Proposed change in copyright transfer practice (> 250 lines)

Mark Cohen cohen at
Thu Sep 24 07:14:44 EST 1992

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

>  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.

>  3) Would the money now spent on subscriptions to paper journals
> be better spent  on building the infrastructure necessary for
> electronic publishing of scientific papers?

It might be except for the fact that no saving on journal subscription
would be large enough to cover any serious infrastructure development.
Reducing subscription costs to aid development would be a political
rather than practical solution.

>  4) How can the archival role of the library be fulfilled in the
> electronic arena

Probably in much the same way as a library fulfills an archival role at
present. That is more efficiently than if every individual who used the
library was to do their own archiving, but not as efficiently as those
same individuals would wish.

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

PS: If this repeats comments I made in an earlier posting, sorry.
The earlier article I posted never made it back to my own news reader
so I assume it died.

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