Re: Article theft and authorship certification

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2000 15:08:27 +0100

On Thu, 10 Aug 2000, Franck Ramus wrote:

> many authors are still reluctant to put their papers on online
> archives, and the most common reason they put forward is the fear that
> their work be stolen and published by someone else. I know that Stevan
> has done a lot in this forum and elsewhere to dismiss these fears, yet
> more seems to be needed to convince everybody.

> Could archives be used as a certification that i have uploaded an
> article at a certain date? obviously, cogprints does provide such
> information. if someone were to steal my work and publish it in his own
> name, I could always appeal to the editor of the journal and "prove"
> that the same content was archived on cogprints before the plagia was
> submitted. would that work? would archive owners be willing to
> cooperate on such matters? or does the date (or identity) appearing on
> cogprints have no formal/legal value whatsoever?

There are indeed powerful new ways of authenticating texts and dates in
a digital archive. I hope my colleague, Adrian Pickering, will reply,
describing his system, which CogPrints and Eprints may be implementing.

But let me point out that at this time, priority and plagiarism are not
the real problems, and I doubt they are what is delaying the inevitable
era of self-archiving. (In context: getting people to read and cite our
work is already such a problem that it is hard to imagine that there is
much of a market for stealing it!)


I've seen Franck's site and like it, but would like to make one
strategic suggestion: The title, which will cause more harm than good,
should be changed. Yes, at some level, (some) publisher "greed" plays
(some) role in holding the literature to access-tolls, but that is
neither the whole story nor will it be productive to put a spotlight on

The current status quo with refereed journals is caused more by
Gutenberg (a good guy) than anything else. Gutenberg gave rise to the
S/L/P toll-barrier edifice, because of print's economics and
technology. And that's still the right edifice, and necessary, for
non-give-away work (such as books); but it is no longer right (nor
necessary, nor even justifiable) for give-away work in the PostGutenberg
(online) era.

The real villain is hence everyone's (not just publishers' but authors',
libraries', institutions', referees', editors') failure to understand
the changes that have been made possible (and necessary) by the
PostGutenberg era.

If you point the finger at publishers (especially the most expensive
ones, like Elsevier), you imply that they are the villains, and that
any good guy would lower prices, or drop prices altogether. But they
are not villains, and no one would lower or drop prices unless they HAD

That is why author self-archiving is crucial: Necessity is the Mother of
Invention. Once the literature has been freed de facto by its authors,
the publishers will restructure. They will not restructure under
vilification. And people will not self-archive because publishers
are vilified: They will self-archive once they realize it is in their
own interests, that it is sufficient in itself to free the journal
literature, and that it is perfectly legal.

If I were you, Franck, I would stress that, and not publisher "greed."
(Scholarly Publishers, after all, are our allies: They could have been
publishing broad-spectrum pot-boilers instead of learned research!)

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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