Copyright FAQ for refereed journal authors

Stevan Harnad harnad at
Tue Oct 12 05:40:32 EST 1999

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1999 11:42:12 +0200 (CEST)
From: Stefano Ghirlanda <stefano at>
To: Stevan Harnad <harnad at>
Cc: cbergst at, forsdyke at, mcneilljd at,
    magnus at, mh.uniespo at, Richard Stallman <rms at>,
    nholland at, pmg at, ravisri at,
    wolfgang.engelmann at, lieb at,
    Ann Okerson <ann.okerson at>,
    Guedon Jean-Claude <guedon at LITTCO.UMontreal.CA>,
    Andrew Odlyzko EJ <amo at>, ginsparg at
Subject: Re: Copyright FAQ for authors


Copyright HOWTO - second draft

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. 


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 of [paper]. I retain the right only to distribute
    it for free for scholarly/scientific or educational purposes,
    in particular, the right to 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 rights.


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, Zoologiska Institutionen, Stockholms Universitet
    Office: D554, Arrheniusv. 14, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Phone: +46 8 164055, Fax: +46 8 167715, Email: stefano at
   Support Free Science, look at:

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