Open Archiving: What are researchers willing to do?

Stevan Harnad harnad at
Wed Nov 17 07:15:02 EST 1999

On Tue, 16 Nov 1999, Marvin Margoshes wrote:

sh> It is an awakening to what is actually at stake here for research and
sh> researchers, and how fundamentally different the copyright function is
sh> for the fee/royalty-based literature, for which it was intended, as
sh> opposed to the give-away literature that is at issue here: the refereed
sh> journal literature.

mm> You base your argument on a distinction; does copyright law make that
mm> distinction?  Not to my knowledge, but I'm willing to learn.

I base it on a distinction that has only become relevant in the
PostGutenberg era of online self-archiving of give-away work by its own

Older Copyright agreements are not explicit about Web self-archiving by
the author, hence are moot. Those newer agreements drafted to include
passages explicitly forbidding Web self-archiving should only be signed
after striking out those passages (which lately include attempts to
make incoherent distinctions between permitted archiving on a "personal
server" and forbidden archiving on a "public server" -- absurd because
all "personal servers" on the Web are public! These distinctions are
based on paper publishing categories that simply have no counterpart on
the Web; hence the mootness of the older agreements).

Here are some excerpts from CogPrints' Copyright FAQ for authors:


  [CogPrints]  CogPrints: Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

CogPrints is an author's archive; as such, it has the same relation to an
author's work as the author's home institution does, when that work is
archived on the home server (as all CogPrints authors are strongly advised
to do, in addition to archiving it in CogPrints).

It is accordingly the author who must adopt a policy about copyright. We can
only offer some generic advice:

  1. A distinction should be made between the unrefereed preprint and the
     refereed, edited, published reprint. No copyright agreement has any
     bearing on the unrefereed preprint, which can be publicly archived
     online before the refereeing even takes place.

     Hence the rest of the points below pertain only to the refereed,
     edited, published reprint. Preprints can be archived without reference
     to any copyright agreement or publisher.

     (Note, however, that a minority of journals have indicated that they
     will not referee papers that have been publicly archived online. It is
     not clear whether any attempt has been made to enforce such a policy --
     or indeed whether it would be possible to enforce it at all -- as so
     many authors are archiving their papers publicly on their home servers.

  2. If you have not signed a copyright transfer statement that cedes your
     right to publicly archive your own paper online for free, it is not
     clear that there is any problem, but if you wish to confirm this, you
     should inform your publisher that you wish to do so, and request
     confirmation that there is no legal obstacle. Some journals (such as
     all those published by the American Physical Society) explicitly permit
     public online archiving of the final published draft by the author;
     others attempt to specifically forbid it in their copyright agreements.

     Note that any copyright agreement pertains only to the final, refereed,
     edited draft that appeared or will appear in print. It does not and
     cannot cover pre-refereeing preprints or indeed any penultimate draft
     that preceded the final one. (The nature and size of the requisite
     difference between the two is to all intents and purposes arbitrary.)

  3. If you have signed a copyright transfer agreement ceding your right to
     publicly archive your own paper online for free, you should contact
     your publisher indicating that you wish to do so; matters are evolving
     rapidly in this area and publishers may well be coming around to more
     justifiable and enforceable policies.

  4. You should not sign any more such agreements. They are completely
     unjustified, and energetic steps are being taken to put an end to them
     as soon as possible. See the current copyright discussions and
     proposals in Science, Nature, American Scientist, and Chronicle of
     Higher Education, respectively:


Stefano Ghirlanda of Stockholms Universitet offers the following advice.

If you would like to ask a journal to modify their copyright policy so that
you and possibly others can post your articles on the web, you might find
the following suggestions helpful.

Take the initiative

     Some journals will accept a copyright agreement different from their
     standard one if asked to, but will not offer a liberal agreement from
     the beginning. We know of several journals that will leave
     non-commerical distribution of a paper unrestricted if the author asks
     for it.

     Thus, when you get the copyright-transfer form from a journal, just
     send back a different, already signed one with a science-friendly
     policy. You can model your requests after the American Physical
     Society's (APS) policy, which can be found at:

     A possible sample text is:

         I hereby transfer to [publisher or journal] all rights to sell or
         lease the text (paper and online) of [paper-title]. I retain only
         the right to distribute it for free for scholarly/scientific or
         educational purposes, in particular, the right to self-archive it
         publicly online on the Web.

     More precise wording (legally speaking) can be found in the APS policy
     above. It should be clear that only non-commerical distribution will be
     unrestricted, and that the publisher would retain all commerical

In case of a "no"

     If your agreement is declined by the journal, it may prove effective to
     express concern that a too restrictive copyright policy may hinder the
     free circulation of scientific ideas. Say also that people's
     willingness to submit to this or that journal may in the future be
     influenced by their copyright policies.

     Some journals are owned by scientific associations, but the copyright
     is often managed by a commercial publisher. Try to go through the
     association first, especially if you are or have been a member.


     You can consider your time well spent even when the publisher fails to
     accept your conditions. It is important that the journals know what an
     author considers an important precondition for submission.

Stefano Ghirlanda Stockholms Universitet stefano at
Campaign for the Freedom of Distribution of Scientific Work:

Bachrach S. et al. (1998) Intellectual Property: Who Should Own Scientific
Papers? Science 281 (5382): 1459-1460. September 4 1998.


Below is the American Physical Society's Copyright form. As you will see, it
does not rule out public archiving of the unrefereed preprint or the
refereed reprint.

More information about the Jrnlnote mailing list