proposed change in copyright transfer policy

Ross Whetten rosswhet at
Thu Sep 24 11:05:22 EST 1992

cohen at (Mark Cohen) writes in 
message <1992Sep24.121444.21020 at>:

In article <1992Sep21.211723.11962 at> rosswhet at
Ross Whetten presented a new copyright agreement for authors and asked:

> Questions to consider:
>  1) Does the copyright transfer policy as it now exists serve to
> impede the broad dissemination of knowledge, by interfering with
> the ability of faculty to use articles from the literature in
> their teaching and research efforts?

:I was under the impression that publishers usually stated that they
:did not prevent an author from using the results and sometimes even
:the same schemes etc in other work. Also many journals do not place
:a restriction on individual copying for educational purposes. Has
:any one ever been taken to court for photocopying one of their own
:articles, or indeed for photocopying any article for educational

My question was directed not to reuse of one's own papers but to use of other 
scientists papers. Una Smith summarized a recent court case in which someone
(the Kinko's chain of copy shops) _was_ taken to court for photocopying articles
for educational purposes, and _lost_. The Copyright Act of 1976 includes a provision
for copying for "fair use", which is taken to mean that each individual has
to do his/her own copying. I am not aware of any instance in which an individual has
been prevented from making copies for him or herself. The real issue for libraries is
whether or not interlibrary loan and document delivery services can begin to compensate
for the shrinking fraction of the overall literature to which any single library can
afford to subscribe. Both of these services (interlibrary loan and document delivery)
are constrained by current interpretation of the Copyright Act.

>  2) Do scientific publishers add sufficient value to articles to
> justify the subscription rates they charge to libraries?

:It might be argued that in gathering together related papers the
:journals do serve a useful function and add value.

The gathering together of related papers is largely carried out by editors and 
peer reviewers who are scientists rather than employees of the publisher (although
in some cases they may be compensated for their work, usually only by commercial 
publishers). With the advent of WAIS and Gopher and similar search packages, the
value of having the literature broken into little chunks for us may be diminishing,
provided that the papers are cataloged online. Online publishing would be another
step in that direction.

[some remarks deleted...]

:In my opinion (NOT that of any organization that I am involved with)
:retention of the copyright by the author is a bad idea. Not of itself
:but for what it may lead to. Retention of copyright implies the
:retention of right to charge for use. It could lead to a situation
:where authors will insist on being paid to publish their articles.
:This is great for the authors, especially the prolific producers of
:good science. It is bad for the rest of us that rely on the literature
:to keep our own science progressing. It would certainly lead to an
:increase in journal costs and a reduction in the available literature.
:It is the first step on the road to "privatization" of knowledge, with
:authors (or their employers the universities) charging for their ideas
:to be disseminated. Some would argue this is no bad thing, personally
:I think it would be a disaster.

:Mark Cohen
:cohen at

It seems highly unlikely to me that a scientist will feel that his/her work is so
wonderful that he/she should receive direct compensation to allow others access
to it. The promotion and tenure review system now in place in most universities
places exactly the opposite pressure on faculty - they will publish even at the
expense of losing their rights in their own work. The basis of science is communication
of one's research results, and I doubt that this is likely to change. The assertion that retention of
copyright by the authors "would certainly lead to an increase in journal costs and
a reduction in the available literature" seems premature to me. Perhaps it is idealistic to 
hope that crass commercialism will not rear its ugly head in the publication of
scientific articles to which the authors retain copyright. Certainly it seems to
be rampant in some portions of the scientific publishing business now. 

Anyone else care to comment on Mark's concerns?

Ross Whetten

More information about the Bioforum mailing list