Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS)

  The ALCS is a company limited by guarantee, having been established in 1977 to undertake collective rights management on behalf of authors in the United Kingdom. In that capacity the ALCS:

    —  negotiates collective licences on behalf of authors for the copying of their works in print and photocopied form, electronically and in broadcast media;

    —  collects and distributes fees to authors through:

      (a)  the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) which was set up jointly by the ALCS and the Publishers Licensing Society (PLS) to survey and collect photocopying fees from schools, colleges, universities, government and the business communities (including, for example, the pharmaceutical companies and the major banks);

      (b)  reciprocal arrangements with international collection or reprographic rights agencies; and

      (c)  individual contract with organisations such as the BBC educates and encourages awareness of authors' rights in all sectors.

  The ALCS currently distributes (see the attached annual report and Newsletter) almost £12 million to some 30,000 writers of whom over 6,000 are formally registered as academic authors, either of journals or monographs.

  Some academic authors have increasingly expressed concern about the pressure of assignment to publishers of all rights in their works, including moral rights in some cases. Reed Elsevier, for example, insist on all rights contracts whilst stating in writing that [they are] "strong advocates, both in the UK and at the international level, for full and effective protection of intellectual property rights" (Source: Directors' Profiles, Publishers' Lending Society Ltd Annual Open Meeting, Overseas House, London, 29 November 2001). We believe that this kind of statement can be misleading to users of copyright material who might expect that "effective protection" relates to preserving the interests of academics and of original research for the whole community, when it relates to the financial interest of publishers.

  On behalf of authors, the ALCS is also committed to supporting the extension of access to writers' works as broadly as possible and into new media, alongside a clear recognition of the copyright issues which must be addressed and the authors' moral as well as intellectual property rights.

  The ALCS therefore considers that it is extremely important that authors' rights are considered as a crucial, integral part of the Science and Technology Committee's current enquiry into scientific publications, and welcomes this opportunity to make the following initial response to the points on which the Committee is seeking written evidence.

  Addressing point 1 on "the impact of publishers' current policies on the teaching and research communities they serve".

  Academic authors publish for a number of reasons—to achieve peer review of their work, to achieve as wide as possible access and to secure recognition of their ideas and/or research both for career development and in financial terms. The impact on university and special library collections of the current pricing policy can often be to curtail access (where high pricing impacts on library purchasing budgets) and the other benefits to authors which would follow from that access. This loss of benefit is particularly ironic for academic authors who are often persuaded to assign all rights in the exploitation of their work to the publishers on the grounds that this is the only viable means of achieving their (the authors') goals. This pressured assignment (called an "all rights" contract) is of growing concern to writers and the organisations which represent them.

  We believe that the practice of high pricing for academic journals and monographs is related to, and in some senses supported by, the insistence on assignment of all rights.

  Assignment of this kind also leaves pricing and re-distribution, including syndication and mass syndication of all kinds, in the sole hands of the publisher. Where authors retain control over their rights, they have been shown to exercise them in a different way—by allowing their work to be re-sold, or syndicated, perhaps at a low cost in academic communities which cannot afford high prices, and by being more variable and responsive to changes and requests. As academic practices stand now, and by assigning all rights as a condition of publication, authors lose their voice in the matter of pricing or distribution of their work.

  Additionally, by assignment of all rights, authors also lose any financial return for the mass photocopying or electronic distribution of their material which is instead received by the publishers. As creators, authors provide the "currency" in which publishers trade and the basis for national and international research and economic development. They should by right receive a return on the assets which they have created.

  A further and very significant matter of concern to authors is the protection of the moral rights in their work, and the potential loss of that protection in a publishing environment in which all rights are encouraged to be assigned. Academic authors are concerned about the potential for original research to be manipulated or used out of context, particularly in electronic media. If authors have no power to determine where and how their work is used, there are potential problems for both individual users and the community at large.

  Addressing point 2 on "what action should Government, academic institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific publications?"

  We propose that:

    —  government should play a positive role in ensuring that academic institutions meet with publishers and bodies representing academic authors, such as The Society of Authors and ALCS, to discuss the various ways in which better access can be gained and a more equable sharing of the benefits achieved;

    —  government makes moral rights inalienable, as is the case in many parts of the European Union;

    —  government recognises and condemns the pressure on authors to assign rights; and

    —  sets up a Rights Ombudsman or similar formal position to which authors may appeal where this occurs.

February 2004

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