Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Peter Howgate

  For 35 years I worked at the Torry Research Station, Aberdeen, a government institute specialising in R&D in fish processing and handling. In the later years of its existence it was part of the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It was closed in 1996 and the residue of its functions dispersed to other government departments. I retired at the end of 1989 on reaching the retirement age of 60 though I have retained my interests in food science. I engaged in some part-time consultancy including preparation of reviews and reports for international agencies like FAO, and for six years, 1996-2002, I was one of the deputy editors of the International Journal of Food Science and Technology. As a deputy editor I was responsible for the initial scrutiny of papers submitted for publication in the journal and forwarded to me by the main editor as being within my expertise, seeing suitable papers through the refereeing process, and returning acceptable papers to the main editor for publication. While at Torry Research Station and in retirement I have authored or co-authored papers in refereed scientific journals and have contributed chapters to books. I am also used as a referee by scientific journals.

  I have noted the contents of your Press Notice of 11 December 2003 announcing the inquiry on Scientific Publications and would like to make some personal comments. I work from home and would like to draw attention to some aspects of your inquiry that might have relevance to "home workers".


  The second paragraph of your press release asks about access to journals. Throughout the, almost, 50 years of my professional experience I have not had any difficulty in accessing journals or contents of journals, though there might be some expense or inconvenience in doing so. TRS, as befitting a research institute, had a comprehensive library of literature on the subject of its interest, and material which it did not hold in its library could be obtained on loan or as photocopies from libraries in academic institutes, research institutes, including occasionally libraries in commercial research institutes, or the British Library.

  In my experience as a member of staff at TRS I always found this system of interlibrary loans, including the BLL service, to be extremely effective and efficient. It is a national asset and must be boon to researchers and scholars in academia and in industry. The Select Committee might wish to review this service to determine if there are any restraints or limits to the service as viewed from the perspective of providers and users of the service.

  When I retired I still wished to have access to the scientific literature as an essential requirement of writing reports and papers and for my duties as a deputy editor of a scientific journal and as a referee of papers submitted for publication. I was permitted to have access to the library at TRS to consult journals and other literature there, though this facility was obviously no longer available when the laboratory closed in 1996. I was also allowed access to the library of the Marine Laboratory, currently a laboratory operated by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department. I also used the libraries of the two universities in Aberdeen and since I moved to West Sussex a few years ago I have used the library of the University of Surrey at Guildford.

  It seems to be the policy of universities to allow public access to their libraries. I do not know whether this concession is a privilege or a right, the latter bestowed because universities are largely funded by the state. I assumed that access to the libraries of the two research institutes in Aberdeen, TRS and the Marine Laboratory, was more of a privilege because of my previous contacts with these institutes. The Select Committee might wish to consider whether libraries of government or agency research institutes, (other than defence or similar laboratories), and of government-funded bodies such as research councils should also allow access to bone fide researchers and scholars on a similar basis as access to university libraries. The libraries of such research institutes are often repositories of specialist "grey" literature not available at academic libraries nor at the British Library. The library catalogues of university libraries are accessible on the Internet and the Select Committee might wish to consider whether government-funded laboratories should also make their library catalogues so available.

  The Internet has made the content of the scientific literature even more accessible than perusal in libraries. The publishers of scientific journals have internet sites for their journals which lists the contents of the journals, and in almost all cases I have come across, the abstracts of the papers. The full texts of the papers are also available, but see my next set of comments.

  In summary, there is no difficulty, even to a home-worker, of accessing the scientific literature, though there might be some inconveniences in consulting it.


  As well as just consulting the literature a researcher or scholar will frequently wish to obtain a copy for more detailed study. If the literature is accessed in an university library a copy can be made there within the provisions of the copyright acts. These allows a person to make a single copy of an article in a serial publication, or of a single chapter in a book, without payment of a copyright fee provided it is for their own personal study. My experience is that a notice to this effect is prominently displayed at photocopying machines in academic libraries. Libraries levy a charge of around five pence an A4 sheet for photocopying.

  I consider the restrictions on photocopying copyrighted material are reasonable and I have no objection to them.

