Monday, July 27, 2009

Should copyrights be abolished in academia?

We've all been exposed to strange situations where we had to ask for permission to use our own figures or data from a paper into another paper, or a thesis etc... And the fact that one can retain copyrights is in my opinion one of the best benefits of some open-access journals. But Steven Shavell thinks we should go even further in this paper:

"The conventional rationale for copyright of written works, that copyright is needed to foster their creation, is seemingly of limited applicability to the academic domain. For in a world without copyright of academic writing, academics would still benefit from publishing in the major way that they do now, namely, from gaining scholarly esteem. Yet publishers would presumably have to impose fees on authors, because publishers would not be able to profit from reader charges. If these publication fees would be borne by academics, their incentives to publish would be reduced. But if the publication fees would usually be paid by universities or grantors, the motive of academics to publish would be unlikely to decrease (and could actually increase) – suggesting that ending academic copyright would be socially desirable in view of the broad benefits of a copyright-free world. If so, the demise of academic copyright should be achieved by a change in law, for the ‘open access’ movement that effectively seeks this objective without modification of the law faces fundamental difficulties."


Rob said...

I finally read the copyright on a paper I published to see if I could basically cut and paste into my thesis.
Turns out that this particular publication in the Nature family doesn't have copyright and instead just has an exclusive right to publish for 6 months. Indeed you are encouraged after 6 months to submit to public databases.
(I haven't done this yet.. laziness.)
Their information suggests that this is done to conform to new requirements of some of the large funding agencies of the USA.
Not nearly as bad as I had thought it might be.

Bayman said...

Basically journals are paid for (or should be paid for) the service of getting your work out to a massive audience for the widest possible exposure. Scientists need this so people can hear about their work. Without access to this mass-media scale of audience, as a scientist you won't get a job or get famous or get funding. Without funding, no science is gonna happen.

If you're not getting that service (most scientific journals are not providing this kind of exposure, but still making a lot of coin), then sure, it's not worth sending them your work. Just as well to post it on your blog for grandma to read.