Administration Would ‘Eviscerate’ Copyright, Say Industry Players

From Publishing Perspectives:

In what a study from University College of London’s Genetics Institute has revealed this week, by December, the novel coronavirus that would be named COVID-19 likely had left Wuhan and was entering communities in Florida, France, and elsewhere. As Morgan McFall-Johnson at Business Insider reported Thursday (May 7), researchers are now urged by the World Health Organization to reexamine samples from December and January, to see if an earlier-than-expected presence can be detected.
And at that point, Publishing Perspectives readers were learning of an alarm being sounded by scientific research publishers about a proposed policy change in the United States that effectively would require scientific journal articles be made available immediately, without embargo. A group of more than 100 publishing and/or research organizations including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) were telling the administration of Donald Trump that this would “effectively nationalize the valuable American intellectual property that we produce and force us to give it away to the rest of the world for free.”

Copyright protections, in short, would be short-circuited.

. . . .

Documents reviewed by Publishing Perspectives today show that the public comment “request for information” from the OSTP has produced a brace of considered and extensively argued responses from the field and from members of Congress.

. . . .

For a kind of flagship response, we can recommend the article produced on May 7 for the Heritage Foundation by the visiting intellectual property fellow Adam Mossoff.

Titled Radical OSTP Proposal Would Undermine American Research and Sacrifice American Intellectual Property, the article carries special weight because–as our international readership may not know–the Heritage Foundation is an enormously respected conservative think tank with more than half a million paying members. Its condemnation of a Republican administration’s effort to adjust copyright protection policy therefore arrives with tremendous gravity.

In his abstract, Mossoff and his editors encapsulate the foundation’s stance this way;

“The Trump Administration should not permit the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to eviscerate the key constitutional and economic function of copyright law by forcing US intellectual property owners to give away their copyrighted works for free to China and the rest of the world.

“Nor should it allow the OSTP to contradict its own policies on trade and IP.

“It should join with those who have already raised serious legal, policy, and economic concerns about the OSTP proposal. The administration should reject the OSTP proposal and reaffirm the vital role that copyright serves in securing the fruits of the productive labors of those who create and disseminate journal articles.

Mossoff’s article, as presented by the foundation, has three key takeaways, and they’re reflected in the commentary from others responding to the OSTP’s request for information. Quoting those takeaways:

  • “An Office of Science and Technology Policy proposal would give away US intellectual property, undermining US trade positions and weakening US leadership
  • “America’s founders understood citizens would only engage in productive labors if the fruits of their labors were secured to them under law
  • “The Trump Administration should reaffirm the vital role copyright serves in securing the productive labors of those who create and disseminate journal articles”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG is almost reflexively supportive of strong protections for creators’ works via enforcement of copyright laws.

In this case, his inherent cynicism along with a bit of inside knowledge about world of scientific, technical and academic publications leads him to support the proposal of the Office of Science and Technology Policy provided it continues for only a limited period of time.

Long-time visitors to TPV will might recall PG’s prior posts on this topic, so he’ll lay the factual basis out in bullet-point form.

  • College professors and researchers in scientific areas plus similar professionals employed by some other institutions are expected to publish scientific and quasi-scientific (Looking at you, English Departments) research in their area of expertise.
  • Hence, “Publish or Perish”. Absent such publications, college lecturers are unlikely to become Associate Professors, Associate Professors unlikely to become Assistant Professors and Assistant Professors unlikely to become full Professors with tenure.
  • In every academic/professional field with which PG is acquainted, there are a limited number of scientific/academic journals of the quality sufficient to gain an author publishing points.
  • These academic journals pay their authors nothing – Zero – in exchange for publishing the work of the author.
  • Typically, these academic journals require the author to assign her/his copyright in the work to the journal. (PG remembers hearing that some journals allow the author to keep the copyright, but obtain an irrevocable perpetual royalty-free license of all rights from the author, which has the same financial outcome for the author.)
  • The academic journals claim to have some expertise necessary to judge the quality of submissions, but, in fact such expertise is sketchy. What the journals do have is a network of experts in a variety of fields to whom submitted papers are sent for review.
  • By pure coincidence, members of this network of experts are likely to have published articles of their own with the journal and are also likely to want to publish future articles with the same journal and, in connection with those future articles, will be dealing with the same editor(s) who are asking them to provide an expert review of the paper in question with no financial compensation.
  • Whereas scientific and professional journals were formerly nurtured by a variety of different publishers, over the last 20-30 years, ownership of the large majority of prestigious academic journals has been consolidated by a small group of large holding companies, Reed-Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer and Sage.
  • The customers of these publishers almost always include the academic institutions that employ the authors who wrote the scientific papers in the first place.
  • If a particular academic journal is recognized as the most authoritative/prestigious in its field, a respectable university library is going to be required to subscribe to the journal. The publisher of that journal is likely to increase subscription fees over time in order to maximize its revenues and profits. At least some of those subscription fees will come from the tuition fees paid by students at the college/university.
  • None of those revenues the journal’s publisher receives will be paid to the authors of the journal articles, so PG’s innate author-oriented attitude is that complaints about the derogation of copyrights caused by a requirement to immediately make COVID-19 papers public as described in the OP are all about whether the publisher will make as much money as it wants to make from publishing and charging fees to access the COVID-19 papers.
  • Here’s what Reed-Elsevier (an Anglo-Dutch company), generally regarded as the largest academic, scientific and professional publisher, says about itself:

