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Re: BioMed Central Authors to retain copyright

It may be the case that for much non-scholarly material 

>lots of people actually rely on copyright protection in order to make
>a living, and those people (rather than librarians and academics) tend to
>be the ones who write the stuff that library patrons really need.

But I do not think that this is the case for the sort of academic material
used by advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty in most
disciplines, and that consitute most of the cost for any academic library.

The only types of academic books that have any chance whatsoever of
returning actual income to the authors are textbooks and popularizations.
These are both critically important types of works, and I do not mean to
denigrate them: course work at all levels relies, rightly or wrongly, on
textbooks, and the understanding, appreciation, and support of our fields
by the general public relies upon popularizations.  I see no problem with
the economics of the publishing industry and the provisions of copyright
for these materials--the commercial model does very well here, and none of
the proposals discussed on this list will pose any danger to it.

But the typical academic journal or monograph will not conceivably provide
a direct monetary return to the author. It would be wonderful if we had a
civilization where the demand for such works would be so great that they
would, but that's just fantasy. In reality, the commercial model does not
do well here, and almost any of the proposals discussed might be an
improvement. None of the authors of these works gets income from
royalties. None of the editors or reviewers of these works gets income
from editing or reviewing. The only income that is available is that which
accrues to the publishers, and they have certainly shown no intention to
share any part of their profits with the authors--indeed, they show a
tendency to collect direct revenue from the authors in page charges.

We may need publishers. If we need them, their work must be paid for, and
the money must come from either the readers, the authors, or direct
subsidy. But the copyright system is not intended for their benefit; it is
intended for the benefit of the "authors and inventors." As I understand
it, to the writers of this constitutional phrase government-supported
monopolies were inherently dangerous, and could be justified only by the
overriding public good. If the public good is not attained by these
monopolistic laws, they then lose their public justification and become
instruments of oppression. The present state of academic publishing is a
prime example of the wisdom of this attitude. (This should not be taken to
indicate my political position on economic matters in general--I am
discussing this particular issue only.)

I think it's totally absurd when you

> worry
> when I hear librarians talking about how information ought to be "free."  
> It's not free.  It's expensive to create and expensive to publish, and
> we're dumb to pretend otherwise.  If we work to undermine the strength of
> copyright protection, we're undermining the ability of people to make a
> living creating and publishing information.

The money spent for academic journals and books does not pay for the
creation of the information--research grants and faculty salaries do that.  
Whether the money spent for these materials is necessary to pay for their
publication is quite debatable--I may have done so in the paper era, we
have all seen the many proposals --some already implemented--for doing the
effective functions of dissemination in a much more economical fashion.

The lack of copyright protection would hinder no academic author; I am not
concerned about the living standards of the shareholders of academic
publishing concerns.  It's time we started thinking about what we need and
can afford, not how to shore up non-functional enterprises.

David Goodman, Princeton University Biology Library				
dgoodman@princeton.edu            609-258-3235

On Mon., 24 Apr 2000, Rick Anderson wrote:

> (Sorry for the delay in follow-up -- I was on vacation all last week. But
> I think Trisha poses an important question here and no one else seems to
> have picked it up, so...)
> > Why don't folks understand the basics of
> > copyright law?  Would they want their research free to all without
> > barriers?
> I've asked myself this many times when reading the comments of librarians
> and others on copyright topics.  I think part of the problem is that the
> answer is "yes" -- many librarians and academics would be happy to have
> their research available to all without barriers, because there's no
> economic downside to it for them.  As a professional, tenure-seeking
> librarian, I get paid to write stuff on the job, so my copyright isn't
> worth that much to me; in fact, I benefit professionally if my writing is
> widely distributed and read.  And because the wide dissemination of
> information is essential to participative democracy, we all tend to get
> irritated by arguments in favor of information "ownership." The problem is
> that lots of people actually rely on copyright protection in order to make
> a living, and those people (rather than librarians and academics) tend to
> be the ones who write the stuff that library patrons really need.
> This all strikes me (and probably most people reading this message) as
> incredibly obvious.  And yet so much of the commentary from our colleagues
> seems to be written as if it weren't.
> --------
> Rick Anderson
> Head Acquisitions Librarian
> Jackson Library
> UNC Greensboro
> (336) 334-5281
> rick_anderson@uncg.edu