Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Publisher groups criticize attempts to help authors retain more rights

STM/PSP/ALPSP Statement on journal publishing agreements and copyright agreement “addenda”, a new statement from STM, PSP, and ALPSP, March 2008.  Excerpt:

Our respective trade associations, representing the global community of scholarly publishers, support open dialogue and informed communication on the use of published material. Putting these principles into practice, we have engaged in discussions with the academic community and worked within our own community to encourage best practices in recognition of the needs of authors and their institutions.

In a recent white paper entitled Author and Publisher Rights For Academic Use: An Appropriate Balance we set out our views that:

  • Academic research authors and their institutions should be able to use and post the content that such authors and institutions themselves provide (most publishers already provide for this) for internal institutional non-commercial research and education purposes; while
  • Publishers should be able to determine when and how the official publication occurs (in the journal or online) and to derive the revenue benefit from its publication and posting.

Recent statements, recommendations and papers published by a number of organizations take the rhetorical position that authors of journal articles will not be able to use their papers for educational or scholarly purposes if they sign standard publisher journal agreements. The suggestion is made that authors of journal articles should attempt to amend standard publishing agreements to obtain greater usage and scholarly rights for themselves and their institutions.

What these suggestions omit is that, under existing journal publishing agreements, authors already have many of the rights sought in copyright addenda. Standard journal agreements typically allow authors:

  • To use their published paper in their own teaching and generally within their institution for educational purposes
  • To send copies to their research colleagues
  • To re-use portions of their paper in further works or book chapters, and
  • To post some version of the paper on a pre-print server, their Institutional Repository or a personal web site (though sometimes not for the weekly news-oriented science or medical magazines, for public health and similar reasons)....

All of these activities are supported by publishers and are made possible by grants of copyright or publishing rights. The grant of these rights provides the legal incentives necessary for publishers to undertake the investments needed to disseminate “the minutes of science” worldwide and to maintain the integrity of the scientific record. The integrity of intellectual property is an essential criterion for the advancement of science as well as for innovation and creative activity....


  • First, the publishers are right to point out that many journals already allow author-initiated self-archiving and other kinds of scholarly re-use.  I point this out myself whenever it comes up.  For example, as of today, SHERPA reports that 56% of surveyed publishers allow postprint archiving, and 67% allow either preprint archiving, postprint archiving, or both.
  • However, the new document seems to suggest that funders and universities are wrong to take steps to secure permissions for OA --for example, as new policies at the NIH and Harvard do by asking grantees and faculty to retain certain rights rather than transfer full copyright to publishers. 
  • That suggestion or criticism just doesn't follow.  First, these funders and universities are well aware of the fact that some publishers already provide the needed permissions.  The problem in a nutshell is that some publishers do and some don't.  A related problem is that many who do provide permission put harmful restrictions on it, for example, requiring fees or embargoes or attempting to limit use to the author's own institution.  Finally, all publishers who provide permission are in a position to rescind their permission at a moment's notice.  As I argued in SOAN this month,

    If you had to drive across a friendly border every day to get to work, and knew that two-thirds of the time you would be waved through, it would still make good sense to carry your passport.  Likewise, Harvard's permission mandate makes good sense precisely because Harvard wants OA for all of its research output, not just for the fraction for which publishers are already granting permission.

  • The STM, PSP, and ALPSP assert that "all" publisher programs and experiments with free online access are based on "grants of copyright".  If they mean an unqualified grant of copyright, in which authors retain no rights, then it's untrue.  It's even inconsistent with their own acknowledgment that many publishers permit author-initiated self-archiving.  If they mean a qualified grant of copyright, in which both publishers and authors have the rights they need, then they beg the question.  Which rights do publishers really need?  Do they need more than the right of first print and electronic publication?  If so, why?  Do they really need to oppose the new permission-based policies of the NIH and Harvard?  If so, why? 
  • They point out that they've already addressed some of these questions in their earlier document, Author and Publisher Rights For Academic Use: An Appropriate Balance (May 2007).  That's true too, and I encourage people to read it along with my detailed critique in SOAN for June 2007.

Update.  Also see the comments by Thinh Nguyen, Counsel for Science Commons.  Excerpt:

...Copyright addenda are needed because most authors don’t have a lawyer, much less a whole legal department or law firm (as most publishers have) to parse the legal language of publication agreements for them. They also don’t have the time to search through journal Web sites for hard-to-find policies and to stay up to date with journal policy changes. By attaching a standard addendum, scholars can ensure that they retain those rights that they expect to have without having to be a lawyer themselves. With more private and public funders mandating open access, scholars need now more than ever greater clarity and transparency....