05 April 2009

OA and copyright

There's a bit of a buzz in the OA world about a video journal, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, leaving the OA domain and becoming a subscription journal. The reason, essentially, was that the editors couldn't find a business model to allow them to continue as purely OA - although individuals can get a one-day free subscription.

In his blog Common Knowledge, John Wilibanks suggests that
If you don't use a permissive copyright license you are not an Open Access publisher. JoVE was never OA. They simply weren't charging for their publications. JoVE was shareware, and the bill's come due.

Now, by permissive he appears to mean that the user can use the content in any way s/he wishes, but quotes in support of this proposition the Budapest Open Access Initiative statement that
The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

However, giving the author these rights, does not imply that the user should have the total right to do whatever s/he wishes with the content. If the author retains copyright, as Information Research authors do, it is up to the author to determine what should be done with his or her work. A journal publisher cannot allow the author to retain copyright and then encourage infringement of this copyright by suggesting that users of the material may do whatever they wish with it. (Slightly revised 17 Apr 2009)


  1. My understanding of the issue is rather different, as follows.

    Publishers do not assign copyright to authors -- copyright inheres automatically in the work. It's authors who can (though they should not!) assign copyright to journals.

    Thus, when authors publish in a journal and retain copyright, they still grant that journal a non-exclusive license to publish the material -- and, if it's an OA journal that operates under the terms of the BBB definitions, to make it available to the public for any lawful purpose, with no barriers other than those inseparable from internet access.

    Having granted that license, authors have in fact given users of the journal version of their work such wide-ranging use rights that they are very difficult to infringe.

    It's the authors who cannot publish under BBB OA terms and then decide they want to retain greater control over what is done with the work.

  2. Yes, you're right Bill - sloppy writing on my part :-) However, I think that most OA journal publishers ask the authors to assign copyright to them and the point I've made elsewhere is that it seems to me immoral for the publisher to assume the copyright and then leave use of the material completely open under a CC licence. This is why I adopt the Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works CC licence and name the authors as the licensors. As publisher, I do not hold the copyright and this allows the authors themselves to benefit in whatever way they can. It seems to me that the form of licence required by the SPARC Seal assumes that the publisher is the licence holder.