  Copies of articles can be obtained through the British Lending Library (BLL), which provides a very comprehensive and efficient service. In my experience requests sent by e-mail are delivered within one or two days. The catalogue of journals and other holdings can be searched on the Library's web pages. I might question the cost of the service. The price for a copy of an article, is £8.46 inclusive of VAT. This charge does not include any copyright fee, which for most journals available from the BLL is around five pounds, but, as for copying in university libraries, a copyright fee is not charged for single copies for personal use. BLL's copying charge covers an article of up to 50 pages, but as papers in research journals are rarely longer than about eight A4 pages the charge is high compared with making your own copies in libraries. I have no means of judging if this charge is reasonable. I referred above to most journals' contents being listed on the Internet and it is also possible to download a copy of the article in PDF format from the site for a fee. For journals I have checked the fee is mostly in the range of 20-30 USD so perhaps the BLL's charge is fair.

  The Select Committee might wish to examine the way scientific publishers operate the provisions of the Copyright Acts, and whether some of their actions are against the public interest.

  When an article is accepted for publication the author or authors must sign a copyright agreement. It seems to me that these agreements try to claim more copyright than publishers are entitled to. My understanding is that copyright in the content of the article rests with the authors of the paper and the publisher has copyright only on the typographical arrangement. The situation is summarised on the HMSO web site at—01.htm. (I enclose a copy of the page with the hard copy of my evidence). In fact, given that this is the legal position, I do not see why it is necessary to have an agreement on transfer of copyright at all; ownership of copyright is enshrined in the Copyright Acts. An example of a Transfer of Copyright Agreement is that of Elsevier, a major publisher of scientific journals. It states, in part:

    "I hereby assign to [title of journal] the copyright in the manuscript named above (the "article") in all forms of media (whether known or hereafter developed), throughout the world, in all languages, for the full term of copyright and all extensions and renewals thereof, effective when and if the article is accepted for publication. This transfer includes the right to adapt the presentation of the article for use in conjunction with computer systems and programs, including reproduction or publication in machine-readable form and incorporation in retrieval systems."

  The explanatory page that goes with the agreement lists "Rights of authors" which seem more restrictive that what appears from the Copyright Acts. (I enclose a copy of the agreement and explanatory notes with the hard copy of my evidence).

  I refer to this situation because I feel the transference of copyright and the conditions of the transfer might discourage authors from making their papers available on the Internet. Many researchers, especially in academia, have personal web pages that list their publications, but rarely are these publications made available by the author on the Internet. As copyright in the content rests with the author and publication as a web page—provided it is not a copy of a published version—need not be, indeed is unlikely to be, in the same typographic arrangement as the version published in a journal it seems to me that authors could publish on the Internet without infringing the publisher's copyright.

  The Select Committee might wish to take legal opinion on whether these copyright agreements diminish, or attempt to diminish, author's rights to publish their work in other formats, and might be a restriction on making results of research freely available on the Internet.

  The UK public purse funds much research and the HMSO document makes quite clear that the content of published government work is subject to Crown Copyright. I believe there is a strong case to be made that reports of publicly funded research which are in the public domain by virtue of being published in a learned journal should also be available on the Internet. It is usual for research institutes in the publicly funded sector to have web pages which lists publications by their staff; these institutes should be at least encouraged, if not required, to have these reports available on their sites. The European Commission funds research in which many laboratories in the UK, government and non-government, participate. These EU sponsored research projects are also funded from the public purse and I believe collaborating laboratories should also make published reports available on their institute's web sites.


  As I have already written above, the majority of scientific journals are accessible on-line and articles are available for a fee or by subscription to the journal. Over the last couple of years open access journals have become available. There is no charge for accessing articles in these journals. Some journals are produced as open access journals, for example "Biology" published by Public Library of Science, (, while others are traditional journals, but no charge is made for accessing and downloading articles. An example is the set of biomedical journals published by BioMed Central ( Other journals, predominately in the medical field, allow articles to be downloaded after a period of a few months to two years has elapsed since publication ( These initiatives are to be welcomed and I hope the Select Committee will recommend the government fully supports the open access movement.

  Another development will be the replacement of printed journals by electronic versions in libraries. The advantage of this to librarians is in reduction of the need for shelf space, and the saving in subscription fees depending on the deals they can make with publishers. The journals will then be accessible to staff and students through terminals in offices, laboratories and study areas. Such a development would not be advantageous to non-academic users of an university library such as myself. At present, if I want to conduct a literature search I can check contents lists of on-line journals, or other resources, to produce a reading list and then visit the university library to consult the journals. If the library subscribes to the electronic rather than the printed version I will not be able to consult it. There are terminals in the libraries which give access to the library catalogue, but it is not possible, quite rightly, to go further into the university network without identification and a password. I value the privilege of being able to visit academic libraries and to consult journals and hope academic libraries will bear in mind the wishes of non-academic users if there is a marked switch from printed journals to on-line versions.

January 2004

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