Re: copyright and open access in biodiversity publishing

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 26 Feb 2005 12:17:02 +0000

On Saturday 29 Febriary 2005, Donat Agosti wrote:

> The following link
> provides access to a lecture I recently presented at the "Biodiversity: Science
> and Governance" (
> meeting in Paris, January 26 to 28, 2005, covering the issue of copyright and
> access to systematics information (systematic = science of the discovery of new
> species and their phylogenetic relationship)
> The image (Fig.1) shows dramatically what 'non-open access' in our
> biodiversity-science does. It is right now a trend that more and more of the
> systematics journals are not open access, but rather the opposite, and thus have
> an adverse effect especially on the conservation of nature.

My own question is this (because it is not clear from what you wrote
earlier below):

(1) How much of the copyrighted biodiversity information is in (1a) refereed
journal articles, (1b) databases, (1c) books?

(2a) For what is in journals, the solution is the standard OA solution:
The author simply self-archives a supplementary draft of the refereed
paper in his own institutional OA Archive. There is no copyright problem.
92% of journals give it the green light, and for the other 8% there
is the solution of self-archiving the preprints plus corrections.

    (Of the 13 journals with "systematic" in their titles that I found
    in the Eprints Directory of Journal Self-Archiving policies, 12/13
    were full (postprint) green and the last was pale (preprint) green!: .)

Hence if an author publishes in a Systematics journal that has given him
the green light to self-archive, yet the author doesn't bother to do the
few keystrokes it takes to self-archive, *don't blame the publisher* for
the fact that we lack open access to that article or those biodiversity
data! We must blame *ourselves* for that!

(2b) For what is in databases, it seems to me that it is again the authors
who are entirely at fault: There is no reason they should be putting
their data *only* into copyrighted databases. On the assumption that
these researchers seek and get no revenue from their data (do they?), here
too, the solution is to *also* self-archive it. Their institutional OA
archives are just as capable of archiving data as of archiving papers,
and both will be OAI-interoperable and harvestable, etc.

    (There will be a special demonstration of data self-archiving
    at the Berlin-3 Open Access meeting in Southampton next week: "Open Access to Scientific
    Data and Publications. A tour of the robotic chemistry labs at
    the University main campus, with a brief presentation on the data
    dimension of Open Access.")

(2c) For what is in chapters contributed to edited books (for which
chapter-authors likewise seek and expect no revenue) the solution is
similar to that for journal articles, except that the author needs
to be more insistent about self-archiving in signing the copyright

(3) For full-length books by authors, I have to plead nolo contendere. Is
the author at "fault" for seeking royalty revenue from his research
writing? Who is to say? Each of us makes a decision from his own
conscience, and all we can do is try to persuade authors that since these
monographs are hardly best-seller material, their chances of revenue
are negligible compared to the loss of research usage and impact that
results from putting a price-tag on access.

(4) As to trying to persuade database providers to give away their
products: I am sceptical. Where producing it has required an investment,
and one that was made for the sake of eventual royalty revenue,
they will have no more interest in giving away their product than
any other producer of a product or service for sale. It is only the
original data-provider (if he seeks no revenue) who can change this,
by providing a free supplementary version. We are tilting at windmills
if we hitch the fate of OA to the magnanimity of either publishers or
database providers. Our trump-card is the fact that we researchers are the
original data-providers, and we have no revenue interests.

Stevan Harnad

On Tue, 22 Feb 2005, Donat Agosti wrote:

> Attached a short note I presented at the recent "Biodiversity: Science
> and Governance" meeting in Paris. The very positive aspect of the
> meeting was that suddenly a big swell of data is being made accessible
> through a technological and cultural big step, and that this data has an
> increasing effect on decision making in such places as Madagascar of
> Mexico.
> However, despite all the technological and network advances, most of our
> biodiversity data is somewhere hidden in publications or being published
> that way. Unfortunately, an increasing amount of such literature,
> especially the description of species is being copyrighted.
> The example of ants might hopefully not be representative, though
> difficult to judge, since it is one of the few examples, where an effort
> is made to make the entire corpus of legacy publications online
> accessible (ca 3,800 publications of ca 77,000 pages, see
>, a collaboration between, American Museum
> of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution and Ohio State University).
> Keeping the database updated shows, that an increasing number of
> publications are being copyrighted, and to publishers are not willing to
> release the data - what we need to make them online accessible.
> It is sad, that the copyrighters are only from developed countries, and
> they include some of the top University Presses such as Harvard UP.
> A link to the publications, especially the very graphic figure of the
> impact on copyright is given on
> and some more on the story in general at
> Dr. Donat Agosti
> Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian
> Institution
> Web:
> CV:
> Dalmaziquai 45
> 3005 Bern
> Switzerland
> +41-31-351 7152
Received on Sat Feb 26 2005 - 12:17:02 GMT

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