere.)  Or did the APS deny the request for a more liberal license, and stand by its offer to publish under the original terms, leading to an impasse in which the authors withdrew the articles?
  • Related:  Chemists recently had a run-in with Chemical Abstracts Service over the use of proprietary CAS Registry Numbers on Wikipedia.  But after just one week of tussling (March 5-12), CAS changed its position and allowed chemists to use the CAS numbers on Wikipedia.

Update (3/19/08).  Thanks to Mathias Schindler for this piece of the puzzle:  the physicists in question are interested in posting their work to wikis other than Wikipedia, where there are no rules against original scholarship.  For details, see Jonathan Oppenheim's explanation (undated, but last revised March 15).

Update (3/19/08). Also see the short article in Library Journal Academic Newswire.

Update (5/20/08). Also see Robin Peek's article on it in the May issue of Information Today. The article isn't OA at the IT site yet, but there's an OA edition at LinuxInsider.