121. Institutional repositories have copyright implications.
A recent analysis of publisher copyright agreements with authors
found that "90% of agreements asked for copyright transfer
and 69% asked for it prior to refereeing the paper. 75% asked
authors to warrant that their work had not been previously published
although only two explicitly stated that they viewed self-archiving
as prior publication. 28.5% of agreements provided authors with
no usage rights over their own paper. Although 42.5% allowed self-archiving
in some format, there was no consensus on the conditions under
which self-archiving could take place".
These statistics are now out of date, particularly in the context
of the recent announcement made by Reed Elsevier, but they are
sufficient to show a mixed approach to copyright that is potentially
confusing for authors. BioMed Central criticised the current copyright
situation as "cumbersome and sub-optimal".
A greater degree of consistency is desirable in copyright agreements,
from publishers, but also from Government, institutions and academics,
who have the power to influence the terms on which copyright agreements
122. In oral evidence, Jane Carr of the Authors Licensing
and Collecting Society (ALCS) read out a typical copyright agreement,
telling us that "the practice of assignment by some publishers
takes away all the rights of an author, if I can quote 'Without
limitation, any form of electronic exploitation, distribution
or transmission, not known or invented in the future, all other
intellectual property rights in such contributions
so on". Such
agreements limit the ways in which authors can use articles that
they have produced, including for teaching purposes. Not all publishers
are so restrictive. We heard in oral evidence that Nature Publishing
Group, for example, allowed authors to license, rather than sign
away, their copyright to the publisher.
Under the terms of a licensing agreement, authors retain ownership
of the copyright on their article. The publisher is licensed to
use it for the purposes of publication and re-sale. The author,
on the other hand, is permitted to use the article in other ways,
for example, by depositing it in an institutional repository.
Some publishers have hidden disincentives for authors to enter
into licensing agreements. Jane Carr quoted an ALCS member who
had reported that "'the only journal I challenged over assigning
copyright agreed to assign it to me as long as I understood that
they would not publish me again. Academic publishing is, from
an author's perspective, a complete rip-off'".
As has already been explained, authors rely on publication to
further their career goals and are likely to be reluctant to take
any action that would jeopardise their future relationship with
a publisher. Acting as individuals, they thus have only limited
power to influence the copyright agreement that they sign.
123. As was the case more generally, we found that
many academics were disengaged from the issue of copyright assignment.
A memorandum from DTI, DfES and DCMS stated that "Author's
copyright is an issue that may not be fully understood by Authors,
and an aura of misinformation often surrounds the process".
All of the academics we heard in oral evidence on 21 April felt
that publishers played a useful role in the management of copyright.
Professor Williams told us that "as an editor, one of my
concerns is people trying to publish it twice with slight modifications,
but I have no problem with the copyright issue there and it does
not impede my teaching at all".
In its closing statement, ALCS suggested a reason for academic
lack of concern about copyright: "because scientific authors
may be less concerned about personal financial return (due to
research and publication being part of their salaried position
or grant money) they are largely unaware of the substantial secondary
rights incomes currently available".
As has been demonstrated above, many academics do not show much
enthusiasm for self-archiving either. The assignment of all rights
to publishers has little personal impact on the author. This is
hampering any change to a system where authors, and the public
that funds them, retain the rights to research findings, which
in turn limits the accessibility of scientific publications to
academics, teachers and the wider public.
124. Publishers can impose restrictions on the ways
in which those articles for which they own the copyright can be
used. The assignment of copyright to the publisher can thus prove
to be a barrier to the effective functioning of institutional
repositories, as is the case with Reed Elsevier (see paragraphs
110112). This has led many advocates of the self-archiving
system to call for it to be made mandatory for publicly-funded
UK authors to retain the copyright on their articles, entering
into copyright licensing agreements similar to those used by Nature
Publishing Group. SHERPA argued that "since the taxpayer
funds the majority of the research in UK institutions, government
could kick-start open-access at the funding stage. Firstly, OST
funding agencies could prevent the copyright of work they have
funded being given away by researchers".
This message was reinforced by SPARC Europe in written evidence:
"requiring that authors retain copyright will ensure that
reuse of the material, within accepted scholarly and educational
practices, will be safeguarded".
As is outlined above, individual academics lack the power to insist
on their retention of copyright. Collectively, however, authors
are too valuable a commodity for publishers to risk alienating
them by refusing to allow them to retain copyright. Any change
to the existing copyright provisions would have to be centrally
instigated and supported in order for it to be successful.
125. As with many of the issues surrounding the publication
of STM journal articles, any change to existing copyright provisions
could be problematic if it were implemented at a national level
only. If UK authors were mandated to retain the copyright on their
articles, this could put them at a disadvantage internationally,
as some publishers might select in their place non-UK authors
who were still willing to assign all rights. If papers were selected
for publication on the basis of quality alone, this ought not
to occur. Given evidence of current publisher practices, however,
we cannot be entirely confident that the copyright status of authors
would be ignored when the publisher decided which articles to
accept and which to decline. Such issues present difficulties
for the reform of the current system. Nonetheless they should
not in themselves be allowed to prevent a move towards a more
effective system of self-archiving.
126. The issue of copyright is crucial to the
success of self-archiving. We recommend that, as part of its strategy
for the implementation of institutional repositories, Government
ascertain what impact a UK-based policy of author copyright retention
would have on UK authors. Providing that it can be established
that such a policy would not have a disproportionately negative
impact, Research Councils and other Government funders should
mandate their funded researchers to retain the copyright on their
research articles, licensing it to publishers for the purposes
of publication. The Government would also need to be active in
raising the issue of copyright at an international level.
127. In managing their copyright, publishers provide
authors with a service. The provision of a service was used in
evidence to justify the assignment of all rights to publishers.
Dr Jarvis of Wiley told us that "if your author's work is
then stolen or changed, what publishers can do because of their
scale and their research is to do something about that. Individual
authors would find it very difficult".
Items of intellectual property other than copyright, such as patents,
are often retained and managed by higher education institutions
or their industrial partners. This suggests that institutions
already have the capacity and expertise to manage intellectual
property rights. Rama Thirunamachandran, from HEFCE, reported
that "institutions, as part of their knowledge transfer activities,
are supported to have experts who in other areas support patents
and licensing arrangements and so on. Many of the larger institutions
would have some in-house expertise which could be used to support
authors on copyright and related licensing issues".
It is logical to extend the institution's intellectual property
management role to incorporate copyright. We recommend that
higher education institutions are funded to enable them to assume
control of copyright arising from their research. In order to
carry out this function they will need in-house expertise and
128. One of the main advantages of institutional
repositories is that they are relatively cheap to set up and maintain,
offering a cost-effective solution to some of the problems in
scientific publishing. SHERPA told us that:
"in the short-term, the costs of setting up
open-access repositories are minimal. Universities already have
good IT infrastructure in place - local area networks which connect
to the internet and widespread use of computer workstations. Given
this provision, the connection cost and use of repositories is
absorbed within existing overheads, so accessing the material
is effectively free."
We asked SHERPA to supply us with an analysis of
the costs of establishing institutional repositories across the
UK higher education sector, based on its experience to date. This
is given in table 3 below: