Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Supplementary memorandum from the Authors' Licensing And Collecting Society (ALCS)


  In our written submission of 12th February 2004 we stated that many of the 6,000 academic authors who mandate ALCS to collect photocopying monies have expressed concern—in writing—about enforced assignment of their rights. They resent working for publishers who insist on taking all rights as a condition of publication, or who insist on an exclusive contract, the clauses of which have the same result.

  We suggested that this forced assignment has an effect on pricing structures within journals and is widely regarded as an important global, political and social issue:

    "Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st Century." (Source: Mark Getty, The Economist, August 2000).

  It is also a human rights issue:

    "Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he [or she] is the author". (Source: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27).

  As a closing statement we submit that we noted two of the four academics present on the panel on 21 April were, as they stated, editors for journals run by Reed Elsevier, a company which has a policy of taking all intellectual property rights away from academic and scientific authors.

  Both these panellists said that assignment was of no concern to them, contrary to the large numbers of members we have surveyed. We would like to point out three issues in connection with their comments:

    (a)  as tenured professors none of the panellists was in a position where his career or economic livelihood was affected by rights ownership;

    (b)  we believe the panellists' statements on the non-importance of rights may have been influenced by their retention by Reed Elsevier;

    (c)  their comments are not an indication, therefore, that authors' rights do not matter to the majority of scientific and academic writers.

  Authors' rights matter increasingly, both for the importance of moral rights in high-level research, and because monies from secondary rights like photocopying are being paid only to publishers and at authors' and academics' expense.

  In our closing comments, we would therefore wish to highlight the following:

    (1)  Authors usually have no redress in the face of pressure to assign their rights, as their employment\income may be dependent on publication—and because insistence on assignment of rights is so widespread.

We would suggest the latter is in contravention of Article 27 (mentioned above).

    (2)  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.

With most scientific journals, all photocopying money goes to the publisher and not necessarily back into the research community.

This further increases commercial publisher profits and influence—at the direct expense of individuals or academic institutions.

    (3)  The current dominance of the Scientific Journals market by an increasingly small and monopolistic group of global conglomerates (Reed Elsevier et al) has a significant effect on individuals, on research, and on users. This dominance, extended through "rights-grabbing" policies, has resulted in annual price increases at well above inflation and "big deals" with libraries, reducing both the authors' opportunity to publish and access by users.

  This in turn affects academics' status and job security and possibly, also, the positioning of their institution in relation to the UK's Research Assessment Exercise model for assessment and funding, and its ability to secure other sources of research funds.

    (4)  The open access model is seen by many as freeing and speeding up constraints on access, but it assumes the availability of research funds for publication to cover author payment. This could shift further cost onto Government and may be discriminatory in that it will benefit only those who have access to substantial research funding. (If extended to the humanities, the model looks frighteningly like the "vanity publishing" authors have fought against for years.)

    (5)  We believe current publisher practices, as outlined in this document go against the present government's policies:

    a) in relation to the Government's Corporate Social Responsibility Report;

    b) in relation to the DTI's practice of encouraging global electronic trading by individuals (sole traders) as well as companies.

Sole traders can only trade in what they lawfully own, and without their intellectual property rights, individuals are blank screens in a global market-place.

  We therefore re-iterate our initial request that Government recognises and condemns the pressure on authors to assign rights and establishes a Rights Ombudsman to whom appeals may be taken.

  In the present environment, an interim solution (vis a" vis the current interest in open access publishing) may need to be a mixed economy of both traditional journals publishing and open access, as advocated in the Washington DC Principles (March 2004).

  Additional safeguards which could legitimately be supplied through government intervention might be:

    (a)  a requirement that a proportion of commercial publishing profits from scientific journals are allocated directly to research;

    (b)  a statement on rights assignment (as mentioned above) and a Rights Ombudsman to support this;

    (c)  further JISC/HEFC supported trials of various open access models to assess fully the financial and medium to long term archiving and access implications.

May 2004

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