Re: The Urgent Need to Plan a Stable Transition

From: Mark Doyle <doyle_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Fri, 4 Sep 1998 17:24:34 -0400


On Fri, 4 Sep 1998, Arthur Smith wrote:

> So I find myself in the unexpected position of agreeing somewhat more with
> Bloom (who I've argued with in the past) than Blume (who I work for). Such
> is life...

I have the fortune of being in the reverse position. But I think Arthur
agrees with the APS's current approach of being a benevolent copyright owner
-- we don't restrict authors from circulating their work on e-print servers
and homepages, we certainly don't embargo scientific discourse, and it is
quite rare that we turn down a request to reprint an article or figure or
whatever. So the differences between me, Arthur, and Blume are smaller than
one might think.

There are two approaches to copyright: The first is that the author cedes
it to someone else who can then turn around an immediately grant back to the
author many rights (as the APS currently does). The other is for the author
to retain the copyright and just turn over a limited portion of the rights
to a publisher (as argued in the Science article). I tend to agree with the
latter point of view, but in practice for the APS and its authors there has
been little difference as we live in the middle ground with authors getting
back most of the rights they want. Of course, there are many other science
publishers where there is a large difference and since not all
copyright-holding publishers are what I would call benevolent, I think there
is more to be gained from letting authors hold copyrights, than from giving
it to publishers.

> As Floyd Bloom points out, there are two possible clear intellectual owners
> of a scholarly work; the author who writes it (or the author's employer)
> and the editor (employed by a journal, owned by a publisher) who evaluates,
> places, and in many cases helps shape it. The contributions of both are
> inextricably intertwined in the final product. The publisher spends
> up to $1000 on the editing process for each scholarly article published -
> this is in many cases more than the author has spent in time on the actual
> article, although the research reported in the article could have cost
> tens, hundreds, or thousands of times more. Ideally both publisher
> and author (or author's employer) should share in copyright ownership -
> is this possible, and would this be a useful middle ground?

I don't agree with the thrust of this. I think the main point is that if a
license to publish allows a publisher to recover the costs from the
publishing of the article (and even, gasp, profit from it), why should a
publisher have rights beyond that, especially if they are used to restrict
the free flow of scholarly discourse? And if the future does bring about the
a new economic model in which it is the author who covers the costs of
peer-review, then the publisher has even less reason to control the
flow of information.

> Right now, either through current schemes or the proposal under discussion,
> sharing is done by ownership on one side and licensing without ownership on
> the other. The fact that the license in the proposal is nonexclusive is
> potentially very damaging to the publishers' rights. Is it a revocable
> license? Could publishers be forced to pay authors for continued use of a
> license? (Oops that would make scientific authors paid for their words...)

It is important (and the article says this, no doubt because of Blume) that
publishers should have a license sufficient to create future new products
from the articles (perhaps not even envisioned at the time of publication)
and to provide information about the article, or even the article itself, to
third parties (even for a charge - I have in mind digital libraries that
would like to index our SGML so that it can be searched with hits linking
back to the online journals). But there is no harm in this, as these
products will enhance access to the author's work and the costs for doing
this will be recouped from the product itself, not by depriving the author
of any earnings.

Mark Doyle
APS Research and Development
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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