What are editors and publishers for?

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


About Will

Professor of Construction Management and Economics, University of Reading, UK. Editor-in-Chief, Construction Management and Economics (1992-2016). Programme Director, MSc Construction Management. School Director of Postgraduate Teaching Programmes.
This entry was posted in CM&E forum, Research discussion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What are editors and publishers for?

  1. Arnold Yuan says:

    An interesting post. Honestly, I did not recognize the ‘fine distinction’ till I read this post.

  2. Will says:

    As has become apparent on email discussion lists, there are those who feel that academic publishing is anachronistic, restrictive and profiteering.

    Just for the record, the publishers of this journal Taylor & Francis, do not “demand” that copyright is handed over to them. Their position is clearly explained here: http://bit.ly/TandFcopyright which makes clear that it is permitted for authors to place their own work in their institutional repositories.

    Many of the points often raised in the discussions and arguments about publishing have been raised time and time again. I would encourage everyone to read this antidote to the continuing claims that publishing is antithetical to the ideals of academic communication and the flow of information: http://bit.ly/s9qrJJ. As it says in the opening of this article: “This post is an attempt to articulate a different point of view on the same issues often used as rallying cries by advocates of open access, free access, or similar changes to scholarly publishing.”

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