A recent posting on CNBR, an email list for our research community, raised the question of copyright in academic journal papers. The take-home message was that Princeton University was implementing a policy that forbids its academics from handing over all copyright to publishers. The article hinted at the irrelevance and inherent unfairness of academic publishing. You can read it here.
Interesting, yes, but maybe interesting for the wrong reasons. Typically, these days, journal publishers do not grab all copyright from authors. Rather, they secure a license to publish. This may seem a fine distinction, but a license to publish does not take away an author’s intellectual property rights. It usually only applies to the work the journal did to the paper, i.e. the copy-editing and type-setting, so the author’s final submitted version is usually still the author’s, for the purposes of posting in University repositories and so on. It is worthwhile reading the agreement that you sign as an author. In my experience, it is not always even called a copyright agreement. So, the flavour of the invective in the linked article seems to me to be a little bit hysterical or reactionary.
Interestingly, it would seem from this article that Princeton does not yet have an institutional repository, like most British universities do. Perhaps Princeton may catch up with the rest of us. But if a repository is as useful to academics as our Universities tell us, then Princeton is not the best place to be an academic. Of course, that begs the question of who benefits from the existence of a University repository…
I clicked on some of the links to the documents that lay behind this posting that you forwarded. Princeton’s new policy is to prevent authors from handing ALL copyright in an article to publishers. Since most publishers do not ask for ALL copyright to be handed over, this policy is not really the beginning of the end for traditional journals. Rather it is merely a step along the way of bringing recalcitrant publishers into line with those who are sufficiently aware of academic life to have already developed a more sympathetic and useful approach.
We need to be aware of the changing landscape of academic publishing. A lot of people are making a noise about it. To add to the general debate, here is another interesting article, this time on what editors and publishers are for, and whether there is a continuing role for them in the increasingly clamorous world of academic publishing: http://wp.me/pcvbl-5AU