Scientific, Technical & Medical provides information and analytics that help institutions and professionals progress science, advance healthcare and improve performance.

We help researchers make new discoveries, collaborate with their colleagues and give them the knowledge they need to find funding. We help governments and universities evaluate and improve their research strategies. We help doctors and nurses improve the lives of patients, providing insight to find the right clinical answers.

Elsevier is headquartered in Amsterdam, with further principal operations in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Berkeley in North America, London, Oxford, Frankfurt, Munich, Madrid and Paris in Europe, Beijing, Chennai, Delhi, Singapore and Tokyo in Asia Pacific and Rio de Janeiro in South America. It has 8,100 employees and serves customers in over 180 countries.

We enhance the quality of scientific research output by organising the review, editing and dissemination of 18% of the world’s scientific articles ScienceDirect, the world’s largest platform dedicated to peer-reviewed primary scientific and medical research, hosts over 17m pieces of content including from over 40,000 e-books and has over 17m monthly unique visitors Scopus is a leading source-neutral abstract and citation database of research literature, with over 76m records across 25,000 journals, sourced from more than 5,000 publishers SciVal offers insights into the research performance of over 16,000 research institutions ClinicalKey, the flagship clinical reference platform, is accessed in around 100 countries and territories, and by over 1,900 institutions in North America alone Elsevier journals have at some point featured articles by 195 of 196 science and economics Nobel Prize winners since 2000

“Organizing the review, editing and dissemination” AKA posting it behind a paywall and charging a lot of money for access. The authors are paid nothing. The highly-qualified reviewers are paid nothing. The employee/editors are not paid a lot of money. Elsevier makes the large majority of the money.

PG humbly suggests that is not what the authors intended when they wrote and approved Article I Section 8 | Clause 8 – the Patent and Copyright Clause of the Constitution.

[The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

4 thoughts on “Administration Would ‘Eviscerate’ Copyright, Say Industry Players”

  1. I respectfully disagree with one bullet point because reality is even worse in many fields.

    PG said:
    “These academic journals pay their authors nothing – Zero – in exchange for publishing the work of the author.”

    Reality in most of the laboratory sciences:
    These academic journals are functionally vanity presses in which the authors pay for publication, often mischaracterized as “page charges.” Some of Reed-Elsevier’s science journals are among the most rapacious. The usual excuse offered is that a portion of the grant received by the authors from grant clearinghouses (such as NIH) is budgeted for such charges at the time of application.

    It’s also the reality at law journals, and most law professors — if there’s one group of academics who should know better, it’s law professors — never even question it.

    • I assume the IP at risk is the pretty formatting for magazine publication and any changes made in response to the peer reviewers or the editors. Arranging peer review seems to be pretty much the only value that the publishers add to the process.

      For maths and the physical sciences at least, the pre review text – possibly amended in response to readers’ comments – will most likely be free to view on arXiv.org (and what’s more available much sooner than the journal version).

      arXiv does have some moderation but it is pretty free and easy and publication there lacks the kudos that comes from passing the gatekeepers of the high impact journals. So those career minded scientists who actually have high impact results to report would miss the journal publication, and, if the peer review journals ever vanished, the reviewers would have lost one of their excuses for getting out of admin work, to say nothing of the chance of squashing unfashionable or threatening ideas.

      Those scientists who think peer review is irretrievably broken would no doubt be happy to see it go.

  2. “A copyright is effective as soon as an original work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Registration of copyright (to allow recovery on violation) is USD $35.00.

    If the paper is correct, it gives a “bad actor” no advantage over the researcher. If it is not correct, and is either revised or withdrawn, a “bad actor” relying on it is disadvantaged.

    If the research is part of the development of a patentable product, the original researcher is still ahead of the “bad actor.”

    Of course, this all assumes that the hypothetical “bad actor” – whoever it is – cares about violating US intellectual property laws. I haven’t noticed that any of them do, any more than other types of criminals seem to care about the laws on many other things.

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